16 Pentecost Proper A17                     
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 61:1-3 Sermon                                               
August 31, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
---- "God We Praise You, God We Bless You"
479 "I Need Thee Every Hour"
578 "Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
576 "Abide With Me"


Before I begin my sermon this morning, I would like to offer a few words of introduction.  Considering that today I am celebrating the 20th anniversary of my ordination, I have decided to share with you my very first sermon I delivered after I was installed in my first congregations in Australia.  I am leaving the text pretty much untouched, so you can get the full flavor of what I said almost 20 years ago.  I haven't preached it since that time either.  So try to imagine yourself in the pew back then and hearing these first words from your new pastor.  

 TEXT: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour."

            Today is one of those days which every pastor throughout the world could tell you about.  Every pastor has gone through it, and it will live in his memory for the rest of his life.  That is the day when he ascends the pulpit in his new congregation for the first time, and delivers his first sermon.  You of course have had the unique opportunity to hear your new pastor on several occasions before today because you used some of my sermon tapes in your worship services.  But even with this in mind, it is quite a different thing to have the man standing here before you.  From my perspective, this is probably going to be one of the more difficult sermons I will have prepared and delivered, and it will be unlike any other I will ever do.

            One of the things a pastor is supposed to do in his initial sermon is to talk to his congregation about his ministry amongst them.  I'm relatively sure that you all have some questions in your minds about how I'm going to do things, what kind of sermons I'm going to preach, what kind of Bible studies I'm going to have, how good of a counselor I'll be, and so on and so forth.  Sure you're wondering what kind of a pastor I'm going to be, and I guess that I've asked myself some of the very same questions that you've been asking.

            The office of the ministry is of course the highest calling in the world.  To be given the responsibility of being the called shepherd amongst a group of God's people creates feelings deep within which I could never adequately convey to you.  There are personal fears and apprehensions which I have never felt before.  I have really come to appreciate the words of Dr. Martin Luther, when he speaks regarding his abilities as a minister that "if it were left up to him, he would bring it all to ruin."  Indeed, if God were to leave this ministry in my hands alone, I could do nothing but bring it to ruin.  It is important then to remember that my ministry amongst you is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and with the help of God, his will shall be done in your midst.

            With this advent of my ministry in mind, I remembered another pastor and the beginning of his ministry.  I would like to tell you his story.  This pastor was only a few years younger than myself when he first started in the public ministry.  He had recently completed his time of theological training, and he was ready to start his ministry.  He paid a visit to his home town, maybe to see his parents.  He did like so many young pastors do, and that was to return to his home congregation to preach.  Here was a chance for all his home-town friends and family to see how their own local boy made good.

            I don't know exactly how he felt. It might be safe to say that he was feeling a little "uptight" with the thought of standing there in front of all the people he had known from childhood.  But there he stood.  He opened up his Bible, and read the very same text I read today, from Isaiah 61.  And then he delivered his sermon.

            What happened?  It would be nice to say that everybody was favorably impressed with his message; unfortunately that wasn't the case.  Even though the sermon was excellent and masterfully presented, the members of his home congregation didn't think so.  The people were furious and asked him never to come back.  Even though such a situation might make most pastors reconsider their chosen profession, it didn't phase this preacher.

            Yes, that young pastor was none other than our own Lord Jesus Christ.  And the words of my text to you today are the very same words Jesus used in his first recorded sermon.

            These words are profound words-words upon which the whole concept of the Christian church is built.  If we look at Mark 1, 15 Jesus gives us a good overview of the message he is preaching.  He says, "The time has come...the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news," or "repent and believe the Gospel."  This Gospel is what Jesus is explaining in our text today.

            Our text is one which looks at the world just the way it is.  There's nothing sugar coated here.  Isaiah's description uses such words as: "the poor, broken-hearted, captives, prisoners, mourners, and those who grieve."  It really isn't too difficult to look at the world which is so terribly affected by sin, and see this to be the case.   Those who are suffering the effects of sin and the devil are indeed poor and destitute, with a hopeless outlook.

            What does Jesus do?  He first sees the people of the world as needing help.  And then he proceeds to give the necessary help to those who need it-those who are oppressed by sin and the devil.

            Where is the law here?  This section doesn't place a great deal of emphasis upon deeds of the law, for they are futile.  The law provides no comfort for those who mourn...it doesn't provide release to the captives...the law is never good news to the poor.  The law only oppresses.  It's the gospel that provides the freedom and comfort that those oppressed so desperately seek.  This is the gospel that Isaiah prophesied so long ago.  This is the gospel that only Jesus Christ can provide.

            Now, does this mean that we must dispense with the law altogether?  Of course not.  If we were to dispense with the law, we wouldn't be rightly dividing the word of truth.  We would have no concept of what sin is, and what repentance is.  But all the law can do is convict us and show us our sin.  The law is also a guide for the Christian as to what is God-pleasing and practical.  But, the law cannot bring us to faith and make us lead a Christian life.  The law has no power to save.

            In looking at our text once again, how do we see ourselves?  Do we see ourselves in a ministry that lifts spirits and gives hope and love to those who are oppressed?  Do we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the way he himself proclaimed it?  I daresay that it is easy sometimes to forget the method that Jesus himself used, and try to do it in our own way.  We're sinners, and we can often find ourselves overzealous in preaching the law, trying to whip everybody into shape with its use.  It is so easy to use our Bibles to bash people over the head.  Unfortunately, this does not win souls for Christ.  Rather, such an approach drives people away from the church and the forgiveness and comfort they so desperately need.

            No, God comes to us with words of comfort and forgiveness which takes away and completely replaces the threat of the law.  The Scriptures point toward Christ and the forgiveness that is found only in him.  God graciously invites us to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness we all need.

            Our forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ is the central theme of our Christian faith.  Everything else hinges upon that.  The threat and despair of the law must give way.  I'd like to illustrate that with a story.

            Shane and Mary were a couple of kids growing up in the city. One school holiday, they decided to go and spend it with their grandparents on their farm.  Mary would spend time with her grandmother helping around the house, while Shane would go with his grandfather around the farm.

            One day, Shane's grandfather cut a forked tree branch, and made a slingshot for him.  Shane was real proud of it, and spent a good deal of time practicing with it.  Unfortunately, Shane was such a poor shot, he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.  And as much as he tried, he couldn't seem to get any better.

            Then one day, Shane and Mary were out in the front of the house.  Their grandmother had a pet duck that was out in the front yard.  Shane took out his slingshot, found a nice round stone, pulled back, and as luck would have it, he wasn't such a bad shot this time.  He hit the duck right on the side of its head, and killed it instantly.  Shane, with tears in his eyes, picked up the duck and buried it out in a grove of trees.  Mary, who saw the whole thing just sat there and said nothing.

            That evening after they were done eating, grandmother said, "Mary, you can help me with the washing up, and grandfather and Shane can go watch television." 

            Mary said, "Oh, Shane just loves to do the washing up, and I'm sure he'd love to help you!"  And then turning to Shane, Mary said in a low voice, "remember the duck!"

            Then about a fortnight later, grandmother said to Mary, "Shane and your grandfather are going fishing.  You and I are going to take down all the curtains, launder them, and wash the windows." 

            Mary said, "Oh Shane just loves to wash windows and curtains.  I'm sure he'd much rather do that than go fishing."  And then turning to Shane, she told him again, "remember the duck."

            This same sort of thing happened a number of other times as well, all with the same threat by Mary, "remember the duck, remember the duck, remember the duck."

            Finally Shane could take no more.  He went to his grandmother one day with tears streaming down his face.  "Oh grandmother, grandmother!" he cried, "I killed your duck!"  He explained the whole story, saying how really sorry he was.

            His grandmother took Shane in her arms.  "Oh Shane," she said, "I know what happened.  I saw the whole thing out the window.  But let me explain something to you.  I love you.  I've always loved you.  I loved you before you killed my duck.  I loved you when you killed my duck, and I forgave you for it.  I love you now, and I forgive you now.  I was just wondering how long you would allow yourself to be a slave to your sister's threats."

            Here is an example of how a 10 year old boy found out about the comfort and peace of forgiveness.  The threats of his sister were no match for the love and forgiveness of his grandmother.

            That's what the threat of the law does to us.  We become like slaves.  That's what Adam did when he fell into sin, and that's what we do.  It's like Satan runs behind us and keeps telling us, "remember the duck, remember the duck, remember the duck."  But wit the words of our text today, we know that God gives us peace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

            As we look at the ministry of Jesus Christ, we find that he brought forgiveness and hope to those in need.  Jesus went to the woman at the well, not thumping her over the head with the law, but with the gospel she needed the most, and the gracious invitation that he alone had the water of life in which she would thirst no more.

            Listen once again to the words of our text from Isaiah chapter 61 verses 1-3: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour."

            As I begin my ministry in your midst, it is my hope and prayer that it is not only a Bible-based and centered ministry, but also a Christ centered and a Christ like ministry.  Jesus met those in need right where they were, with what they needed the most-the hope and comfort of the Gospel.

            It is my prayer too that we will grow together by the help of the Holy Spirit, that as a group we, as our text says, may "be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendor."

            As this work begins, I ask for your prayers and support.  Let us pray together that God's will be done amongst his people.  To God alone be the glory of this ministry and congregation.

            May God grant us a fruitful ministry together as we seek to increase his kingdom here on earth, for Jesus' sake.  Amen.