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Basic – A Modern Definition
Our sermon series that we begin today is called Living the High Life and it is an invitation to look at the life of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke and live into the higher way of being that Jesus lived into. As we continue with the series, it is my hope that we will not just learn about the life of Jesus but embrace his way as our way of being and living.
When I was growing up basic had two definitions: it was something plain and simple that had little flash or panache and it was the main programming language on my first three computers. But the idea of basic has changed through the years. It still has those definitions but like most of the English language, it has pick up several more. The one that I find most interesting is the current meaning. According to dictionary.com, basic is,
(especially of a female) characterized by predictable or unoriginal style, interests, or behavior: those basic girls who follow trends.
(of things) boringly predictable or unoriginal: His lyrics are just so basic.
Another author referenced in the article says that “to be labeled as basic is to say that you have the most homogeneous, blank, and unsophisticated identity.” I did a Google search of the term and I found out that basic is not what you want to be. It is usually a term that women apply to other women to belittle them, especially those in the public eye. There are dozens of articles, most of them on websites for younger women and fashion magazines that spell out plainly that being basic is being persona non-grata regarding any way you might be basic: clothes, slang terms, ideas, you name it. Oddly enough I did find an article on Cosmopolitan.com (trust me I just read that article) that was titled, What’s So Wrong With Being Basic? In the article the author, a young woman who sees herself as basic (‘I’ve been known to refer to the fall as Pumpkin Spice Latte season. I also love a barre-method workout class, to which I wear my Lululemons and those socks with the little grippy bits on the bottom. I think pretty much everything Kate Middleton wears is flawless.’), talks about a segment of the culture (the fashionable) who disdain all things popular or common or trendy as basic or as the definition says, with a predictable or unoriginal style, interests, or behavior.
The author points out, interestingly enough, that men can be basic in popular culture and it is perfectly okay. The author writes about the idea of the Bro, the guy who is ‘basic’ saying,
“Over time, guys made Bro mean whatever they wanted,” says BroBible managing editor J. Camm, “so now it has less of a negative stigma.”
Well, this morning I want to propose that we take the author’s advice to be basic, not in the anti-fashionable, I don’t want to be the next great thing to hit Paris, London, or Milan kind of way. But in the sense that follow Jesus in the Way is something predictable and unoriginal that may lead us to a transcendent and Spirit-led life.
The first sermon I preached was in a tent outside Hiram, Georgia in the early summer. It was a hot sticky evening, I was wearing my best suit, barely fifteen years and scared out of my head. The church we had just discovered, along with my new beginning of faith was insistent that all the young men (teenage boys that is) try their hand at preaching, just to see if it stuck with anyone. To that church, the highest calling was ministry and they wanted to send as many preachers into the world as possible. I said a few words about the church as Paul described it from Ephesians and sat down, still shaking, convinced I had no business there. After a long circuitous through agnosticism and several other philosophies I found myself, some twenty years later, formally in the ministry, a strange road to find a calling to be sure.
Jesus, however, took a much more direct route. In our passage from Luke, we see the story of Jesus as he comes to the beginning of his ministry. I think it’s safe to say that this sermon went a lot better than mine. Now there is a lot of stuff going on in this passage and a lot that we can cover but in the interest of leaving us with something practical to work with I’m going against the grain and I’m going to be basic. I’m going to offer what I would call a basic Christianity from Jesus sermon.
So, what going on here? Jesus has been preaching all over the region known as Galilee, probably in synagogues, town squares, and at hillside near you. He comes to his hometown, Nazareth, the place he grew up and knows everyone from, and walks into the synagogue. Apparently, he had gained enough of a reputation as a teacher of the Tanakh or Jewish scriptures, that he was accorded the honor of reading from them and offering his teaching.
It seemed that in the synagogue of that time, as is the case with many religious orders now, there was a lectionary of sorts, a listing of passages to read on certain days. The day Jesus was asked to preach used the scripture from what we know as Isaiah 61, and Jesus stood up to read,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus rolls up the scroll and says, “Today, the scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” At first, the people rave about him saying that he offers such ‘gracious words’ and they marvel at him. He goes on to say a few more things about the unbelief they harbor in their hearts and how they are like the Israelites of old who said they believed and really didn’t. Eventually, he peeves them off so much that they try to throw him off a cliff.
But before these reactions, there is the message itself, a passage from Isaiah that Jesus claims is fulfilled in him. What does he mean? What does that mean for us? Let’s look at the passage and break down the pieces a bit.
He has sent me – Jesus is saying here that he has a purpose in life, that he was sent. For all of us who are followers of Jesus, we too have a purpose and reason for being, to continue in the footsteps of Jesus, living as he lived, doing as he did, and encouraging others to do the same. We as disciples live lives that are inextricably tied to the life and being of Jesus and to the mission that was his before us.
So, what is the mission?
To preach good news to the poor – If I were to do a literal Greek translation of this it would sound something like ‘to proclaim a worthwhile message to those who are forced to bow down under the weight of something or someone.’ When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking to an audience of people who had been under the boot of foreign invaders for several centuries. More than anything, they wanted to live in an Israel that was ruled by Jews as in the days of old. They longed for the old monarchies as in the days of David and Solomon. Though they did not know it at the time, Jesus was preparing a message of peace and reconciliation between the various factions of Jewish rulers and those who had been marginalized by Jewish society. The poor – the tax collector, those in slavery, those in poverty, those with diseases, those who were pushed aside for being something other than the norm – would find a message of hope that would transcend the misery of life by embracing a life that no longer put prestige, social honor, and familial connection at the forefront of being. Peace is for all and reconciliation is for all and all are offered a chance to hear the message.
Proclaim release to the prisoner & to liberate the oppressed – Throughout the gospels, Jesus has an ongoing argument with the Pharisees about the law. Now, understand, there is the law (the Torah and many other laws that total over six hundred things required of Jews) and there is the Law (that which is of God for man to live by and in communion with God and neighbor). Some of these things overlap and some do not.
With this as an understanding and context, I believe that the prisoners Jesus speaks of are those held captive by Pharisaical traditions and forced to obscurity and marginalization on their account. In passages like the sermon on the mount, the greatest commandment, and the wealthy young ruler, Jesus iterates this idea of living into communion with God and neighbor as the ultimate expression of following God, saying things like,
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Many other places show these teaching and I believe them to be what Jesus means by releasing the prisoner, those in bondage to religion and faith as it should not be.
Recovery of sight to the blind – The religious leaders we just spoke are throughout the gospels shown to be those who cannot see. Take John 9 where Jesus contrast the healing of a blind man and his restored sight to the Pharisees who cannot see it for what it is. Notice what is said in John 9:39-41, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” In other words, the man who was born without sight (spiritually and physically) is restored and the Pharisees who were born with sight (physically but not spiritually) have lost or never had it.
We who follow Jesus can become those who see but only so long as we rely on Jesus being our light, our guide to see by. To live into his teaching and follow the path of the Way is how we see and help to bring sight to others.
Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor – In Leviticus chapter 25, Moses stands on the side of Mount Sinai having a conversation with God. God is telling Moses how to prepare the land once the people enter Canaan. The instructions that he gives require a Sabbath rest for the land so that the land may heal itself every seven years. During this Sabbath, the food from the previous six years was to be used to feed not only the people but they’re hired laborers, servants, and foreign guests who lived with them as well as the livestock and wild animals in the land.
After a period of seven Sabbaths of the land, a total of 49 years the people were to blow a trumpet on the Day of Atonement and declare this to be a Jubilee year. During this year, each person had to return to their family property where no one was to plant no one was to harvest, no one was to gather food, and people were only allowed to eat only the produce that was directly out of the field because it was a Jubilee year and it was considered a holy. The buying and selling their food was regulated to keep people from cheating one another. God declared that the land should not be permanently sold because the land belongs to God. Leviticus 25 verse 23 says, “You are just immigrants and foreign guests of mine.” Methods were given to calculate a fair price for land to be purchased back for those who were in difficulty and had to sell. For those who were indentured servants it was a year to be released from bondage, are year to return to their family and their family property.
The year of Jubilee was a year of redemption. It was a time when those who had come upon hard times would now be able to return to their lands, return to their families, and have the dignity of their humanity restored. Jubilee was a time when things that had gone wrong could be set right. It was a time for those who found themselves under the yoke of personal or financial bondage could be redeemed from their circumstances.
Jubilee, in its purest form, is the freedom to rest. It is being released from the bondage of the debt and restored to a place of peace and the place of plenty. Imagine knowing that all your debts were canceled, that you were completely free from the burden of owing anyone anything. Imagine the good night’s sleep that you would have and the carefree day that you would have knowing that you were truly, completely, without worry.
Now imagine Jubilee, not in the physical sense that we have been describing, but in a spiritual sense, a way in which you were given freedom from your past, freedom from your mistakes, freedom from the person that you used to be. Now imagine the freedom to look to the future, the freedom to not fear failure, the freedom to be the disciple that Christ calls you to be when He whispered the words, “Come, follow me.”
Living into the Sermon
We who choose to be disciples of Jesus choose this as our lives, our way of being, our path in the Way, are choosing to be basic. Basic in the sense that we are boringly predictable in our life patterns which mimic those of Jesus and being unoriginal by letting the thoughts, actions, and person of Jesus be our own.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
 Luke 4:18-19
 Luke 4:21
 Luke 4:22
 Matthew 22:37-40