Epiphany 3C – January 27, 2013 (January 24, 2010)

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 – Ezra reads the Law of Moses to the returned exiles in the public square, reminding them that the joy of the Lord is their strength.

Psalm 19 – The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – The church is a body with many members. One member of the body cannot disown another.

Luke 4:14-21 – Jesus in his hometown synagogue, part 1. Jesus announces his job description at the Synagogue of his hometown: 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."

January 18-25, 2010 – Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Homecoming 1: Good News for the Poor

I really like Luke 4:14 – "Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…"

The Spirit figures prominently in Luke’s gospel. He uses the word more than the other gospel writers (twice as often as Matthew or John).

Jesus’ ministry is conducted under the power of the Holy Spirit, about whom Luke will tell us more in Acts 2. Is your ministry driven by the power of the Holy Spirit? Is your life?

You can hear that question as law or gospel. As law it sounds something like this: "You’re not spiritual enough." However, as gospel it invites us to reconsider all the resources that are available for life. We are like a person rowing like mad through life and ministry, who suddenly realizes the wind is blowing, so he raises his sail, and his boat lurches forward as the Spirit fills the sails. What might it look like for us to allow ourselves to be more filled, lifted, carried by the Spirit, and less dependent on our own frantic activity? I propose this not as a theological proposition, but as a real experience. What are the obstacles keeping this from happening?

In Luke 1-2 we have the Prologue, with Infancy Narrative. Luke 3 has John and Jesus’ Baptism. Now, Luke 4 begins Jesus’ ministry with the Temptation in the Wilderness which we will read Lent I, February 17, 2013. Then we have today’s story, starting at verse 14. The narrative has bounced us around between Nazareth in Galilee and Bethlehem/Jerusalem in Judah. In Luke 3 the adult Jesus emerges in the region around the Jordan and is baptized by John. After going into the wilderness, we are told he returns north to Galilee, and begins his public ministry there. He begins by teaching in the synagogues. When he arrives back in Nazareth, his hometown, it gets interesting.

His φήμη (fame) spread quickly. Luke says it was his custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, so when he strolls into his hometown congregation, they know who he is, and they’ve heard his fame spreading.

Jeffrey ("Luke") suggests the synagogue order of service would have likely been:

1. Reciting the Shemah.

2. Prayers

3. A reading from the Torah

4. A reading from the Prophets

5. Commentary by a member of the congregation

6. Benediction

The Torah reading (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy) would have been prescribed by a lectionary. Then the local synagogue leader would choose a reader for the second reading, perhaps from the prophets. The synagogue leader chose the famous hometown boy. Famous hometown boy is handed the Isaiah scroll. He can choose his own text. Taking his time rolling through the scroll he arrives at Isaiah 61 and reads aloud:

Scroll "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."

Jubilee. Interesting choice. Jubilee year may never have actually been practiced as proscribed. Jesus reminds them about Jubilee, a time of redemption for the indebted poor.

He closes the scroll and sits down quietly. Every eye is fixed on him. The room waits in silent expectation. It is time for commentary, but the young preacher employs an age old rhetorical device: Extended silence draws attention and builds anticipation. Then: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

One can imagine the response. "Yeah… Wait… What?" We don’t get to hear the second-guessing and sarcasm until next week, when get to hear "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to say. What he says to them next causes them to take him to a cliff with the intention of throwing him off, but you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that. If you’re not in a series, perhaps this is a two-part sermon that leaves people hanging until next week. It reminds me of the old Batman series where Batman and Robin would be strapped to a lumber-cutting conveyor belt, headed toward the spinning circular saw blade. "Is this the end? No more dynamic duo? Tune in next week and find out…"

Personally, I would prefer to read Isaiah 61 as the first reading in our lectionary. I have nothing against Nehemiah. I love "the joy of the Lord is our strength," (Nehemiah 8:10), but Isaiah resounds with the Luke 4 passage. The repetition is good. The congregation needs to hear this again. This is Jesus’ theme verse for his ministry. Our people will not hear Isaiah 61 again until Advent 3B, nearly two years from now.

Jesus chooses two verses of Isaiah as his theme verse as he begins his ministry. The theme is Jubilee:

* Good news for the poor.

* Recovery of sight for the blind.

* Release for the captives.

* Freedom from oppression.

* The year of the Lord’s favor.

This is what Jesus is all about. Whatever you may believe about the gospel, this is what Luke’s Jesus says about his agenda. It is his mission statement. It’s fairly aggressive. Whoever is going to preach on or understand Luke’s gospel will have to come to terms with what this means. This is no "pie in the sky when you die" gospel. This is engagement with the poor, blind, imprisoned and oppressed of this very existential world. It has real-world implications – implications that will ultimately cost Jesus his life.

Yours in Christ,

Michael Rinehart, Bishop