Ocean Springs, Mississippi

First Impressions

Sermon on Luke 4:14-21

It’s important to make a good first impression, right?

So they say you’ve got about seven seconds to make a good mark. Seven seconds and these assumptions about a person begin to sink in. And, you know, it may be even less than that now.

You see, talk to anybody who’s in the dating market these days, and they’ll tell you all about those dating apps on their phone. Seemingly endless potential dates, maybe THE ONE, and all you’ve got to do is swipe right or left. Left if you like them, right if you want to see another. So think about that for a moment, you’ve got maybe a split second to make an impression based on a photo of yourself. And really, what’s the incentive to swipe left and say yes, when you never know who might be waiting for you if you say NEXT and swipe right.

First impressions, then, matter a whole lot. It could make all the difference in the world.

So today, we see Jesus trying to make a first impression. This is a turning point in the Gospel of Luke. This is early on. Jesus has just returned from his exile in the wilderness and he’s ready to start his full-blown ministry. So this moment is the inauguration, the kick-off of everything that he’s going to do.

He goes into the synagogue to teach. And he pulls out one of the scrolls to read. It’s the scroll from Isaiah. And he unrolls it, and finds the passage that he wants to use:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He rolls up the scroll and hands it back to the attendant. He takes his seat. All eyes are on him. All want to know what he’s got to say. And Jesus speaks:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That is a mighty short sermon. What kind of impression did it make? Well, you’ll hear more about it next Sunday, but let’s just say the crowd wasn’t so fond of it and they tried to throw him off a cliff. Maybe not the best impression then.

But here’s the thing. Jesus knew what he was doing. This wasn’t just some random verse, like he would just open up the book and start reading wherever his finger lands. No, think about it this way, there were dozens of scroll he could have chosen from. Endless possibilities. He picked that scroll for a reason. What is it then?

Well, I think the key word here is “good news.” Good news to the poor. The captives. The blind. The oppressed. It’s the “least of these” that Jesus is singling out here. And more importantly, he is declaring the Year of the Lord’s favor.

That is the Jubilee year, this ancient Hebrew tradition where once every 49 years, everyone’s debts were forgiven, everyone’s property returned, everything is restored and made whole. Wouldn’t that be nice?

This is a swipe to the left. This is a big swipe to the left. This is God saying, all you people out there who are suffering, who are hopeless, who have nothing else… I see you and I have good news for you.

Now, if it’s good news for the poor, does it mean bad news for the not-poor. Is this a zero sum game where the slices of the pie get lesser and lesser?

But as we see Jesus’ ministry unfold, we see that the good news is not just for a select few, it is for everyone. It does call us to sacrifice. It does call us to give certain things up. But in doing that, we are released from whatever holds us captive.

This isn’t going to be on some distant day either. We don’t have to wait around to see it. “Today, the scriptures are fulfilled.” Today. This is a very important word in the Gospel of Luke. Today.

Today the kingdom has come. As Jesus says on the cross to the thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise. Today.

Jesus is not lecturing, he’s not hedging his bets that this might happen sometime soon. No, he’s declaring emancipation, he’s declaring amnesty, he’s declaring freedom for all.

Freedom from sin, freedom from whatever oppresses us and holds us captive, freedom from the grave.

And so, the question then becomes, how do we act when we are set free? How do we act when it’s happening today? No first impressions, now waiting, now.

It can be too challenging. Too much to handle. Because our human nature doesn’t always want to extend God’s love unconditionally. Try as we might sometimes, it’s tempting to fall back into old habits. But part of that good news is that today is always today. There is always a second chance. For God, it is never too late. Every year is a Jubilee year.

And so, we might say, “The spirit of the Lord is upon us. The Lord has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. The Lord has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Not tomorrow, but today.

So, whatever impression we make, I hope it can reflect that central call. Jesus thought it was important enough to make it the central statement, almost like a mission statement. And I hope that the same can be true for us.