Sermon: January 27, 2019

Epiphany 3C2019
Luke 4:14-21

by Pastor Sarah Stadler

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. Everyone said to each other: “Have you heard what Jesus did?”  He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Everyone said: “Jesus, you’re amazing! You make your father proud.” When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up in the synagogue to read scripture, and the attendant handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "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 Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he preached to them saying, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Today, at the very start of his public ministry, Jesus declares his mission, declares his mission statement, if you will.  And a very fitting mission statement it is from the 61st chapter of Isaiah: to bring good news to the poor, 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, that is, the year of Jubilee.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus sees himself as fulfilling the scripture of Isaiah, as fulfilling what so many of the Old Testament prophets declared: that God acts in the world to bring justice and love, radical forgiveness and release.  Jesus’ declaration confirms for the people of his hometown synagogue that he is the One sent by God to redeem Israel. Next week, we will hear how the people of his hometown respond to that confirmation, but for now, it is clear that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus and that God has anointed him to preach good news, to proclaim release and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee.  This scripture is fulfilled in their hearing TODAY. For while the ancient people of faith eagerly waited on God for this promised way of life to emerge, a life of justice and love, a life of radical forgiveness and release, Jesus sits down in the synagogue and declares: Today is the day! Today is the day that this hoped-for, longed-for dream is realized. In me.

What strikes me today about Jesus’ short sermon: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” is its immediacy.  We read throughout the Old and New Testaments about the love of God, the justice of God, the forgiveness of God. And these things are all well and good, but they seem far away.  Justice and love, forgiveness and release are ever promised in the future. The year of Jubilee referenced in Jesus’ mission statement was a long-held tradition in scripture, but scholars believe the ancient Jews never actually practiced it.  Yet the people of God held onto the idea of Jubilee. One day, those who had lost land would have it restored. One day, those weighed down by debt would be forgiven it. One day, all creation would be in balance. But what about this present life, today?  

The gospel of Luke portrays Jesus as One whose ministry immediately transforms lives.  At the home of Zacchaeus, Jesus says: Today, salvation has come to this house. To the criminal on the cross next to him, Jesus says: Today, you will be with me in paradise.  When Jesus heals a lame man, the man immediately stands up and glorifies God. When Jesus lays his hand on a woman who had been bent over and crippled for 18 years, she immediately stands up straight and praises God.

In flesh and blood, here and now, Jesus transforms the lives of the people of Galilee.  He preaches good news to the poor. He proclaims release to the captives, those held captive by illness or grief, mental illness or isolation.  He brings sight to the blind. He lets the oppressed go free, all who are oppressed by any force, even sin. He proclaims the year of Jubilee, release from debt and balance in the land.  In the gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit accompanies Jesus from day one, ever a partner with Jesus as he goes about teaching and healing and feeding and befriending. And even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit continues to move within the people of God as they form the church in the book of Acts.  

The Holy Spirit still moves today, so my question is: what is God doing today?  Where and how is God proclaiming good news to the poor, releasing those in captivity, bringing sight to the blind, freeing those oppressed?  If you see God doing something today, I invite you to share what that is. After each person shares, we’ll say together: Today, God transforms the world.  

Indeed, today, God transforms the world.  Thanks be to God! Amen.