Sermon, Year C, Epiphany 3, January 24, 2016
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
©2016 Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Luke 4:14-21
I think we have in the way that this passage is presented, and where it is in Luke’s gospel, a beautiful construction by the writer, to place this here. Last week we read out of John’s Gospel Jesus was at a wedding in Cana at which he turned water into wine, which in John’s Gospel is Jesus’ first sign or declaration of who he is. And now here in Luke’s Gospel we get Jesus’ first public declaration of who he is. Jesus is saying things about himself. When he is at the synagogue to read from the scroll of Isaiah, he has already been baptized, had his forty days in the wilderness to be tempted, has come home and been teaching in his home territory. But then he comes to his home town, his home synagogue in Nazareth, and declares himself, as we read in the passage.
He’s not teaching in this moment. He’s proclaiming who he is. He’s setting his agenda, declaring his mission, and setting it against the scriptural tradition of his people - the Jewish people. He reads from the prophet Isaiah, one of many texts in the Jewish scriptures that looked forward to a messiah. The prophets offered challenge and calls to repentance when they were written, as well as warnings about a bad future, vt that also looked ahead to a time when God would continue to act on behalf of the people, including sending a messiah. And Jesus takes these words on himself:
“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.”
Then he does a sort of first century Palestine version of the mic drop. He rolls the scroll up, hands it off, and sits down, saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is firmly in his Jewish tradition here. He also announces that he is not only *in* in the tradition, but is the fulfillment, or at least one fulfillment, of that tradition. He is doing something new, but he is doing it in line with the tradition.
So when I said earlier that I think this is a beautiful way for Luke to begin Jesus’ public ministry in this gospel, the beauty that I see is in what Jesus’ mission is. How Luke establishes Jesus’ mission right here at the first, when he sets his agenda. It’s a mission of compassion. A mission of attention to individuals. A mission which says that each person matters. A mission that is not to support the position of the political and the religious powerful, but to minister to the human needs of all, wherever we are in life’s stations, but especially toward those who are powerless. To remind people that he is coming to the powerless. That there is, in God, this call to pay attention to the least. So the mission of Jesus is to bring the good news to the poor, ot proclaim release to the captives, to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is there to turn things upside down. Not upside down through violent revolution, civil war, military take over, or political coup. He’s not looking to replace people in positions of power with himself, because he knows that doing so would not change the systems of oppression, it would merely replace who the oppressors are.
This is a turning upside down by boldly stating that the poor, the blind, the captives, the oppressed also have the God-given right to exist. That they also have a story to hear. They are to be noticed, to be recognized, to be known, and to be favored. That God is watching over them as well, and that they also just as much as anyone else deserve God’s attention, and deserve the attention of the powerful. That’s a radical nature of how Jesus introduces himself here.
“I have come to minister to all people, but especially to the least. To those who often get ignored by the religious and political systems.” Jesus says he has come on behalf of people. Not a nation, a tribe, or other group identity. But for individuals, for all people.
Jesus and God care about individuals. About each of us, personally and uniquely.
In the letter from Paul to the Corinthians that we read is a parallel to what Jesus said:
“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
That also is part of the mission of Jesus that he announces here. Then Jesus ends with these words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today! Today it is fulfilled. Not some day this will be fulfilled. Or at the end of my life this will be fulfilled, or that we need to wait. It’s today! God’s realm is today. Jesus’ presence is today. What God is doing is today.
I think these are good words up against those who have said over the centuries, before Jesus’ time, and words the church has too often said since Jesus’ time, said to the poor and the suffering, the slaves and outcast, the marginalized and oppressed, “We can’t relieve your suffering today. You just have to wait until you die, and then you’ll go to heaven and everything will be great because today we need you as a slave, or we don’t have the resources to lift you out of poverty, or to give you healthcare…” or whatever the excuses may be. might be. To lift up only a vision of some future time of goodness is to completely miss Jesus’ words here that it is fulfilled today.
Jesus says against the thinking that people have to wait, that the good news begins today. It is centered in this life, in the lives of people, of real people. The people around us, and also us! The God who is present in our lives watches over us today. Gives us the spirit today. Offers us hope today. Loves us today. I hope you all can feel that. Feel some sense of God’s presence in our lives because God is active in the here and now. I hope that you feel that. And I hope also, or I like to imagine anyway, that the people when Jesus was reading from the scroll of Isaiah that they felt that morning a shudder of hope in hearing the words. Or goosebumps of divine possibility. That there was some sense of energy in them that something has changed. Something significant has changed in the world and the way of God. Something is going to be different after this remarkable moment of Jesus’ proclamation of the good news. I hope that we can feel that today as well.
And I know also that too often the world around us seems to awfully different from God’s vision. Horrible things happen around us. Wars going on. Political fighting. Terrorism and fear of terrorism. Domestic abuse. The nastiness that you might see in on-line comments. Poverty and homelessness. Shootings in schools and elsewhere. Bombings. Natural disasters. People embezzling from those they are charged to be watching over. Houses burning down. There is a lot going on that make it very easy to forget that we have a loving God who is present, and alive, who loves. So it is good to go back to scripture. To continue to read our story, and to come together on Sundays to hear again our story that is embedded in the scriptures, and also the story that we continue in our lives and the story of history. Good to come together to remind us who we are and whose we are. Like watching over and over a favorite movie, or re-reading a favorite book, or re-hearing a favorite story. To remind us of God’s promises, even in the face of a world that seems to have forgotten or refuses - or is afraid - to believe them.
Especially good to re-read this passage in which Jesus says who he is, and in which he says that it is fulfilled today. Jesus is with us. Jesus is present. And to remember that we are the recipients of that legacy as Jesus has called together his body, which is the Church. As Paul says, the Body of Christ, in which all our individual skills, gifts, passions are included. We are the recipients of Jesus’ legacy, and we, too, are bearers of the hope because we have the Spirit as well! The Spirit of God is upon us. That is one thing we proclaim in the church, that the Spirit of God is upon us and that we can be the proclaimers, and the freedom-givers, the hope-bringings, the sight-giving. That it is fulfilled in us as well. It is fulfilled as well through our work, our hospitality, through our love, through our invitations extended to others to share in the good news, inviting others to hear the good news through hearing it and also by living it out.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.