Third Sunday after Epiphany

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:14-21

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
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 to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He 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 he 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 began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

This story in Luke about Jesus returning to Nazareth and preaching in the synagogue hits really close to home for me. Between my 1st internship and 2nd internship in seminary I worked with my home congregation pastor to continue to grow in leading worship and leading congregations. So we put a plan together with the seminary where I would serve 2 congregations in the Logan, OH area then once a month I would preach at my home congregation so my pastor could do communion services with the other 2 congregations.

This sounded like a great idea on paper. I would continue to lead worship, I would attend Council meetings, call on people in the hospital and once a month get to be at my home congregation and show people how I was growing into becoming a pastor.

Again, this sounds good but doing it on a regular basis is a whole different ballgame. For instance, any guesses how long the first worship service I led at my home congregation lasted? It was Service of the Word, so we didn’t have Holy Communion, but we had the other liturgy and readings and hymns…etc. Any guesses?..37 minutes! Should have been close to an hour, but I was so nervous and I was talking so fast that it didn’t take anytime at all. My family was all over the place between horrified and laughing hysterically, the congregation was gracious and joked about it as they left. The service was 37 mins, AND we paid for 1 hour of radio airtime so to this day I don’t know what they did for the other 23 mins that week.

It got better and the services lengthened, but there were times when I was going to preach about something that was really going to hit close to home and I would be so worried about how people were going to react. 

  • Who does this guy think he is? 
  • We know how he was brought up and the things he did as a younger person, so where does he get the right to challenge people in this way? 
  • I had my parents reminding me that I got to go back to school but they still lived here. (Side note, that’s also what Laura’s parents told me when I was preaching down there a few years ago for homecoming.) So to this day when my mom asked what my message is going to be about I would tell her “Jesus.” That was all the warning she gets.

People never gave up on me. My parents, members of my home church and other churches I served, and many other people supported my call to ministry. They did challenge me, but they always supported me and my call and because of that support I am still serving the way I am today.

I share all this with you for a couple reasons: I’m willing to make fun of myself and my short-comings when they have shown themselves, but also because when you’re in ministry you don’t just represent yourself anymore. You represent your city of origin, your family, your education, your seminary; and after you’re ordained you represent your Synod, your denomination, and most importantly God. What do you do when some of those things seemingly oppose each other. Well the next 2 weeks we get some insight into Jesus’ first trip back home as an up and coming rabbi.

For this week though I want to concentrate on the part that we hear this week with Jesus reading and teaching in the synagogue.

Imagine being in the congregation that day. You enter the synagogue with a certain expectation of what will transpire. Things progress normally until the scripture is read. You’ve heard it before but not like this. The words are familiar but something in the reading seems new. You look at the man who is reading from the scroll. He looks familiar–there’s something you recognize in him. You know you’ve seen him before but, again, something seems different so you aren’t quite sure that he is who you think he is.

You look around and realize you aren’t the only one. Everyone is staring at him…in awe…in wonder…with suspicion…with fear. 

You read a range of emotions crossing the faces who cannot look away from this man who has cracked open the words written on the scroll. He’s seated now. The scroll returned. But, the congregation isn’t ready to move forward with whatever it is that normally comes next. After a moment, he begins to speak, and his words astound you. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This was not the first time Jesus entered the synagogue or participated in communal worship. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus left the family caravan who were observing the passover in Jerusalem only to be found by his frantic parents in the synagogue where he was asking questions. At that time, he was still a child in age, but the maturity in his interaction with the religious rulers relayed wisdom and knowledge beyond those years. In this week’s text, he also demonstrates that he possesses something beyond expectations of those around him.

He has returned to Nazareth after a time teaching and preaching in other locations in Galilee. Nazareth is home, and something draws him back there. Just one month ago, we celebrated the Christmas, one of the high and holy days on the Christian calendar. It also serves as a bit of a reunion. Members of and friends of our faith community enter our doors to join in the gathered community even if they never think of doing so the rest of the year. Something draws them back. I cannot count the times, over the years, when I have thought I was meeting a visitor, when in fact, that person had long-standing ties to the congregation. They may have moved or changed faith communities, but something brought them back home.

We know that there are many animals that have an innate sense that will direct them back to their home no matter how far they may journey. Perhaps, we have the same. Jesus certainly found his way back to Nazareth throughout his ministry. This was the first time he does so after his public ministry launched.

Jesus was a worshiper and it shouldn’t surprise us that his homing signal brought him to the place, time, and community of worship. When given the scroll to read the text, he looks for a specific reference to declare his mission but that also defines his current state. 

He begins by saying those words, prophesied by Isaiah but that also described his current condition, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Throughout these early days of public life, the Spirit was a constant companion and guide.

I think we often consider Jesus to be invulnerable because of his divinity, but to be human is to be vulnerable. That’s part of the humbling that Jesus embraces as the Word becomes flesh. Vulnerability, in some respects, means to be subjected to unmet needs. In the wilderness, he fasts from food. It’s a voluntary act, just like the rest of the incarnation, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily or without cost. Jesus was hungry. In fact, he was famished, deprived of a basic need. He experienced the hurt and harm that comes from being in such a state.

So all this leaves me with a question: what does it mean to take scripture to heart? To act on it?

Our Gospel text, like the offering from Nehemiah, places us squarely in the midst of worship as well. Jesus, attending temple, was serving as lector that morning in his home synagogue. Surely this scene is familiar to us, especially as grown family members come back into town and are shown off at church, sometimes reprising the roles they used to perform when they were younger.

Jesus served as lector this particular morning, but after reading from the prophet Isaiah, he adds a little color commentary, noting that the “scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing.” (vs 21) For those ancient hearers this probably will prove inflammatory (spoiler alert for next week).

But, I wonder if Jesus is not just exemplifying what it means to take scripture to heart. Parents and grandparents, those same ones who delight when their children come back to church when they visit, what would happen if they heard that those same children had sold everything they had and given the money to the poor?

That’s an extreme example, but it’s one worth pondering. How would you feel if you heard that your child, grandchild, or young relative did so? What would be your first reaction?

How many times do we advise young college students to choose a sensible major? They can minor in anything, but we often encourage them to choose a major that will “pay the bills.” This certainly makes sense in so many ways, but what if our first reaction wasn’t to encourage them to “pay the bills,” but rather ask them which course of study will bless the world the most?

What if our first reaction, as a community of faith, was to ask them,“Which major will allow you to give your life away for the sake of others?” Or what if we asked our youth to do a year of service as part of their gift to the church and the world? Young Adults in Global Mission, Peace Corps, Habitat For Humanity, there are certainly plenty of organizations who do good work around the world that have nothing to do with “paying the bills” and everything to do with giving our life away for the others. 

Jesus began his salvific work a long time ago, but that works continues still today. That work continues through Christ’s mystical body, the church. 

Through each of us and all who are baptized into his body, Jesus strives still to live out his mission statement, bringing good news to those who don’t have any, setting free those chained in captivity, opening blind eyes, helping the oppressed and exploited find a life, and unrolling the floor plan that sets out God’s reign where justice and peace prevail.

Jesus still does these things, because his church does them. 

  • 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 the church hospital or the scales of prejudice falling off the eyes of a bigot. 
  • The oppressed are set free, whether oppression is a political regime or a chemical dependence. 

When Jesus reads that passage in the Nazareth synagogue, he announces a mission statement for himself and for his body, the church. So as we continue to do the Lord’s work let us make sure we don’t take it all on ourselves. Let us support others who are feeling a call to serve also. The Lord’s work is not up to a select few (those called for Ordination, those called to be missionaries, those called to be worship leaders, etc)…the Lord’s work is a call for us all to serve together because there is plenty of need to go around.