Sunday, January 27, 2019
Third Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 3, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Ezra reads the law of Moses before the people
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a You are the body of Christ
Luke 4:14-21 Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
Title: Goods New for You, Good News is You.
Isn’t it refreshing to finally hear some good news? And by good news, I do not mean the pseudo good news that there is a temporary fix to the government shutdown that does nothing to get past the ego-driven executive-legislative stalemate. No, the good news that we are invited to bath in is delivered by Jesus in his visit to his hometown of Nazareth. It is a state of the union between a merciful God and a rebellious humanity. Without any option, any action, any alternative for humanity to take to repair the breach created by that apple bite and then perpetuated by our ongoing desire to replace God with ourselves, the good news is that God has acted. God has acted not as reward or remuneration for us correcting our behavior. No, God has acted purely and perfectly out of mercy, grace, and love. It is a mercy that is steadfast. It is grace that is unbound. It is love that is everlasting.
It is the same mercy, grace, and love that those returned exiles are hearing read and proclaimed in the square in Jerusalem as described in the first reading. Judah had been defeated. Jerusalem had been sacked and destroyed. The temple had been leveled. And the people were convinced that all was lost. That God had completely abandoned them. That there was absolutely no hope. That as a people they were dead. It was just a national crisis, it was a catastrophe. It was annihilation. Fifty years in exile had all but confirmed that this was most certainly true. But then there was a glimmer of some new beginning, or rebirth. A way was made through their most forsaken wilderness so that they might return and rebuild. And now, as they stand in the midst of restoration and renewal, as they are surrounded by building projects and repairs, they hear of the mercy, grace, and love of the God who they had wandered away from. Who they had forsaken, worshipping other gods and failing to live as God’s people. And they hear again for the first time that God has not forsaken them and that they are still God’s people. And while they weep tears of regret mixed with tears of joy, they are not told what must be done so that they might qualify for this God-fueled resurrection. No, they are told to celebrate. Don’t weep, rather feast. Don’t mourn, instead dance. And, most importantly, send portions of the feast to those for whom nothing is prepared. No one is to be left out of the party. No one is excluded. And it is up to the hearers of God’s word to make sure that the poor, that everyone is welcomed and fed. There are no bootstraps to be pulled. There are no requirements to be met. There are no work mandates to fulfill. There is only a command: to send, to include, to feed. For the day is the Lord’s and there is good news for all. Joy for all. And that joy is our strength.
The people of Galilee, the residents of Nazareth, those sitting in the synagogue on that Sabbath morning were probably feeling quite forsaken themselves. Exiles in their own land even. Occupied by Romans. Being lorded over by religious leaders who more concerned with collaborating with foreign rulers, of having a piece of that power pie, than speaking truth to power. The powerless ones had no choice but to drag themselves through long days of longing.
Now, they came back to the synagogue again, another week completed. The young man gets up to read. It’s an old text. A well-known text, perhaps. But he reads with a newness that reawakens yearning ears, there is a fullness that satisfies hungering hearts, there is a hopefulness that lifts weighted souls. He reads out to all who will listen. He reads that the Spirit of God is still working among us. Calling people out to proclaim this good news to those who need to hear it the most. This message of hope frees us from bondage – whether it be the bondage that others put us in or that we put ourselves in. And this word that is delivered from God gives new insight and understanding, shines light in darkness, brings wisdom where there is ignorance. It lifts the burdens that restrain us from truly living. And the best part, all of this is happening now, it is not some distant promise of paradise. This is good news for this time. This is the Lord’s time. As is all time.
Imagine every eye in the synagogue is on him as he sits back down. Silently they are begging for more. Don’t stop there. Tell us more good news. And he does. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And that same fulfillment continues in our hearing today. It is announced by the water in the font that frees us from our captivity to sin and death. It is proclaimed in the words we read and hear and sing. It is shared in our greetings and conversations with one another. And we celebrate it at our Lord’s table as we feast on his presence in the bread and the wine. We are invited and encouraged to drink deeply from this well of good news that is proclaimed and fulfilled in our midst.
But the good news doesn’t stop there. Paul adds to this good news proclaimed and fulfilled reminding us that just as Jesus is this fulfillment, so now are we, as we are joined together in and as the body of Christ. There is no personal Lord and Savior here. Ours is a Savior who binds us together, calls us into community, knits together a great and blessed diversity for the sake of proclaiming the good news, for the sake of bringing the fulfillment of God’s word to the world, to those who are hungering for it, to those who are seeking the release that it brings. Diversity is needed to get this job done. A variety of gifts is required for the successful proclamation of the good news. An array of talents is needed for the array of needs to which this body is called to minister.
Today, our congregation again gathers for its annual meeting. To rejoice and celebrate this good news that is proclaimed and fulfilled in and through us. And to ask again, how will we continue to live as Christ’s body in this time and place proclaiming and fulfilling. So many come to us longing and hungering. So many, beyond our worshipping community, are finding a place where they are hearing good news. How do we best use the gifts of this body in ministry and mission? May the Spirit guide us as we continue to discern our life and our calling as Christ’s body in which each and every one of us has a place and a role. We have both a need to be included and are needed to be included.
So, hear again the good news. God has acted out of mercy, grace, and love through Jesus our Savior, and now God’s Spirit works through us. So much to celebrate. So much to live.
The Rev. Mark Erson