January 27, 2013, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Year C, Epiphany III
January 27, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Just to be very, very clear, that cute girl I mentioned last week was Windy. (Still is.) More than one person checked in with me on that one.
The revelation of God’s will is desperately important stuff, it is aif not the most important activity of God’s church. Look at the prominence it has, right here at the beginning of St. Luke’s narrative. What has happened so far in the story? ___ The birth narratives of John and Jesus. Then? ____ The baptism of Our Lord. The call to ministry in the bodily descent of the Holy Spirit and God’s voice, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” Then? ____ The wilderness. He is prepared for his Earthly ministry in the wilderness where he exfoliates his body, mind and spirit in the rigors of ascetic practice and Satanic temptation. Then we are here, the revelation of his vocation at his childhood synagogue. Jesus Christ is called, He is prepared, and His mission, His vocation is revealed.
What is the vocation of the fully human Jesus Christ? “…to bring good news to the poor… 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.” This is very clearly his vocation, but what dos it mean?
“Bring good news to the poor.” The Good News, the Gospel. This means bring hope, right? Hope to those in poverty, in need. How do we bring hope? Sometimes hope is delivered in the form of hamburger night at shelter week in a church basement. Or the offer of 100 square feet of parking lot to place a Conestoga Hut. Or a laundry basket full of linens and kitchen supplies from Home Starter Kits. Sometimes good news to the poor is brought with an open ear, a non-judging conversation, a kind word. Sometimes the good news to the poor is just that, the good news that God in Christ has not forsaken you, no matter how bad it seems, how lost you feel, how dark that night seems, there is light, there is laughter, there is abundance and God’s love does reign when we have the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, and the heart to bear it. This is good news to the poor and otherwise.
“Proclaim release to the captives.” King James reads, “deliverance of the captives.” Is this about emptying the jails? If so, maybe Sheriff Turner is a bit of a prophet, no? Perhaps this can be taken literally, that captives ought to be released, that captivity is not God’s will. Jesus died in captivity, so did Paul. From the lost souls languishing in Guantanamo, to the thousands rotting away on death rows, or in the intolerable conditions of prolonged solitary confinement, and in world-wide networks of slavery, of human trafficking and indentured servitude that are alive and well, even here in our fair city. All just wrong, and everyone subject to these torturous conditions must be released. And there are the broader captivities we all need release from; our enslavement to material things, to wealth and possessions; release from idolatry, the captivity of our attention and intentions on things other than God; the captivity of our whole selves by the demons of addiction. Release and deliverance from captivity…
“Recovery of sight to the blind.” Jesus healed the blind. Directly, physically. Remember the first go around, and the people looked like trees, so Jesus tried again? He also healed the spiritually blind, from that centurion on Golgotha to Saul cum Paul, and has kept healing the blind in heart, those mired in unbelief and the particular suffering of loneliness for the love of God. Like John Newton expressed, “I once was lost and now am found, was blind but now I see.”
“To let the oppressed go free.” Jesus Christ liberates the oppressed. Little children and Samaritans; the unclean and untouchable, women and lepers… Jesus worked and watched and wept with the most oppressed in a time of vast, imperial oppression. “In him there is no Greek or Jew, male or female,” That is what Paul teaches, right? And Jesus was present at Seneca Falls, Stonewall and Selma, too; that is what the president was getting at last week; that oppression in all of its forms is not of the Kingdom. Jesus preaches, practices, is liberation.
“To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” What does Jubilee mean? _____ Right, every fifty years all debts are canceled, all indentured servants released (sorry, slaves). Contracts are subject to review. That is straight from Moses; prohibition of collecting interest, usury and other barriers to accumulating dynastic wealth passed from generation to generation. A level playing field… we are all together in the eyes of God and our material lives should somehow reflect that… that is what our Savior proclaims even though the good old time traditions of periodically canceling debt and forbidding interest and the sale of land have gone by the wayside, victims of those whose interests are not served by such practices of gospel justice.
“…to bring good news to the poor… 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.” This passage from Isaiah is a concise summation of the ministry of Our Lord as He dwelt among us. How clear, how purpose driven, accessible, even. Any church or enlightened social service organization could be proud of that as a mission statement. You could preach this Gospel from a UU pulpit and not offend many. But then as he sat down, being just as God as He was human, Jesus proclaimed “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That takes all of this somewhere else.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows his handiwork…” says the psalmist. “…Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard/their sound has gone out to all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” Metaphysically, this is the same as the scripture being fulfilled in your hearing. God, in this case the aspect of God we recognize in the person of Jesus Christ; the simple fact of being, of being the Word, His incarnation into the world spiritually and physically is the proclamation and fulfillment of the prophecy Isaiah had made so many generations before. When God, in love, intersected with the world so definitively in the person of Jesus, everything changed. Us being here right now is a ripple of that change, but truly, the good news to the poor is brought in Jesus Christ. The captives are released in Jesus Christ. Sight is restored, the oppressed are freed and the jubilee is proclaimed in Jesus Christ. Not only really really, in those Jesus personally fed, freed and healed; not only really, really in those fed, freed and healed by His followers over the past 2000 years up to and including us; but also really really in those fed, freed and healed by the eternal and actual presence, just the presence, just the reality of Jesus Christ in their hearts and minds and souls. In our hearts and minds and souls. When we feed on Him in our hearts in faith with thanksgiving, we hunger no longer. When we are wrapped in his love, our souls shiver no longer. When we dwell in his body, we wander no longer. Our captivity ends in the spacious love of Jesus Christ.
But this is why Marx was so dismissive of religion, that our eyes focused on a heavenly prize pulls our eyes from the very temporal sources of suffering. If you are thinking about heaven you are not thinking about the means of production and who owns them. Not so, I say. When our spiritual poverty is satisfied in God, we fear none but God and we can demand what we need, even fight for it. When the captivity of our souls is ended by Christ’s presence in our hearts, our hands are able to heave the doors of our prison cells clear off of their hinges. When we can see again, we can lead others to the Promised Land. When in our hearts we accept that all are created imago dei, in the image of God, and that none ought to have dominion over another, then the man’s boot can be thrown off our individual and collective necks post haste. And when we really, really accept the proclamation of jubilee as being under the auspices of God, then we can begin to lay down the groundwork for a jubilee year this century.
The word of God exists. It feeds and frees, heals and restores. It exists in Scripture, in the spiritual memory of our Savior that we, as believers carry with us. It exists in the work of our hands and souls, it lives in the courage to be, the strength to love, and power to forgive, it thrives in good will manifest our hearts and minds full of the knowledge and love of God. It exists in what you do, and most importantly in who you are. You in prayerful lives you can bring that same good news, proclaim the same release, the same healing and freedom and jubilee as Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior does. In fact, that is our most basic responsibility as Christians and we do it by being who God made us to be. AMEN