The Sunday Sermon – January 24, 2016
Scripture: Luke 4:14-21
All Eyes are Fixed On Us
The Sunday after Christmas, the Sunday after New Year’s, Epiphany Sunday, Baptism of the Lord Sunday, MLK, Jr. weekend – all leading up to this weekend which is … What? January 24th … it’s … today is … well, it’s today. And for those “lectionary buffs” out there, it’s the third Sunday after Epiphany in Lectionary year C, again, and our Gospel passage is Luke 4:14-21, or some variation thereof.
This scripture passage is, perhaps, my favorite of all the Gospel verses. I’ve preached on it enough. I looked this week and found two old sermons I preached in and for this community, alone. Beginning in January of 2010, whenever this text finds it way back into the lectionary, which is every three years, I have used it to launch a sermon message to you of some sort. That happened first in 2010, then again in 2013, and now in 2016. I know that we read and explored this passage another time, too, though I couldn’t find when that was exactly. It was a summer time, I’m pretty sure, and we stayed with it for a number of weeks, trying to figure out just exactly who the “poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed” were in our time.
I opened our staff meeting last Tuesday morning reading this passage for al of us and noting that I wasn’t yet sure what “newness” the Spirit had in store, but that I would be exploring and expounding on this passage again today. It’s time to get to it in Luke, chapter 4, verses fourteen and following. No more stalling, no more celebrations to distract us, no more stories about other people to tell and compare ourselves to, no more putting it off. Birth and Christmas Day are over, New Year’s is past, the Magi have arrived, Jesus has been baptized, and – though we didn’t explore it in our Sunday morning time together this year, Jesus has returned from the wilderness, freshly tempted by all this “unholy” to treat God as less than God. Now he has returned to Galilee, traveled to his home town Nazareth, gone up to the synagogue and … well, Let’s listen for the Word of God:
Read Luke 4:14-17 … Let me stop there a moment.
There’s no indication in Luke that this “day,” this Sabbath day, the one on which Jesus “went to the synagogue to read” was anything special. Jesus hadn’t just celebrated Christmas … (I’ll let you think about that one for a second or two) … he didn’t celebrate a new year, or an Epiphany. He did have his own baptism behind him, but he certainly hadn’t recognized MLK, Jr. weekend. He has just come out of the wilderness, so we may imagine he is a bit fired up by what he has experienced on his Spirit-journey there, but as the scripture notes, he has come to the synagogue on this day “as was his custom.”
Likewise, today for us is not special as the “Sunday after anything,” or the Sunday of something. For the first time since Christmas Eve, one full month ago, today is simply – and oh, so intricately – today.
Pray with me …
Today we have come to the sanctuary “as is our custom.” We have come, as we try to every week, to engage our lives of faith, our faith journeys, including our Holy Scripture, asking for some insight, some solace, some direction from the God that is revealed and the humanity that is engaged there. The crowd that gathered in the Nazareth synagogue when Jesus was brought up so long ago was seeking the exact same thing we are this morning, or any morning we gather in this place: An environment where we can “touch the Holy.”
And as I “unroll the scroll” by “opening the book” this morning, I came to the place – again – where it was written …
Read Luke 18-19
So, as I began with, this passage is certainly not new to anyone. We have heard countless times from Isaiah or here in Luke. I thought this week that a Pastor’s approach as the primary pulpiteer in a congregation has a bit of the dripping water “torture” nature to it. Each sermon on a passage that is as familiar as this one is a drip, a drop that lands on those who gather and listen. It drips again in three years, then a third time, then a fourth … how many drips will it take to really “get under your skin?” This is the fourth drip by my counting, so … at least four, because my focus is – as it has been in one form or another every other “drip,” Christological. Who is, and how is, Jesus the “Christ” in these verses?
In our scripture this morning, one Jesus of Nazareth, wonderfully born, blessedly baptized, and thoroughly tempted comes back to his hometown, up to the synagogue, unrolls a scroll of his sacred scripture and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me.” He reads from his own book Isaiah. I did that, too, though ours is a book, not a scroll. There is nothing particularly special about the fact that he’s reading from Isaiah, or that I read from Luke.
There is nothing particularly special about any of this so far. Everyone gathered in the synagogue of old, and everyone gathered here this morning. In verse twenty we read: “(Jesus) rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Still … nothing new. That’s why “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” They were waiting. Waiting for something new, something different. It should come any moment now when he begins his teaching. Though we don’t sit down after he scripture reading in our tradition, your eyes are fixed on me, waiting for it.
Then Jesus speaks his own words. His first words of public ministry: “Today … this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Today.” We’re getting close. Apart from the reading of the Isaiah scripture, itself, the first public word of Jesus as an adult is “today.” The age of God’s reign is here. This is something a little different. Most prophets are still preaching the imminent of arrival of God. Jesus is saying, “God is here.” And he’s further saying that, “in him” God is here. The ancient scripture of Isaiah has been fulfilled because God is here, in him to do what must be done.
Jesus is claiming his own identity. God is here, because he is the Christ. Now that might have been news to his first century audience in the synagogoue in Nazaeth, but that’s nothing new for us, is it? We knew who Jesus was since his baptism, didn’t we? Actually, we knew this since Luke’s birth story two chapters earlier. No, what’s new for us in the 21st century is what Jesus’ confession means for us – means about us.
Drip, drip, drip … here comes another drop …
Jesus’ divinity is our identity, too, as Christians, “little Christ’s.” Given the exclusive tone our doctrine of the Incarnation so often takes – that that was Jesus role, not ours. Our job is just to “believe – given that exclusive claim, this makes us nervous. But think about it … again: How should we understand our role in God’s kingdom? Aren’t we, too, called to bring good news and proclaim release and recovery? Is this Jesus’ work alone? Or are we called to be God’s hands in the world, too?
I’ve been wondering (again) this week if we can understand the Christ in the language and through the experiences of “today.” Is it possible for us to go beneath the explanations and interpretations found in the New Testament, the early church confessions, and the last 1600 years of tradition to come in contact with the God in ourselves that Jesus, himself, opened his heart to? Can we discover the presence of God at work in and through our lives in ways that lead to forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, and resurrection, too? I personally believe, and have to belief for the sake of a hurting and fearful world, that we must. We must re-define Jesus’ image as “a sole divine rescuer” and the only human sacrifice, and image him as just like you and me. Hebrews 4:15 says, Jesus was “in every way tested as we are, yet without sin – without separation from God. That’s the definition of divinity. We are different, not in kind from Jesus, only in degree.
The language of original sin and sacrificial atonement has been a part of Christian circles for so long that it is “sacred mantra,” not to be questioned. The rescuer image for Jesus is found in the familiar words of the stereotypical evangelistic preacher (“We’ve been washed in blood … the blood of the Lamb”) and in the sacrificial understanding of the work of Jesus on the cross: Jesus died to make things right for us with God and all we need to do is “believe in him.” When we leave all the work to Jesus, himself, we ultimately give up our own potential to change anything. We leave it to God and wait for God to do something. That’s not only bad theology, it’s dangerous theology. It keeps us off the cross, and worse, makes us indifferent to our sister’s and brother’s plight. And that is not who we are called to be. God has done something in Jesus, and is still doing something through us.
Isaiah 61, the scroll from which Jesus reads in our scripture this morning, is a servant song, and “anointed me” means “made me the Christ or Messiah.” When understood literally, the passage says the Christ is God’s servant who will bring to reality the longing and the hope of the poor, the oppressed, and the imprisoned (Craddock, Fred B. Interpretation: Luke. 62). That is who we are called to be. No longer can we claim to be Christians, Christ-ones, and say that this work is someone else’s. No longer can we claim to be a disciple of Christ by simply affirming one creed or another about an external God who lived among us for a time two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus.
So today … All eyes are fixed on us.
We are empowered by that life two thousand years ago to imitate the presence of God in him by living fully today. By loving wastefully today. By having the courage to be all that God created us to be today. We must never allow today to become yesterday or slip into a vague someday. Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. It is not because we should or because we ought to that we, too, bring good news, and proclaim release, recovery, freedom, and God’s favor. It is because we must.
As we come to know the Christ in us, not denying the divinity of Jesus, but acknowledging that divinity in ourselves as well; as we speak of Jesus in language and with concepts that are revelatory in our time and for our lives, we will begin to focus on Christ’s humanness and love of life. And as we do, we will discover our own goodness. We will discover that we are defined not by what we deny, by what we resist, and by who we exclude, but are measured by what we create, what we embrace, and who we include” (Foote and Thornburg. Being Disciples of Jesus in a Dot.Com World).
Today the festivities and memorial celebrations are over. Today is … today. And all eyes are fixed on us. Let’s do this thing.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 24, 2016