Jubilee!

Sermon for the  3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 27, 2013 on 1 Cor 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21

1 Cor 12:12-31a

12   For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with

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Christ.  13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. …But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,  25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.  26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  27   Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues… 31 But strive for the greater gifts. 

Luke 4:14-21

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was  praised by everyone.16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jubilee

We have just read two of my favorite passages in the bible!  They are both so fundamental, so foundational to everything we are and do as a church.

The gospel text we read this morning is Jesus’ inaugural speech.

Luke tells this story carefully; each detail is important.  He points out that Jesus was going to the synagogue on the Sabbath,

“as was his custom.” 

Jesus’ connection with the Judaism with which he was raised shows us that the he fully understood the significance of what he was about to read from that Hebrew scroll, and he understood the significance of what he was going to say about it.

He stood up to read: standing is the reading posture; after the reading he sits down.  Sitting is the teaching posture in the synagogue.

Isaiah’s Servant Song

The scroll he took was the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah was well known and loved in Jesus’ day because it spoke of a future in which God would do a new thing for his people.

Included in Isaiah’s scroll are poems about the  person whom he calls “the Servant of the Lord.”  Jesus took this Isaiah scroll, and unrolled it to one of those Servant poems, this is from Isaiah 61.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”

Let us pause: we readers of Luke’s gospel already know that Jesus was anointed with God’s Spirit at his baptism which was narrated on the preceding page.  What has the Spirit-anointed the Servant of the Lord to accomplish?  The poem that Jesus read from Isaiah continues:

“… 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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What did God anoint Jesus with the Spirit to do?  He tells us. He finds his ministry objectives in that Servant Poem from Isaiah which he read.  We will notice that each of these ministry objectives of Jesus is oriented towards others, they are outwardly focused, not inwardly obsessed.  These are the opposite of the life absorbed in self.

Good News to the Poor

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Jesus was anointed first, he says, to  “proclaim good news to the poor.”  How?  By breaking bread with them, and teaching them to break bread with each other.  By honoring them as valuable people in God’s eyes, and teaching them to honor and value each other.

By refusing to allow purity taboo laws in the Old Testament to remain barriers to his love and touch. Whether or not the poor were lepers or were bleeding, and therefore untouchable, Jesus taught us his followers to get close, to touch, to get involved in meeting their real needs.

Release to the Captives

Jesus said that he, as the Servant of the Lord was anointed by the spirit to proclaim release the captives.  How?  The captivity of the Babylonian exile, which the original poem in Isaiah was about, was over long ago.  Though the people of his day were under Roman oppression, Jesus did not propose or join a revolt from Rome (as some of them wanted and expected he would do).

Rather, he led people to understand how the power of evil itself was an enslaving force, more profoundly so than the power of any empire to enslave. And so he cast out symbols of evil, that is, demons, and taught people to resist the devil’s temptations in all their forms.

Evil in all its forms is destructive; it enslaves people: the evil of injustice, the evil of selfishness, the evil of neglect, of prejudice, of superiority, judgmentalism and scapegoating – all evils enslave us and all of them are dis-empowered by Jesus who holds the key of freedom and forgiveness.

Open Blind Eyes

Jesus was also anointed by the Spirit to open the eyes of the blind.  In what way?  Not only did his touch make the blind see, but his ministry of teaching opened the eyes of his followers to the grace of God in their lives.  He helped people to see how they had been blinded by culture and prejudice, but that the light of the gospel could illumine that darkness.

He opened their eyes to see how their essential humanity was far more significant than the accidents of race or class or gender.  He opened their eyes to see that the path to the kingdom was not one of self-glorification, but the path of suffering on behalf of others; not narcissism, but service.

He opened their eyes to see God as their loving Heavenly Father, seeking out lost prodigal sons and daughters, and welcoming them back into the family.

Jubilee!

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There is one more element of Jesus’ mission statement: it is the last phrase that says, he was anointed with the Spirit,

“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Scholars agree that this odd phrase, “the year of the Lord’s favor” is a specific reference to the “Year of Jubilee” which Moses gave.

Every fifty years a jubilee was proclaimed: anyone who had sold their family land got it back.  Anyone who was indentured in debt slavery was set free.  By this means, the ancient tribal Israelite society ensured that there would never develop a permanent poor class.

This was the great vision of a society in which everyone’s needs were provided for; everyone had the opportunity to earn their own living on their own secure family property.  By this was born the Judeo-Christian ethic of a just and equitable society.

Now, Jesus, in his day, was in no position to initiate a land reform movement.  But what he did, was to set in motion a movement of Spirit-lead people of faith, who would take up his ethic of concern for the weak and the poor in the society and to address their needs.

The early Christian communities got it!  They looked after each other and became famous in the Roman Empire for the way they cared for the poor among them.

Our Mission

This is what Jesus said he came to do, and this is what he is still doing.  We are the ones who need our eyes to be opened and re-opened to understand what new thing God is doing in the world.

We are the ones who need to be set free, again and again, from the enslaving power of evil as it keeps worming its way back into our hearts.

We are the ones who need to learn God’s love for the poor and the outcast is practical and tangible and that we can be the agents of God’s good news to them.

Each of these ministries of Jesus is now the mission of the church.  Just as God anointed Jesus, his servant with the Holy Spirit, so we have been baptized with his Holy Spirit to carry on that same mission.

Gifts of the Spirit

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This is the same Holy Spirit who gives spiritual gifts to the church, his body.  Some are pastors and teachers, some have gifts of administration, some exercise ministries healing or of service.

All of the gifts of the Spirit, just as all of Jesus’ ministry objectives, are for service to others.  Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, came “not to be served, but to serve,” and to model for us the life of service.  Everyone of us has spiritual gifts that the rest of us needs.  No one has all of the gifts, and none of the gifts is superfluous.  We need each other, and we need all of us together in the body.

 Today

Notice that after Jesus had read this programmatic statement, he said,

 “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Today, not some vague, future, utopian day, but today, we have the mandate to carry on the mission of Jesus; fighting the enslaving powers of evil, opening blind eyes to the truth, and proclaiming in words and deeds good news to the poor and the outcast.  We have the same mandate and the same opportunity today.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does it meant to grow spiritually?  It means that we absorb more and more of the perspective of our Lord.  As we allow the same Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus to soften our hearts, we grow in compassion towards the people he came to minister to.

Why did Jesus say he came?

“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.” 

Let Today be the day that this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing  as we join Jesus in his mission!

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