The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached

How long should a sermon be? Jesus preached what every sermon needs to preach. He pointed to himself as the only way to life with God and he declared himself to be the Savior who takes away my sins and yours. This eight word sermon is found in Luke 4:14-21, which could be The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached. January 21, 2007.

           So how long should a sermon be?  It takes courage for me to ask that question, because I have the reputation around here of being the long winded preacher.  A young mother said to me one time, “If I would have known you were preaching this morning, I would have brought the whole box of Cheerios.”   

           OK, so how long should a sermon be?  Martin Luther’s advice to preachers was this: Stand up, speak out, and sit down.”  That sounds pretty good, but you should know that Luther’s sermons usually lasted more than an hour.  Some people say it all depends on what the preacher says.  Some long sermons seem short and some short sermons seem long.  And a lot depends on culture.  We don’t mind listening to people talk, but we’re used to commercials every ten minutes. 

           So how long should a sermon be?  How about eight words long?  If a preacher got up in the pulpit, spoke eight words, and said Amen, would you say, “Now there’s a preacher who finally gets it!”  I don’t think so.  I think you’d say, I should give an offering after an eight word sermon?  A sermon can’t be a sermon if it’s eight words long. 

           Oh, yes it can.  And it can be an excellent sermon.  In fact, it could be the best sermon ever preached.  I’m going to show you an eight word sermon this morning.  I’m not going to preach an eight word sermon, but I’m going to tell you about an eight word sermon.  St. Luke wrote the sermon down in the Gospel that’s being read in Christian churches this morning.  It’s a sermon Jesus preached in a church in Nazareth where he was the guest preacher for the day.  When it came time for the sermon, he picked up the Bible, read the text, and preached his sermon.  Here it is: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearingEight wordsIt’s the…  The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached.

It’s long on fulfillment

            Most of you know that Nazareth was Jesus’ home town, and so the people in Nazareth knew Jesus pretty well.  They knew him as a good, hard-working young man who came from a good family.  But Jesus hadn’t been around for almost a year; he’d been on the road.  There was no CNN in those days, but the people in Nazareth had heard what Jesus was up to while he was gone.  They knew about the water he had changed into wine at Cana, about the paralyzed man he had healed in Jerusalem.  Jesus had been preaching in other churches, too; they knew what he had been saying.  By the time he got back to Nazareth, Jesus had a reputation as a healer and a preacher.  When he got ready to preach, the people were waiting to be impressed. 

            The church where Jesus preached wasn’t a temple.  There was only one temple, and it was in Jerusalem.  The local church, the place where people normally went on the Sabbath Day was called the synagogue.  Every synagogue had scrolls that contained the books of the Old Testament.  Every Sabbath Day the rabbi would read a lesson from the one of the Books of Moses, the people would sing several of the Psalms, and the rabbi would read a lesson from one of the Prophets.  Then the rabbi would preach.

           When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth they asked him to read the lesson from the Prophets.  He unwound the scroll to Isaiah, the 61st chapter.  And this is what he read: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   Everybody knew that passage.  It was one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament.  They knew Isaiah had written these words, but they also knew he hadn’t spoken them.  The speaker was the Servant of the Lord, the one God had promised to send to the people of Israel.  They knew God had chosen this servant, that God had anointed him—it said so right here--and so they called the servant of the Lord Messiah, which means the Anointed One.   When God sent the Messiah, all their troubles would be gone and all their problems would be solved. 

           And so Jesus read the lesson and then he preached The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached: Today is this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  What was in those eight words?  Here’s what Jesus was saying: I am the finale, I am the completion, I am the fulfillment of God’s plan to save you.  Everything Moses wrote in his books, everything David wrote in the psalms, everything the prophets promised in their preaching and prophesies—all of that pointed to me.  I am the Seed of the woman, I am the son of David, I am the Suffering Servant.  I am the one God anointed: In Hebrew, I am the Messiah; in Greek I am the Christ. 

           The sermon may have short, but it was filled with fulfillment for the people in Nazareth.  But we’re not waiting for a Savior.  We have a Savior and we know his story in the New Testament.  What does this sermon mean to people in Milwaukee? 

           First of all, it means this.  When Jesus said in his little sermon that God’s promises in the Old Testament are all fulfilled in him, he was saying that he is the one God intended all along to undo the evil Satan began in Eden.  That means that Jesus is the only way to God.  It means that Jesus was right when he said, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.  That is about the most politically incorrect thing a Christian can say today.   The preacher at Gerald Ford’s funeral read the first half of that passage, but he didn’t read the second half because if he had, every TV network would have made that passage the main news story of the day.  Franklin Graham is Billy Graham’s son, and Billy Graham is the most well-known Christian preacher of our lifetime.  But when Larry King asks Franklin Graham if only Christians will go to heaven, Franklin Graham chokes.  We can’t choke.  We need to say it with love, but we need to say it: Jesus Christ is the only way to God…the only way to God.  The popular idea that there are many paths to God is not part of this sermon in Nazareth.  When it comes to people, God is inclusive: Jesus died for everyone.  But when it comes to his plan, God is exclusive; only Jesus could die for everyone and bring them back to God. 

           Secondly, it means this.  God gave the people of Israel so many rules and regulations in the Old Testament that we can hardly count them.  David wrote thousands of words in the Psalms.  The prophets issued hundreds of prophesies about the future.  And Jesus fulfilled them all.  God had laid out his plan so completely and so thoroughly that he knew every move his Son would make.  God planned Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, that his mother would be a virgin, that he would live in Nazareth as a young man.  God planned Jesus would be betrayed, that he would be beaten and bruised, and that his bones would not be broken.  The plan was finished in God’s mind; that’s why he could lead the writers of the Old Testament to write down the plan hundreds of years before Jesus came.  This sermon in Nazareth may be The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached, but in these eight words Jesus reminds us that God is the perfect planner.  When he makes a promise, he keeps it.  When God made a promise about the Savior who was coming, God kept the promise.  Here it is: When God makes a promise to you, he’ll keep that promise, too. 

And it’s filled with forgiveness

           There’s a lot in this eight word sermon, isn’t there.  It’s filled with fulfillment.  But there’s even more here.  The coming Savior who spoke in Isaiah 61 didn’t only speak about who he was, he also spoke about what he would do.  Do you remember those phrases?  He said he was coming to: Preach good news to the poor, give freedom to the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Every one of those phrases paints a different picture, but each picture depicts the same scene: The Messiah was coming to release people from sin.

           You were all waiting for this, weren’t you.  Every good Lutheran sermon has to have some sin in it.  Good old Lutheran guilt; every Lutheran needs to feel it.  Garrison Keillor makes jokes about Lutheran guilt and we laugh.  And we close our eyes for the confession of sins each Sunday and we admit we’re guilty, just the way we’re supposed to.  And then the preacher absolves us and we’re set for another week.

           But guilt isn’t funny to everybody, and not everybody gets rid of guilt with a once-a-week confession.  Guilt can eat away at people.  It can dominate their lives.  Some people think about guilt in the middle of the night but some people think about guilt in the middle of the day.  Some people feel guilty for things they did, but some people feel guilty for things they didn’t do.  Counselors and psychologists work with some people to help them get rid of guilt, and sometimes that’s necessary.  But the truth is, we’re all guilty.  Good heavens, we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all done things God doesn’t want us to do and not done things God wants us to do.  If we don’t feel guilt, we should!  The trouble is we’re stuck with it.  We can’t buy our way out of guilt because we’re penniless before God.  We can’t escape the prison of guilt because we’re guilty.  We’re blinded to God’s freedom because we always focused on our guilt.  We’re oppressed by guilt and we’re slaves to guilt and there’s nothing we can do to get rid of it.

           Jesus got rid of guilt.  When he spoke though Isaiah long before he ever took on human skin and bones, Jesus said he would get rid of guilt.  When he preached in Nazareth, Jesus said he had come to get rid of guilt.  And he did.  He kept God’s laws and had no guilt of his own.  And then he took your guilt on his back, he carried your guilt to the cross, he paid for your guilt with his blood and his death.  He came back alive and his rose from his grave.  And now God says to you: No guilt, no more.  Your guilt is gone.  Your conscience can’t plague you.  The devil can’t accuse you.  Sin can’t control you.  Death can’t frighten you.  Can we be sure?  Here’s another short sermon; this one’s only three words long.  Not spoken in a synagogue but on a cross. Jesus said, IT IS FINISHED. Our guilt is gone; we can be sure!

           I have to admit something to you.  Some Bible scholars are convinced that this eight word sermon in Luke chapter 4 is a summary of what Jesus said in the synagogue on that Sabbath Day in Nazareth.  This may not be The Shortest Sermon Ever Preached.  Jesus may have said more, maybe much more.   But here’s the point.  Whether Jesus preached long or whether he preached short, Jesus preached what every sermon needs to preach.  He pointed to himself as the only way to life with God and he declared himself to be the Savior who takes away my sins and yours.  If a sermon tells us that, it’s the best sermon ever preached.    Amen.    

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org/) on January 21, 2007

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