Today (January 27, 2019)
Today, Jesus preaches his first sermon.
And what a sermon it is!
We have to remember that Jesus was a faithful Jew, so he goes to synagogue on the Sabbath. It was his habit.
He reads the appointed reading for the day from the prophet Isaiah— “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’” (The Message)
He rolls the scroll back up, and begins preaching: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
No wasted words. No fluff.
Just an announcement to the gathered congregation about why he has come. This is his mission, his life’s work. He will work out God’s redemptive purposes among them. He will be faithful to God’s vision of life. He will live out God’s dream of a life where everyone shares in the wholeness and goodness of life. He will witness to God’s transformative vision of life marked by prosperity, physical wholeness, and release from any kind of domination.
“This is the purpose for which I have been anointed,” he says. This is my life’s purpose. This is who I am.
God has chosen me to bring good news for the poor.
Notice that. It’s the opening line, and it sets the tone for all that follows. This is good news for the poor.
Then notice the others who are named by Isaiah: those who are captives; those who are blind; those who are oppressed.
This “good news” is intended specifically for those who are in need, for those whom society casts aside so easily. To all the poor, to all the captives, to all the oppressed, God says, “You are included. This good news is for you.”
Not to those on the top. Not to those who are able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Not to those who have all the advantages. Not to those who think they can make it on their own. Not to the self–made man and the self–made woman.
God has anointed me to bring good news for the poor. Release for the captives. Sight to those who are blind. Freedom for those who are oppressed.
Now let’s not spiritualize this, as some have done. It’s not good news for the spiritually poor; it’s not release for those who are captive to sin; it’s not sight to those who are blind to God’s presence in life; it’s not release for those who are oppressed by the burden of sin.
This is good news for those who are really poor, for the homeless who wander the streets looking for bottles to turn in so they can buy some food or their next fix. For the panhandler. Peace for those who are bullied. Support and help for those who are abused. Welcome for those who are the victims of racial prejudice.
This is release for those who are the victims of our society’s way of doing things, which only benefits those who already have so much.
This is sight for those who are truly blind.
This is freedom for people who bear the burden of oppression because those on top lord it over those on the bottom.
That’s the first thing to notice.
But the word which really grabbed me as I was reflecting on this sermon was the first word in this sermon: “Today.”
Jesus didn’t say “The Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” or “The Scripture will be fulfilled in your hearing,” or “Some day the Scripture will be fulfilled.”
He says, “Today … the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The angels used the same word when they announced the birth to the shepherds: “Today is born for you a Saviour.” I’ll come back to that in a moment.
But here we are 2000 years later, and there are still poor people. There are still people who are oppressed and held captive. There are still blind folks and lame people and those who are addicted to drugs and booze. So what does it mean?
Fulfilled? Today? I don’t think so.
And I can easily imagine that congregation in Nazareth thinking the same thing, because Isaiah made these promises some 600 years earlier.
So how can this be?
Let me suggest this. In his sermon, Jesus is announcing that God’s promises are being fulfilled … in him. In him, God’s word of liberty and grace and healing is available for all, and particularly for those at the edges, on the margins, at the bottom.
This sermon is about himself. He is the living Word of God who comes to dwell with us, as John puts it. He is Emmanuel, God–with–us, as Matthew puts it. Jesus points to himself as the living and breathing fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue and redeem the poor.
Jesus embodies the process of fulfilling God’s promises. Today … marks the beginning of a process.
That’s what the tense of the verb in Greek indicates. If you’re a grammar geek like me, this is a perfect passive indicative verb. It indicates an action that was completed in the past, but the results continue in the present. It was done … and it continues to need doing in the present. Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing … and it continues to keep on being fulfilled … and it will keep on needing to be fulfilled in your presence.
Today. Not just a single day one sabbath in Nazareth. Every today. Just like the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, it happens every today. Every today a Saviour is born for you. Every today, God’s promises are being fulfilled. Every today, God’s dream is being made real.
This sermon is a declaration, a promise, and an invitation.
It declares that in Jesus, God acts on behalf of those in need.
It promises that God continues to take the side of the vulnerable and the marginalized.
It invites us to do this same work, to embody God’s promises, and fulfill those promises in our own lives. Jesus invites us to be part of God’s fulfillment of God’s promises. Today. Tomorrow. The next day.
Now that can be a little bit daunting, and lead to a set of self–doubting questions: “Who me? Really? The problems seem so big, what difference can little old me make?”
But we can read that invitation another way … in which it empowers us: “Me? Really? You mean we can make a difference? You mean the small things we do matter? You mean that God really is at work in our lives for the sake of the world?”
The answer is always Yes. Today. What you do matters. You can make a difference. You can be partners with God. The light of Christ shines in you. You can feed the hungry, you can clothe the naked, you can welcome the outcast, you can care for those who are abandoned, you can love the unloved.
How cool is that!
It reminds me, finally, of Howard Thurman’s amazing, challenging and empowering poem, The Work of Christmas:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
In us, the light of God shines. Today. This Scripture is being fulfilled … today.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
January 27, 2019 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)
Luke 4: 14–21
1 Corinthians 12: 12–31a
Nehemiah 8: 1–10