3rd Sunday of Epiphany Luke 4:4-21 Thurne
Two people leaving church one Sunday. The wife said to her husband, “Did you see the strange hat Mrs. O’Brien was wearing?” “No, I didn’t,” replied her husband. “Bill Smith badly needs a haircut, doesn’t he?” commented the wife. “Sorry, I didn’t notice,” replied the husband. “You know John,” said his wife impatiently. ”Sometimes I wonder if you get anything at all out of going to church”.
People get different things out of going to church, depending, it would seem, on what they expect to get when they go there. I wonder what the people who were in the synagogue in today’s Gospel reading were expecting. Certainly they didn’t expect to see Jesus stand and read a portion of Scripture, let alone comment on it. His sermon was and is one of the shortest on record-“Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.
When Jesus stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll, it was not just to make a point about Isaiah’s prophesy. It was not only to claim his rightful inheritance, the authority which comes from being the Messiah whose arrival had been longed for for over a thousand years. He was using this piece of scripture to declare openly who he was and to set out his plan and instructions for the future, both the immediate and long term, for those who would be his disciples then and now. Jesus was a good Jew and probably was a regular in the synagogue, I am sure that he knew some, if not all of the people there that day. Jesus is handed the scroll to read. He opened the scroll to just the right place in Isaiah, He read the passage, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone stared at him waiting for what was to come next. Who knows what they were expecting? Jesus hadn’t done a lot yet, He has been baptized, spent time in the wilderness, and just begun his ministry. We’re told in the paragraph just prior to this story that “report about him spread through all the surrounding country,” but we are not told what that report consisted of.
My guess is that the people were expecting something, but they had no idea what that something was.
But the burning question, was the congregation in Nazareth all that different from our own congregations?
I hope we all go to church expecting something? But, do any of us really take the time to articulate what that something is?
Some, I suppose, expect to hear a good sermon. Not too long, not too short. Some expect to sing, familiar hymns. Some expect to be welcomed, and to see people they know and when it’s all over that there will be a cup of coffee or a sherry. (but not today)
But, how many of us go to church really expecting the Spirit of God to actually show up? Do we expect news so good that it might shatter the despair of the poor? Do we expect release, recovery, and the ending of oppression?
Or would we rather just receive a little comfortable word, a little encouragement, and nothing that will rock the boat?
Jesus opened the scroll, looked at the congregation and read:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to
preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
He sat down, and said, ‘Today these scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing.’ In other words, ‘yes that is me'.
You may well be thinking, that is all very well but what does that have to do with us. Well, folks it has everything to do with us. When Jesus began his ministry he almost always taught people in groups, in hearing together and learning together many of them started the process of being followers which enabled them to eventually become what St Paul called ‘one body’ in our reading from Corinthians and which has evolved over time into what we now call church.
St. Theresa of Avila lived during the 16th century – she was famous for her spirituality and writings and she founded the Carmelite movement a strict enclosed order.
She was a deeply prayerful woman but also very practical, she was Martha and Mary rolled into one, and she made the famous statement which invites us all to share these attributes.
She declared that we must be the eyes and ears, the hands and feet of Christ in the world, because if we are not then we have to ask- who will?
Who will carry on the work that Jesus declared he had come to begin, who will spread the Gospel, speak for the prisoner, heal the sick and lift the burdens of the downtrodden.
It is our calling as church, individually we may be a hand, and eye a foot. We are all created differently, but God wants us to seek what it is we were created for and then do it. We are not expected to perform miracles, just be the part in the body (the church) we are. Jesus could not do it without the help of the Holy Spirit and neither can we. The good news is that the role of Messiah, the supreme sacrifice has been taken. None of us have to do that.
All we have to do is our part, the little roles in life. So our challenge is to seek, what is it that God wants me to do, and do it.
It started centuries ago with a declaration in a synagogue in Nazareth and now it is our responsibility to carry on the legacy until Christ comes once more. Even so come Lord Jesus.