Based on: Luke 4:14-21
By Rev. Kris Russell
This is the third Sunday after Epiphany. Yes we are still in Epiphany. Soon we will be in Lent. Epiphany celebrates the world recognizing the reality of Jesus. Epiphany is about the knowledge that love has come and dwelled among us. The last two Sundays, had we read the gospel lessons for those days, we find Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist and going into the wilderness and being tempted by Satan. Two stories that help to reveal Jesus’ nature to humanity. Today Jesus reveals who he is to a synagogue full of home town friends and probably relatives.
Jesus is back in Galilee, Nazareth. His hometown. Charles Swindoll writes about Nazareth saying it was a town of about 400, sitting on a ridge from where the observer could see ancient historic battlefields of Israel. History was visible from Nazareth and it was a tightly knit community. As all Jewish communities it had a central meeting place, a synagogue where scriptures were read, prayers were sung, ritual baths were performed and people gossiped. This is where Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and reads what is to be his mission statement. We know that Jesus taught in the Synagogue when he was as young as twelve so it is appropriate that here he starts his ministry by reading the words from Isaiah.
In what I consider a goose bump worthy moment, Jesus reveals to his hometown crowd that the scripture he just read has been fulfilled in their hearing. This beautiful promise from Isaiah is now enfleshed in this itinerant preacher. This scripture brings me to two clear lessons held within. God reveals God’s kingdom in the most unexpected of places and Jesus gives what I called his mission statement that by extension is now our mission statement. Let’s talk briefly about these two points.
So, where has God revealed God’s self to you? Is it nature? The eyes of a friend, lover or family member? Is it here in the sanctuary or out in the midst of people?
There is a delightful Hindu myth that I think is apropos. The Gods have finished creating the Universe and have concentrated all the love, wisdom, glory and perfection of the Source into a beautiful jewel. They don’t want humans to find it to soon so they discuss where to hide the jewel. Shiva suggests to hide it at the top of a great mountain, no say the others, man will rake down the mountain and level it to find the treasure. Ganesha proposes that it be hidden at the bottom of the deepest sea and again the others say that man will drain the oceans to find the treasure. Finally little Krishna has the answer. Let’s hide it in the human heart, they’ll never think to look there.
Just inside your heart is the image and likeness of the Creator, just inside your heart is the essence of God. The most unlikely of places indeed. Not only is God right there in your heart, especially as followers of the rabbi Jesus, but God is in the heart of everyone you interact with. The Quakers believe that everyone, absolutely everyone carries the light of God in their hearts and it is our work to reveal that light to them and to others.
Pastor Diana is a champion of going within. Contemplation and meditation. It doesn’t have to be done in a particular way just find a quiet moment and relish the presence of God within you. God revealed the kingdom of love embodied in Jesus and in today’s scripture Jesus reveals himself to his audience. In so doing he tells us exactly what we are to do with that presence.
Every good non-profit has a mission statement. Feeding the hungry, helping children, promoting peace. Their mission must be spelled out and followed. The Methodist church has a mission statement of making disciples for the renewing of the world, the Food bank has a mission statement of feeding the hungry nutritious food while treating clients with dignity and respect. Jesus’ mission statement, this fulfillment of Isaiah isn’t as easy or compact but it is just as clear. “…to bring good news to the poor… 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…” This is the mission, this is the realization of years of waiting for love’s kingdom to come to pass. Let’s discuss this mission statement further before we close.
Jesus’ message is a clear invitation to engage the other. Later in this passage from Luke some of Jesus’s listeners are angered and crack wise saying isn’t this just Joseph’s son? The religious leaders and the Romans were angered at Jesus’ message. We’re going to learn the consequences of that message and anger as we go through Lent, Good Friday and Easter soon. Jesus preached love and wholeness for everyone, absolutely everyone. The other was promised to be released from captivity.
Who are the poor? Are they just the poor in finances or might they be the poor in Spirit? The lonely? The poor in grief. What about the captives we’re to help set free? Might they be those captive to addiction and can we say it, sin? Remember, sin is just an archery word which means missing the mark. I know I miss the mark all the time but I know that God lives in my heart and Jesus has the teachings and means to help me focus and make better choices. In today’s scripture Jesus is asking us to help captives free by showing them a clearer view of the target.
Giving sight to the blind. Just the physically blind? Or those blind to suffering, those blind to their own worth, those blind to creation’s promise? How can we help these others see more clearly? Can we show them, as we talked about earlier, where God has revealed himself to us? Can we invite them to church, and show them by our actions the evidence of a Christ that has changed us? And finally we are asked to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Historically a year of the Lord’s favor was a year of jubilee where fields were rested and debts were forgiven. Maybe the year of the Lord’s favor is the present moment, the right now of forgiveness and non-violence. Last week we celebrated the life of a man who completely understood his mission statement. He followed his Saviour’s instructions to the letter and ultimately gave his life for his work. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who lived that idea of forgiveness and non-violence and now we are called to do the same.
Jesus not only asks us to walk this path but he promises us that his burden is easy and that we won’t take a single step alone. We’re often vulnerable and at risk but we are God’s beloved. That God that I remind you all the time is madly in love with you has your back. Now it’s your turn to have the other’s back.
In a world where we are arguing about walls, let’s build bridges. In a world where the other is being blamed for everything, let’s follow Jesus’ mission statement and embrace the other. Maybe say hi to a stranger, let a person go ahead of you on the road, help someone with their groceries, volunteer, tell your story of a revealing God, in every little way help fulfill that mission statement with your own unique spin.
In a moment we will sing “We are Called”. Friends we are called. Jesus revealed His intention and mission in the words from Luke and Isaiah and we are to follow them. Indeed we are called. Amen
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;