St. John's, Centreville
January 27, 2019
3 Epiphany C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
"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." The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. The he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. In the synagogue, anyone could read from scripture, and the attendant that day handed the scroll to Jesus. Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads this passage from the Book of Isaiah.
The gospels of Matthew and Mark put this story about Jesus later in his ministry. But Luke puts it at the beginning, as a statement of who Jesus is and what his mission will be. Jesus has been baptized by John, and the Holy Spirit has come upon him. The spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness what he is tempted by Satan. After that, Jesus begins to teach in the synagogues, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He comes to Nazareth where he grew up and goes to the synagogue. Chances are that he probably knew many of the people there, as people did not move around as much as they do today. So here is the hometown boy, the preacher who is teaching and being praised by everyone, we are told. So they smile at their hometown hero and are proud of who he has become.
If Jesus had stopped there, things would have been fine. But he doesn't. He goes on to say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Is Jesus implying that he is the one who is fulfilling the scripture from Isaiah? Is he saying that he is God's anointed One? Who does he think he is? Isn't he the son of the local carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph? And what started out as a well wishing crowd suddenly turns into a lynch mob that runs Jesus out of town and comes close to pushing him off a cliff. But that's next Sunday's gospel. Come back to hear the rest of the story.
God filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit and anointed him to do a specific work - not for himself, not for his own personal gain. God anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Jesus was anointed as the Messiah, to fulfill the mission of God, to do God's work in the world.
Jesus' ministry was not restricted to those who were economically poor, but also included those who were poor in spirit, those who were yearning for good news, for hope, for faith. They may have been poor in their relationships with others or with themselves, those who might have felt lost or empty. Those who were captives were not necessarily just those who were in prison, but also those who may have been captives of evil hearts and minds, captive to things that were destroying them, not fulfilling them. Those who were blind might have been physically blind, but they might also have been blind to the ways of God, the love of God, the wonderous things that God has given us. Perhaps they were blind to hope, blind to salvation, blind to faith. The oppressed might include captives, and slaves and those who barely had enough to survive, But it could also include those who were oppressed or beaten down by sin and guilt, hatred or fear.
The story is told of a pastor who went to visit a prisoner on death row, where he had been for 21 years, for killing a teenage girl. The prisoner talked a lot about grace, that grace had overwhelmed his sense of guilt. He said, "The gospel requires us not simply to be sorry, but to be transformed by our sorrow. For me, this is a daily transformation." For him, guilt and grace stood in tension. Forgiveness had not erased the memory of his sin, yet he insisted over and over again that Christ had freed him from it. The prisoner went on to say, "I will never forget my crime. But there has to come a point where you receive forgiveness and then forgive yourself. Not to justify your actions, but to accept God's love. It does not matter where you are. It is who you are that matters. I am a person who is loved and forgiven by God." The pastor later reflected that going into the prison, he expected to find the worst of the worst. Instead he found a broken sinner, redeemed and pieced back together by the love of God. Instead of a monster, the pastor found grace, a power strong enough to transform.*
Jesus was not limiting his mission and ministry just to people in these categories. Rather his ministry encompassed all people, all people who sought him out, all people on the margins of society, all who were forgotten or alone or rejected.
Jesus was anointed by God for this mission, this ministry. What does God anoint us to do and be in this world? What work has God chosen us for? As we heard in the reading from the first Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we all have God given gifts and abilities, all part of the Body of Christ. How do we figure out what they are, and how we are to use them? We pray to be filled with God's Holy Spirit, to lead us and guide us.
There was urgency in Jesus' mission and ministry and there is urgency in ours. We are called to live each day as if it were our last, as if it were the only day we had on this earth. All of us are called to a particular ministry, where we feel that God is calling us to serve.
The Holy Spirit comes and leads us where God calls us to minister in God's name. What if, when we gather here as a community of faith, we say to God and to each other, "God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and new beginnings to all who have failed"?
It's easy for us to put off until tomorrow the work God has given us to do. It's easier to turn a blind eye to those in need and rationalize that someone else will help them, or, worse yet, they are not worthy of our help.
God calls each of us to minister in God's name, not for our own well-being or glory, but for the glory of God. May each of answer that call to discover how we are called by God to serve today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.
"Feasting on the Gospels" - Luke, Volume 1, page 101-103