Luke 4: 14-21
January 24, 2016
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Did you notice? The Gospel lessons of late have all been concerned with revealing more about Jesus, who he was and what he was up to all those long years ago. Last week we heard about his first miracle when he changed water into wine at that wedding in Cana. That story is found in the gospel According to John. Back two weeks ago we heard about Jesus’ baptism That story was from the Gospel According to Luke. We’re back with Luke this week. To recap, according to Luke, as soon as Jesus was baptized he was led by the spirit into the wilderness. While in the desert he faced a number of temptations. After his time in the wilderness Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and returned to Galilee where he began to teach in the synagogues. Now he’s retuned to Nazareth, his hometown. As was his custom we are told, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. What was that like do you suppose? All those people he grew up with, his friends and family, his teachers and the merchants he knew from the market, all gathered to hear him. After all, this was Joseph’s and Mary’s son. Mary was there, seated with the other women, behind a screen most likely, her head covered modestly. Joseph was there in the more open section with the other men, all those who might be called upon to read and, perhaps, even asked to comment on the reading. Understand, there were no trained clergy back then. Most everyone was familiar with the scriptures and their usual interpretation. Most of the men could read from the scrolls and recite the commentary. They’d heard it all their lives. But today is special, they’ve been hearing about Jesus, he’d been gathering praise in other villages, other synagogues.
Naturally the Synagogue President asked Jesus to read. He was handed the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah and, as there was no set lectionary, chose a passage. You remember, we just heard those words ourselves. “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.” Jesus read, and then he sat down because that’s how the commentary was given. Imagine all those faces turned toward him, expecting that he will offer the commentary and will do it well, which is to say correctly. Jesus, for his part looks back at the group. There’s Joseph, and his closest neighbor. How often had he watched them as they sat on the door step of an evening
talking over the village news? There’s his best childhood friend. He’s got a son now just old enough to sit with the men. There’s his teacher, grown old now, his beard gray and his face lined.
Jesus begins to speak. It’s not at all what they expected. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”: he says. We’ve just heard Jesus declare his purpose, his mission statement as we would say today. This is what Jesus is all about, bringing good news to the poor who can hardly believe it. This is why Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, to bring sight to the blind, to release those who are held captive. In short Jesus came to make real God’s year of Jubilee when God’s justice will shape the kingdoms of this world into God’s own eternal Kingdom. Most of us are probably not as familiar with the great stories of scripture as Jesus’ contemporaries were. But I’ll just bet you remember some of the stories. Maybe it’s the one about that Samaritan who stopped to help the man left for dead in a ditch. Maybe it’s the one about the Roman soldier’s child restored to full health. Is it the one about the lepers healed and sent on their way? The thing is, all those stories about Jesus life and ministry show him, over and over again, living into the prophecy that he claimed for himself that day in the Synagogue at Nazareth. He healed the sick and the blind, he freed those held captive to pain and fear and the prejudice of others. He kept on doing it right up until the Temple hierarchy decided he was too much of a threat and arranged with Roman governors to have him killed. There’s more to the story though. You remember.
Death did not stop him. Resurrection happened. Then Jesus passed that gift of the Holy Spirit on to his followers. First it was his closest friends, you know Peter, James, John and the others. They set out to carry his work forward and more and more people began to follow in Jesus’ way.
For sure, Jesus doesn’t have a human body any more but he has the church. Jesus is still living into that mission statement because the church gathered in his name is living into it. Yup that’s right, now Jesus works through the likes of you and me, all of us who have been baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever. How about some examples? On the island of Maewo the people are both poor and undereducated. Thanks to Episcopal Relief and Development Lisa is making a difference. She’s only 18 but she’s teaching aspiring carpenters to read and write. ERD helped her to go to a training course so she can pass on her education to help others learn vocational skills. In Chattanooga, Tennessee a group of churches work together to help refugees settle into their new lives here in the U.S. Closer to home The Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan is providing filters, water bottles, and gallon containers to help alleviate the water crisis affecting the people of Flint. And St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit has provided approximately 2800 gallons of water over the past 18 months to help those whose water has been turned off when they can’t afford to pay their water bills. Closer still, here in Monroe the Oaks of Righteousness winter ministry provides the only unrestricted warming shelter in the county.
Last winter they sheltered whole families displaced by the closure of an apartment building
due to lack of heat and running water. Right here at Trinity, last week and today, we have gathered and blessed groceries for those in need. Yes, the poor have received good news
in the form of shelter, and water, and groceries. Those blinded by a lack of education and unable to provide for their families can see their way into a brighter future. Those oppressed and displaced from their homes are set free. In a variety of places and in any number of ways
those who are held captive by hatred or indifference or addiction are released when we who follow Jesus reach out to meet them where they are and to offer a helping hand. Think back to that synagogue in Nazareth. It was a lot like many church services today I expect. People came expecting business as usual. Instead they got Jesus who spoke to the deepest longings of their hearts, saw the best they had to offer, and invited them into an amazing future. What if we let Jesus speak into our deepest hearts, helping us to see the best in ourselves, healing our blind spots, freeing us from captivity to our own pre-conceived notions? Can you imagine it? All your lostness and loneliness, all your sadness, your grief, even all the ways you feel ashamed, transformed because Jesus has just offered the best news you’ve ever heard. He’s right here now inviting us into an amazing future. How will you respond? What gifts have you been given that you can share? How will you help Jesus fulfill his mission to make the Kingdom of God real today in this place? Amen