Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sermon for Epiphany 3, January 24, 2010

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2010

Luke 4:14-21

Almighty God, may your Word be our light in the darkness, and may these words help to spread that light in the world. Amen.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve focused on the season of Epiphany as a time of ‘revelation’ and how, during this season, Jesus is being ‘revealed’ to the world in Luke’s gospel. Luke is, of course, a consummate story teller, and in his gospel, he spins out a tale that takes us from the annunciation of Mary’s pregnancy through the birth in Bethlehem, the visit from the shepherds, the presentation of the infant at the Temple, Jesus’ lingering at the Temple as a preadolescent, his baptism, and now to this story, about the beginning of his ministry. At each point in the story, something about Jesus’ identity, his power and authority in the world, and his vocation as the messiah, the anointed one has been revealed, and this week, as Jesus preaches in the synagogue, we hear Jesus himself not only affirm that identity but also reveal his mission statement.

Luke’s narrative has Jesus’ ministry start out on a different footing that it did last week in John’s account. John places a great deal of emphasis on the ‘signs’ performed by Jesus, and he uses the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, the first of these signs, as a way of revealing Jesus’ power and authority in the world. But when we find Jesus in the synagogue today, in Luke’s telling of the story, he is fresh out of the desert where the Spirit led him after his baptism. Jesus has resisted the temptations Satan placed in front of him there, and he’s preached in a few synagogues along the way with favorable reviews, but he has yet to call a disciple, he has yet to perform a miracle; he is still largely unknown among the people when he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath, like any faithful Jewish man, he goes to the synagogue for prayer, and there he stands to reads Torah, selecting passages from the prophet Isaiah.

"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."

And then, returning to his seat he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”


I expect that it took a while for the full impact of what Jesus had just said to those gathered to sink in. And as we’ll hear in next week’s gospel, the reaction of the congregation was not entirely positive. But in fact, the congregation of this small synagogue in Nazareth, full of men and boys Jesus had grown up with, played with, studied and worked with, were the first to hear the proclamation of Jesus’ own mission statement.

Because that’s what it was, really. We’re accustomed to the whole notion of “mission statements” these days---every church and civic organization and corporation has one: a vision, a set of guiding principles that when well done captures the essence of what the group is about. We have a mission statement here at Trinity—it’s on our web page, and over the next year or so we will likely be revisiting it. I doubt, however, that the phrase “mission statement” was in the lexicon of Jesus or his audience. But when Jesus stood and read the prophecy from Isaiah, and then proclaimed that prophecy to be fulfilled in their hearing, he was claiming his identity and boldly staking out his mission in the world.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” At Jesus’ baptism, Luke tells us, the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. That same Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, and filled him when he returned to Galilee. And now, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, he asserts that he is full of the spirit because the Lord has anointed him.

We should not miss the import of those words. To be anointed was not such an unusual thing—kings were anointed, others in special positions were anointed—but Jesus is laying claim to a special anointing—by the Lord—an anointing that sets him aside as the chosen one, the one, the longed for hope of the Jewish people—the messiah. But it gets even better.

…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

Because we are familiar with the themes of Jesus’ preaching, we know the audiences to whom he preached, we are perhaps not as shocked by this claim as were those who first heard it. Isaiah of course wrote it in the context of the Babylonian exile, speaking of an Israelite people who had been oppressed and held captive. But when Jesus proclaims it as his mission, he is focusing on those not just politically held captive by the Roman Empire, but also on those held captive in poverty, in disease, in the oppression that comes in a social system weighted in favor of the wealthy. Jesus is foreshadowing a ministry in which he reaches out to the poor, the excluded, the outcast, and he’s foreshadowing his call to his followers to do likewise.

We’re more comfortable with the notion of “mission statement” than Jesus’ audience in the synagogue that day, but likely we we’re just as uncomfortable having those words directed to us as they were. Because when we take those words seriously, when we recognize Jesus’ mission statement as our own, it can rattle us to our very roots. We are called, as I say here almost every week, to love God, and to love our neighbor, but we often have a limited vision of who that neighbor is and what that love means. Jesus reminds us that we’re called to bring good news—the gospel with all it entails---not just to the neighbors who are like us, but also to the poor—the poor in spirit, and the poor in fact. We are called to not only bring that good news, but also to live it, to be forces of liberation in the world—liberation from poverty and disease and oppression of all sorts. And that’s a tall order.

In just a little while we’ll recess to the parish hall for our annual meeting. The temptation is great to view this meeting as something just to get over with, a necessary but not particularly exciting piece of business to take care of. And there certainly are those aspects of it. But I invite you this year to come to this meeting not only to do the required business, not only to review the year gone by, but also to look to the year ahead. We are undertaking a new thing here, you and I, in our ministry together at Trinity. We have many challenges and many opportunities ahead of us in the months and years to come. What better place to start than with Jesus’ very own mission statement? How can we use that statement to shape our own ministry here and out in the world, where we are, in the words of St. Paul, Christ’s very own body?


1 comment:

Mompriest said...

Inspiring - I hope the congregation is too!