Epiphany 3: January 27, 2019
Year C, Epiphany 3: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31a; John 4:14-21
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Today’s gospel from Luke presents us with Jesus’ first act of public ministry. In our gospel text we hear that reports about him have likely been spreading through the population, probably the result of his healing miracles and his synagogue teaching.
When Jesus comes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, he is offered a position of honor, to read from sacred scripture. Now understand – in those days there would have been no lovely, gilded edged lectionary book from which to read, or even assigned readings. Having been raised in the Jewish tradition and learned in the tradition, Jesus would be expected to choose a piece of the sacred text. That is what Jesus does when he unrolls the scroll. He chooses scripture from the prophet Isaiah:
“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.”
He reads from the scroll and when he is finished with this passage, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat.
All that would signify a wonderful homecoming for Jesus – a well-chosen piece of scripture befitting his rising stature in the community. It says as much in verse 22 of Luke immediately following the end of today’s gospel: “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
His parents have raised him well in the tradition, but what Jesus says at the end of our passage today is what perhaps raised eyebrows if not immediately than later. Jesus does the unexpected, the unimaginable. He claims those ancient prophetic words as his own. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He’s not just making a personal mission statement – those who listened closely would know that he, Joseph’s son, is proclaiming himself as God’s anointed, the chosen one. That would have been radical and opened him to rejection that we know he later experienced.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, and some flat-out rejection of his teachings, but Luke is unique in his positioning of this moment in the synagogue to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This event is preceded by the brief story of Jesus’ baptism and the longer account of his temptations in the wilderness. For Luke, all three events are Holy Spirit stories. Luke wants us to know that it is the Holy Spirit who leads Jesus in saying no to false options in the temptation story and saying yes to a mission that is given to him by God.
Luke also emphasizes that Jesus’ work was to bring good news to the poor. For Luke it appears that the reason God’s Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism was to empower him to do precisely this: bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; let all the oppressed go free; announce what would be known as the Jubilee Year.
The words that Jesus has read from the prophecy of Isaiah will be central to shaping the path that Jesus takes to Jerusalem. Throughout his ministry, Jesus is concerned with paying attention to and offering compassion for those in the greatest need. Everything that follows in his life amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that morning in Nazareth. He keeps doing these things every chance he gets until finally, it leads him to the cross. Those who wanted to see Jesus removed from the equation and thought his death would accomplish that must have been very surprised when he rose from the dead, walked among his disciples and continued to define a path of bringing the spirit of the Lord and good news to the poor.
In today’s world, that work continues. The difference is that Jesus’ work is done through what we call the Body of Christ, the church.
Paul is among the first to deeply develop that mission. Writing in the second reading to a community in Corinth, a community deep in conflict, Paul issues an exhortation for unity in the church with one of the most famous metaphors in Christianity – the analogy of the church as a human body, in fact as a vastly diverse human body.
Paul tells us directly of the need for the many members and many gifts offered together for God’s purpose. Those gifts together bring together “Jews and Greek, slaves or free” It is as apt to 2019 at it was in the early 50s on how to “be church,” how to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives. How to live with great diversity in our midst.
As we strive to keep faithful to the words Jesus read aloud and lived out, we must pay attention to several points that Paul insists on in his letter. 1) All members of the church have gifts for ministry; 2) Members of the church have different gifts for ministry; I’m going to underscore that – we have different gifts for ministry; 3) The different gifts come to life in the context of the whole.
It all comes down to being called to live in relationship with one another as the Body of Christ. It’s about participating and belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
To be the body of Christ we must continue to offer the hospitality and love of God to people coming in search of meaning in their lives, spiritual growth, deeper relationship with Christ, and acceptance for who they are. All those desires mean that people seek an authentic community, a place where they are known and accepted and where they experience a sense of belonging. Not just a being, but a belonging.
We are meant to be in relationship – that’s the metaphor Paul is using. That sense of belonging is also not about belonging only to Emmanuel or Saint Andrew’s or Beckford Parish, but about belonging to the Diocese of Virginia, the Episcopal Church, the Jesus Movement, where we are to seek and serve Christ in all people through the power of baptism. The belonging of which I speak is about real relationship, a real participation in Christ. And that we use those gifts of which Paul speaks to discern and share with one another their joys and suffering.
For us, as we move forward in our Christian life, it means a worship experience closely associated with our sacramental life of Eucharist. And beyond worship, it means continuing to take the church into the world and sharing our gifts – with those next to you in your pew and those you’ve never met in the wider community.
We’re given the gift of being Christian at baptism, but we are also given the responsibility of functioning as a Christian as part of the body of Christ. And we will do that with a variety of gifts identified by Paul. We do that by living out our baptismal covenant. By following the path Jesus has set for disciples showing the needs of the world.
On that Sabbath Day almost two thousand years ago, Jesus challenged those present to claim this powerful work of bringing that good news, recovery, restoration of freedom, and God’s favor, as their own. But when you think about it, the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ ministry is their guide. The early church had no buildings, budgets, staff, and very few members, yet the power of the Holy Spirit moved them forward. Today we are challenged both by Christ and the Holy Spirit to claim this powerful work as our own, but always on behalf of Christ.
And when we follow the path Jesus set, the poor gain hope, whether it’s their souls or their bodies that are starved. The captives experience freedom, whether they are prisoners in a jail or prisoners in a mansion. The blind receive sight, whether it’s cataract surgery at a church-related hospital or the scales of prejudice falling off the eyes of a bigot. The oppressed are set free, whether oppression is a political, economic or a chemical dependence. And all of that is for building of the Body of Christ.
At our Annual Meetings, at Saint Andrew’s last week and Emmanuel, today, you’ll hear some of how that has happened this past year, how we will continue it, drawing others along to continue it with us, themselves becoming part of this holy body, in relationship with one another. These meetings are about the future, not the past. To look forward to what God is calling us to do and to be. God has given us all many gifts of the spirit.
I invite you to reflect on how has God’s love manifested itself in you – in this parish? What have you seen, felt or known? How have you been part or how can you see yourself as part of doing this ministry as part of the Body of Christ? I also invite you to look again at the gospel in your bulletins – which of those lines do you claim as your own?
In doing so, you may remember something else, other ways the Lord has favored us. This church is firmly founded on the love of God. We will thrive and survive together, as God has called us. God’s love brings us through all adversities into this year of the Lord’s favor.
As the body of Christ, we can and will find our place in our faith story as we work to live and serve as the Body of Christ. By the work given to us by the Holy Spirit, Christ remains alive and engaged in the world, and revealed to those who await good news.
 Cf. Luke 4:14, NRSV
 Luke 4:18-19, NRSV; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2
 Luke 4:22, NRSV
 1 Corinthians n:13, NRSV
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