January 24, 2016, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Yr C
Year C, Epiphany 3 January 24, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“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… Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is some powerful stuff; Jesus, The Word of God. It is so powerful that merely His presence, simply His being the Word is enough to make it real. The will of God is realized, is made manifestly really, really real here on earth in His divine presence. Powerful words. Strong medicine from St. Luke the physician.
This scene, the reading of Isaiah, occurs at the beginning of His ministry. Our passage for this morning beings with Him returning to Galilee “…filled with the power of the Spirit…” He was returning from His retreat to the wilderness, remember? He was tempted three times by the Deceiver out there. First was His Baptism, then He was led to the wilderness by the Spirit, then bam, He is back in His hometown synagogue reading from the prophets, fulfilling the scripture with His presence. Powerful stuff.
What is happening here? What dose it mean for scripture to be fulfilled in any way that we could hear or be present for? And what is our part in all of that? That’s our topic for today.
At the synagogue there in Nazareth, Jesus was handed a copy of Isaiah’s prophecies and then He scrolled down to these verses. “…he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. …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…” All of these things, these are declarations of liberation. Good news, release, recovery, freedom, the announcement of the year of the Lord’s favor, the mythic year of Jubilee where all debt was forgiven, all collateral returned, all slaves set free. All of these things are forms of liberation.
Liberation. This is one of the key themes of Judaism, one of the key themes that Jesus Christ, a Jew, proclaimed to all who would hear. Liberation. The story of Israel is one of exile and return; bondage and liberation. Exile from Eden. Liberation in Abraham. Bondage in Egypt; liberation in Moses and the Promised Land. Bondage in Babylon. Liberation in Jerusalem. And then, in Jesus’ day, they were again in bondage, this time by the Roman Empire. And always we are in the bondage of our own self-limiting selves. Our petty hatreds and greeds; our ignorance and delusion. Our propensity to idolatry, our holding as most important, as our ultimate concern, as God that which is not, never was, never will be God. We are in bondage by our own limitations, our self-concern, our narrow view of the world. It is all forms of bondage that Jesus liberates us from. But what does it mean to be liberated?
One of our great human liabilities is that we are like crows; jingly, shiny things grab our attention to the point of distraction. We are not so good with subtly. We expect spectacle. Every march should be a Million Man March. Every campaign should shut down the WTO and change the direction of global politics. Every movement a revolution, every meal a feast, every gift a treasure, every diamond forever. But that is just not how it is. That is just not how the world usually works.
Good news to the poor does not necessarily mean, “Your food stamps are being restored,” or, “We have a warm dry place for you to sleep tonight.” Release to the captives doesn’t just involve a jailer’s key ring. The recovery of sight doesn’t mean that physical eyes are opened and freedom from oppression does not mean an act of Congress. It would be great if it did, if with a wave of His hand Jesus could topple Caesar, could make every shackle drop to the ground, could fill every empty belly with good things and put a roof over the head of everyone that needs it. But that is not how it usually works, Jesus spectacularly working miracles like water into wine or the feeding of the 5000 or the restoration of sight to the blind man. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work, that that ancient prophecy can’t in fact be fulfilled in our hearing. Because it can. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it this week, right here at Resurrection, right downstairs. And it happened as powerfully and truly as if Jesus Himself had done it. Then again, I guess if we really think about it, He did.
We’re just at the end of our first two week hosting of the Interfaith Family Shelter with our new friends over at Unity. It has gone really, really well. For all of you who have taken part, well done. You have brought good news to the poor indeed. You see, that liberation, that year of Jubilee that Jesus fulfilled in Nazareth 2000 years ago, that didn’t end when Jesus ascended into heaven. No, no, no… That Good News, that release and recovery and freedom and favor, the very promise of God to all of God’s people, it is acted out, poured forth, shone through the darkness every single day in every corner of this world. Salvation from the suffering of the world is offered over and over and over again, and it happens in the hearts of those who suffer exactly as it happens in the hearts and hands of those who serve those who suffer, for Jesus Christ lives and reigns in every act of mercy as it is offered and as it is received, just as fully, just as miraculously, just as importantly as it did when offered from His own precious hands. Now that is a miracle.
Last Friday, Nick arranged for the Key Club at South to come and run the dinner downstairs. Awesome! A high school service group in one of the most secular zip codes in the country serving at a shelter for homeless families in the basement of a church. Mysterious ways… mysterious ways.
That’s simple enough. Teenagers serving food to homeless families. But a couple of our guests are 14. One goes to South. I can only begin to understand the feelings that those two kids had. It is hard enough living in a shelter, moving from church basement to church basement. It’s hard enough just to be 14, but with all they are bearing… goodness. And here, these well meaning, celebrated for being well meaning kids, their classmates, were coming to offer them caritas, Christian Charity (don’t tell the school board)? There is nothing to be ashamed of about being poor or homeless, but can you imagine the shame and embarrassment a 14 year-old could feel? I remember being ashamed that I had the wrong kind of shoes.
Nick, though, in his wisdom, saw this coming. So with a deft slight of hand, our two guests were invited to join the Key Club that night, and came as volunteers, showing up with the others, leaving with the others, serving right along side everyone else, just like everyone else.
Do you see the fulfillment of Jesus Christ in there? Some very good news was delivered to those two kids last Friday. That they matter. That they have something to offer. That their situation in life does not define who they are and what they are worth even though so many things in our society defines them and devalues them because they are poor, they are homeless. Is that not very good news? Is that not liberation?
For these past two weeks a little pack of eight year old boys here. Lovely kids, but oh buddy! A bit jacked up on sugar and juice, cooped up all day at school, living in a way that changes all the time, new places, new food, new people, new friends… every day. My parents visiting for a week threw our girl’s rhythm off something mighty, I can’t imagine how those kids and their families do it. And their behavior was good, there was just a lot of it, at a volume of 11.
Then maybe Thursday last week, I went down there during dinner and what did I see but four little boys at the serving table, rubber gloves on (those gloves were very popular), spoons and spatulas in hand, serving the food for everyone else. Purpose. Usefulness. Appreciation. Lessons that these future men need desperately, and they got it, a glimpse of it at least, right downstairs. Is that not release from the bondage of living inside a machine, an institution, being useful and helpful to the people you love? Is that not liberation?
The fulfillment of those words, the liberation of those in need happens in the hearts of the oppressed themselves. Our two 14 year old guests are still homeless, they still live at the whim of the dirty, rotten system that put them in our basement, but their spirits, in being respected and honored by the love and consideration and mercy of Nick and everyone who made things happen like they did, that can change you. It can change your heart. It can set you free, all that good news. The caged bird can sing beautifully indeed, a sign of the real presence of Jesus Christ in even the darkest of places. And those boys felt it too. And their parents, seeing the respect and love being shown their children. And everyone serving here who witnessed it. A change of heart is the beginning of every liberation. And even if not one hair on one head is ruffled by the winds of physical, situational change, a change of heart can move mountains. And it does. Liberation.
That same liberation pours forth from and leaves marks on those who offer to help fulfill that scripture in your hearing. Our hearts can change in such moments because Jesus Christ lives in there, in our hearts. Some call it our Christ Consciousness, others our Christ Nature. Labels don’t matter, we all have it. Some of us notice it more than others. It is really hard to feel. It is subtle in most of us. Most of us aren’t compelled to acts of mercy, not until we learn to hear those voices, learn to recognize that we all bear the loving-kindness and mercy of Jesus Christ inside of us. That’s our birthright in baptism.
When we realize that, that we all carry Jesus Christ in us, when we see that our nature is blessed with a fragile humanity and an inviolable divinity, like our savior realized in blessed perfection, not only are we liberated, not only do we receive the good news and are released, recovered and freed, but we liberate others. The good news we proclaim in word and action is the very hand of God making real the Kingdom right here, right now. God in Christ provides the heart and spirit as we provide the body to fulfill God’s word in the hearing of the whole world.
After church, in this room, we’re going to talk about this some more. We’re going to reflect theologically on our own experiences of shelter week, or at Egan or the breakfast, or walking through downtown. There are many ways we individually help fulfill scripture in someone’s hearing. St. Paul tells about this; there are many parts of one body. We can’t all be biceps and pecs doing the heavy lifting of Egan or wrangling four 8 year-old boys. Someone needs to arrange for the plumbing to work when it isn’t. Actually, that act becomes the most important for a bit. Go Ken! Someone needs to fill in the schedules. Someone needs to sign a pledge check to keep the heat on. Someone needs to pray for all of it. And this week, in this place, the Body of Christ rallied, and good news was brought, captives of all sorts were released, sight was recovered, the oppressed were freed and the year of the Lord proclaimed, one hot dog at a time, one act of mercy at a time, one soul at a time, all of ours. AMEN