by Jeff Lindsay
A woman opened the door of a building and was about to step outside when she heard a voice saying, “Don’t take that next step or you’ll regret it.” She paused and a brick came crashing to the pavement right where she would have been standing. She looked around and there was no one nearby.
The next day this woman was about to step into the street when she heard this same voice say, “Don’t take that next step or you’ll regret it.” As she paused a truck came racing by and smashed into a nearby vehicle. She knew if she hadn’t listened to that voice she would have been hurt badly, or maybe even killed.
She looked behind her and there was no one nearby.
“All right,” she said, “Who are you?”
“I’m your guardian angel,” the voice replied.
“Oh really, where were you on my wedding day?”
Sometimes we regret decisions we make.
Sometimes things we say or do we wish we could take back.
Former Vice-President Dan Quayle in a speech once said… “I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn’t study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people.” I’m guessing he regretted making that statement!
How many times have you said or heard it said, “If only I had it to do over again…?”
Well you cant!
One of my favorite toys as a kid was the Etch-a-Sketch. The Etch-a-Sketch was a little red and gray drawing board full of sand. It had no digital readouts. It didn’t beep at you or flash. It wasn’t in color it didn’t even require batteries. You twisted two knobs on the bottom of the screen and tried to draw pictures. It was a great toy because if you messed up, all you had to do was shake the thing a couple of times and you got to start all over.
Sometimes I wish my life was like an Etch-a-Sketch. How about you?
Maxed out credit card? Just pick up the card, shake it a couple of times, and the bill is gone! Say something hurtful to a friend or family member, just pick them up and shake them and they forget. You get your feeling hurt or you make a big mistake. Just shake your head and it’s gone. You get to start over fresh and clean.
I know! It doesn’t work that way… or does it?
In the Old Testament is the word “Jubilee”… The blowing of the ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement among God’s people signaled a release of debt and a freeing of slaves.
A fresh start.
In that day, if an Israelite got so far in debt that they couldn’t pay their creditors, they might sell the land that their ancestors had passed down to them. If they still couldn’t pay their debts, they could be forced to sell themselves and their family into slavery in order to pay off their bills. There were no bankruptcy laws. If you couldn’t pay, you lost your property and your freedom. Pretty dismal prospects for somebody who finds themselves in dire circumstances.
That is where the year of Jubilee came in — a sort of divine “Etch-a-Sketch.”
Every half-century, in the year of Jubilee, all the land reverted back to its original owners. If they weren’t alive, it was given back to their families. And all Israelite people who had been sold into slavery because of their debts were freed. What a deal, huh?
God gave the law of Jubilee for several reasons. First, it kept control of Israel’s agricultural economy from moving into the hands of a few powerful landlords.
But even more important was that it gave those who had messed things up beyond hope, a chance to start all over.
The system that God used to deal with Israel within the Old Testament is gone. The Old Testament laws, including the law of Jubilee, ended at the cross with Jesus. Today we serve under the terms of the New Testament. But there is still a way that jubilee works today! In other words the means to “Start Over.”
In our passage today, Luke tells us about Jesus and a certain trip to the synagogue. This text is interesting because it contains Jesus reading scripture about Jesus. He didn’t read it out of context. He didn’t change the words but simply the fact that He read it caused some people to take notice. Jesus was proclaiming that his life was a direct reflection of the promised messiah.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,
17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Did you catch what was happening in that text? Jesus walks into the synagogue and picks up a scroll that has to do with the messiah coming and he basically reads about himself in the text.
Listen again to verse 18. It’s a direct reading of Jesus reading
“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,
Besides being a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, which Jesus applies to Himself, it is also a quote from Isaiah 61, a passage that refers to the Jubilee.
The phrase “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” is a reference to the year of Jubilee.
The coming of Jesus, then, offers us the same opportunity as the year of Jubilee brought to the Israelites — a chance to start over!
So the question is: how can one start all over? What is involved? What must we understand? What must we do? Can we just do the Etch-a-Sketch and shake it off? Are the answers to these questions in our passage in Luke?
Jubilee is the illustration of God’s mercy and kindness. But we’re more inclined to focus on God’s justice than his mercy. Is there a different way?
One night in 1935, Mayor LaGuardia of New York, went to night court in the poorest ward of the city. On this particular occasion, LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren.
LaGuardia said after she pleaded guilty to the crime, “I have to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” It was obvious she couldn’t pay. As the Judge spoke, he threw $10 into his hat.
He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city “where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.” The hat was passed around, and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50 in her purse. Solely out of the goodness of his heart, the Mayor of New York helped this woman who couldn’t help herself. He gave her the opportunity to pay her debts and start all over.
Is this the kind of judge God is? I think so, but I believe we are often more inclined to think of Him as the “Cosmic Cop,” more about vengeance than mercy.
God does at times offer consequences for disobedience but doesn’t take joy in it. Scripture suggests God would much rather pardon than condemn. Scripture suggest that kindness and mercy are, maybe, the strongest parts of God’s nature. Maybe God is more like Mayor LaGuardia than we have believed.
I looked it up!
Nave’s Topical Bible lists over 200 verses that describe the merciful nature of God. The 136th Psalm, written about God’s goodness and mercy says 26 times in its refrain, “His loving kindness is everlasting.” Ephesians 2:4 tells us that God is “rich in mercy.”
Long ago, a poor woman from the slums of London was invited to go with a group of people for a vacation at the ocean. She had never seen the ocean before and when she saw it, she started crying. Those around her thought it strange that she would cry after such an enjoyable holiday had been provided for her. Finally one of them asked her why she was crying. Pointing to the ocean, she answered, “This is the only thing I have ever seen that there was enough of.”
My friends, the Bible proclaims that God has oceans of mercy.
There is enough mercy to extend to every person who desires it. As the author “anonymous” once said, “God’s Mercy and grace is not obtained cheaply or easily, yet is easily and cheaply dismissed.”
Over and over again as a pastor I have heard the stories of an initial choice, which leads to regret, which is followed by some destructive coping mechanism, which brings more choices, which prompts more regret. So on and on the downward spiral goes. When we rely on these things to cope with guilt and hopelessness, we find that regret creates more regret and the cycle continues. It doesn’t have too.
And what about others?
Can we learn something about how we relate to others in God’s mercy?
In 1992, a Los Angeles County parking control officer came upon a car illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day. The officer dutifully wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver’s wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard. The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued and with good reason. The driver of the car was dead but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward. The officer, preoccupied with ticket writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away.
There are times when people around us offend us, betray us, and hurt us.
What is our response? What should our response be?
Many times we become so focused on offering them a citation that we don’t try to understand the circumstances from which the offense comes. What should catch our attention at times might be their need, not their offenses. Maybe they don’t need a citation. Maybe they need the same grace and mercy from us which we have received from God in Jesus.
God’s mercy is great, it’s meant to be received. It’s meant to be offered.
I’ve never been there — it’s on the bucket list — but in Philadelphia is the Liberty Bell. It was first hung in 1753 in the newly finished Pennsylvania State House, the building that would eventually become Independence Hall. On that now famous bell are inscribed these words: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land.”
The inscription then attributes the words to Leviticus 25:10, the Old Testament passage that describes the Jubilee. Of course, the liberty bell developed a crack some years after it was originally rung, and today it’s quiet.
Jubilee, like the liberty bell, it is now silent. But the liberty that Jesus Christ proclaimed 2000 years ago can still be received. God invites us all into a relationship with Jesus and be set free!
The beautiful Christmas story is How God gives us the opportunity to start over.
Its message encourages us to receive this great gift.
That’s what this Holiday season was all about. Quite fitting that Christmas comes at the end of the year because it offers everyone a chance to start over.
As we prepare for this morning’s communion, search your heart for those things you need to ask for God’s grace. Maybe there is someone in your life who needs your grace? Maybe they are even here today.