Today this scripture is fulfilled (Luke 4.14-21) [Sermon 1/24/16 Epiphany 3c]

2

January 22, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for January 24, 2016. Epiphany 3c.

Scriptures:

Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm 19

1 Cor. 12.12-14, 27

Luke 4.14-21

For those who would rather listen, or would like to follow along, an audio link is embedded below.


Jesus edits Isaiah while giving the Sabbath lesson

Our Gospel reading today has Jesus running around in his old stomping grounds. The Galilean countryside.

In Luke’s story line, this is Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism. He’s taken the big plunge, now it’s time for him to make his big splash.

He heads back toward his hometown, Luke tells us, in the power of the Spirit. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone, Luke says. And news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.

There must have been quite a buzz when Jesus showed up in his home synagogue in Nazareth for Sabbath services. As he normally did, Luke makes sure to tell us. Jesus made it a habit to be in the church-house for Sabbath meeting. His folks raised him right.

I imagine that a hush fell over the meeting-house when the synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Maybe it was the lectionary reading that day. Or maybe the Galilean synagogues were so poor they had to share scrolls, and it was the Nazareth synagogue’s turn to borrow Isaiah. Whatever the case, I suspect that everyone kept their eyes peeled and their ears perked up as he unrolled the scroll and found the place where he would read from.

Can’t you just hear the sound of Jesus’ finger sweeping across the papyrus? The furrow of his brow as he scans the scroll for the preaching text? The mischievous twinkle in his eyes when he finds it?

Can’t you just feel the electricity in the atmosphere as he reads?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,

    to proclaim release to the prisoners

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

    to liberate the oppressed,

     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Curious thing Jesus did there. Couple of curious things, really. I’m certain everybody there noticed.

First, mostly he read Isaiah 61.1-2. That’s the stuff about good news for the poor. Releasing the prisoners. The blind recovering their sight. The year of the Lord’s favor. But he also slid in a line from a few chapters back—perhaps a column or so over in the scroll. The line about liberating the oppressed. That’s actually from Isa. 58.6. Like he sort of decided it belonged beside all the other good news.

So the first curious thing is what he slid in. The second curious thing is what he slid out. In Isaiah 61.2, the year of the Lord’s favor was also the day of vengeance of our God. Apparently, Jesus decided to say No! to vengeance. Nope, no vengeance on his watch.

Very curious, y’all. Make of that what you will. What is it I always like to say? I didn’t write it!

Then, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Luke says that, Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.

Was everyone captivated by the hometown hero? Or maybe now they were studying him real close because of how he’d read the lesson? How he’d tossed the one line out and snuck another one in.

And that’s when Jesus gave the shortest, most direct, most provocative sermon this side of forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown! (Jonah 3.4)

Today, Jesus says, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.

So that was the day Jesus gave the lesson at his home congregation. Sort of a sermon and an invitation all rolled up into one sentence, isn’t it? I know y’all are thinking: We should be so lucky, preacher!

That’s the story Luke has to tell. Jesus in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, reading the Scriptures. Sabbath, synagogue, and scripture. Sounds like Luke was trying to make sure we know Jesus was a good Jewish boy, doesn’t it?

But maybe it’s not that simple. Maybe there’s more to the story.

Right. With Jesus, it’s never that simple, is it? There’s always more to the story.

Is there good news without bad news?

It would be tempting to say, Yes, Jesus was a good Jewish boy, and leave it at that. In synagogue every Sabbath. A student of the Scriptures. Not trying to rock any boats or upset any apple carts. Even kept his sermons mercifully short.

Except for the lesson from Isaiah that day was dangerous. It was designed to rock boats and overturn apple carts. Let’s listen to that again.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,

    to proclaim release to the prisoners

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

    to liberate the oppressed,

     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Now let’s think about that. It sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d have to be a jerk not to want good news for the poor and recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. Who doesn’t want those things?

But then you could get to thinking about the particulars. The Lord has anointed me . . . to proclaim release to the prisoners. For real, Jesus? Do we really want to release the prisoners? Some folks are in prison for real good reasons. A lot of folks need to be locked up, don’t they? Some people are just violent and mean and vicious and don’t care who gets hurt. Doesn’t the public need protection from violent criminals?

Or how’s about this business about proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor? What even is that? Well, it’s the Jubilee. You can read about the Jubilee in Leviticus 25. Basically, every fifty years, on the Day of Atonement—the day of reconciliation—they’d blow a trumpet. That trumpet let everyone know that Jubilee had begun.

Even the land got a rest during the Jubilee. No one planted or harvested anything. You ate whatever the ground grew for you.

Everybody got to go home. All the slaves were set free. All debts were forgiven. Land that had been mortgaged was returned to its original landholders.

That sounds like a great set-up, doesn’t it? But think about it: Do we really want a Jubilee? Wouldn’t it wreck the economy if we just up and canceled all debts? Shouldn’t people repay their debts? Isn’t that the morally responsible thing to do?

Now, the popular churchy answer for a long time has been, Well, Jesus didn’t mean that stuff literally. He meant releasing prisoners from hell or the devil or sin or whatever. He meant a spiritual Jubilee—the forgiveness of sins. Setting people free from their guilt and shame.

I’m not saying that’s not true. I agree that’s part of it. But I’ll go way out on a pretty sturdy limb here and say that’s not all Jesus meant. No one gets crucified for preaching feel-good messages. That’s because therapeutic religion doesn’t challenge anyone.

And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus left out the line about a day of vengeance for our God. Man, that’s the only thing that gave that prophecy any teeth! How will the poor and oppressed be set free unless God sticks it to the man first?

You just don’t get the year of the Lord’s favor without a day of vengeance for our God first.

How can there be any good news, any justice, for the poor and oppressed unless it’s bad news for their enemies?

Here’s a teaser for next week. The people who heard Jesus’ synagogue sermon that day hated it. It made them so mad they tried to chuck him off the side of a mountain.

What about us? Does Jesus’ sermon frustrate us? We’re good Christian folk, so we won’t throw anybody off a mountain. But have we watered down his message? Have we put limits on it? Have we tried to tame it with sentimentality?

Maybe trying to tame Jesus is a greater sin than trying to toss him off a mountain.

Let’s blow the Jubilee trumpet today!

You know what I suspect our greatest temptation is when we hear Jesus get up and preach Isaiah 61? We forget what Jesus said about it. We look way back in the past, and say: this one time, Jesus came and preached good news to the poor and released the prisoners and gave the blind their sight back.

Or we cast our eyes to some far-off future and tell ourselves: one day, Jesus will come back and liberate the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And that’s the thing I don’t think Luke’s Jesus will let us do.

Let’s listen again to Jesus’ sermon: Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.

Today. Right here. Right now.

Jesus confronts the church with Isaiah 61. He confronts, and he invites: What are you going to do today that proclaims good news to the poor? How are you go to work to free prisoners today? Today, how are you going to give sight to the blind? What are you doing to liberate the oppressed and proclaim the Jubilee today?

Today, church—what are we doing, what can we be doing, to fulfill Isaiah 61?

If the church is the body of Christ—as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12—then aren’t we also anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, and release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind? Has God not also commissioned us to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?

If Jesus was blowing the Jubilee trumpet when he preached in Nazareth that day, shouldn’t the church be blowing the Jubilee trumpet now?

Like this bit about proclaiming good news to the poor. You know, churches do an awful lot of good stuff for the poor. We give them food and clothes and Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas presents. We have soup kitchens and homeless shelters. And I totally don’t want to minimize any of that. But sometimes I’m afraid that instead of sharing good news with the poor, we just give them adequate news. Are there ways that we think or behave that communicate to the poor that we may not actually be on their side? What are some ways we could actively show that we are actually on the side of the poor?

Jesus talked about proclaiming release to the prisoners. I don’t think we have to take that to mean, Let’s just open the gates and throw them out on the streets this afternoon. But at the same time, we live in a country that gives the world 5% of its population, but 25% of it’s incarcerated population. That just doesn’t seem right. We need to be asking hard questions about that. Is our nation really that full of people who are bad and scary and gross? Could we be doing more in terms of restitution, reconciliation, and restoration? Diversion? What about equipping prisoners to not return once they are released? That involves forming supportive and creative and advocating communities both inside and outside the system, doesn’t it?

Jesus also mentioned liberating the oppressed. Surely this sounds like a good idea. But what are we willing to sacrifice to do that? For instance, take a look at the clothes you’re wearing. Look at where they were made. Would you be willing to live in the same conditions as the people who made them?

There’s so much Jubilee to be proclaiming in the world, y’all. Everywhere you look, there’s some place, some situation, some person or people that needs a Jubilee. Good news. Release. Recovery. Liberation. Some sign of God’s favor.

Today, church, let’s make peace with the truth Jesus proclaims: If it ain’t good news to the poor, it ain’t the Gospel. If it’s not good news for the whole person, it’s not the Gospel. If it’s not good news for our communities, our neighborhoods, our streets, it’s not the Gospel.

Sure enough, one day, the trumpet will blow, and God will proclaim Jubilee forever. But until then, the church’s job is to blow the Jubilee trumpet today. Right here. Right now.

Today, may this scripture be fulfilled just as we have heard it.

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2 thoughts on “Today this scripture is fulfilled (Luke 4.14-21) [Sermon 1/24/16 Epiphany 3c]

  1. Thurgood, I really enjoy reading your sermons. They are clear and relevant and thought provoking. Thanks for sharing them. I want to do a better job practicing what Jesus preached and what you just illuminated. God bless.

    • jmar198013 says:

      Thanks, DeeGee. I’ve been working on the clarity part. I want to do a better job practicing what Jesus preached, too. I also know that we all do better as followers if we have a supportive community committed to following together.

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