The synagogue was packed that day, chairs down the aisle, standing room in the balcony. You can’t blame the folks in Nazareth for getting excited when the famous guy comes home. In my hometown in the mountains we had a couple of famous people who had been brought up there – Brad Daugherty, who came to UNC to play basketball before the NBA; Brad Johnson, who won a super bowl as the quarterback for Tampa Bay, and the singer Roberta Flack. Whenever any one of them did anything, people went crazy. In the grocery store, pumping gas. You see our boy win the super bowl? You see that – Black Mountain girl wins a Grammy! In the markets, working in their shops. You hear about Joseph’s son? He’s become quite a preacher.
Jesus didn’t have his name in the bulletin, but there was a sense he would speak. It would not have been unusual for Jesus to stand and read – any male present could ask or be asked.1 He got up from the back and people began whispering, that’s him! The scroll from the prophet Isaiah was given to him, but it seems he chose chapter 61, with a bit from 58 stuck, too:
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.
Jesus takes words of hope to a people leaving exile and reinterprets them. He takes this mantle upon himself, as the Anointed One, who is- here’s the list of verbs – to bring good news, proclaim, let, proclaim. He is the One to bring good news to the poor. Those who are used to BAD NEWS in their time and ours: the hungry and homeless, the hurt and sick and disabled, those discriminated against, the weak and bullied. Those who are used to bad news are finally going to have One who is for THEM, proclaiming God is changing the rules.
This day at church was the marker. He reads Isaiah to chart the course for His ministry, and Luke gets moving, giving us example after example of how He lives as this One. After this Jesus calls disciples, heals a leper, then a paralyzed man brought by friends. He commissions his disciples to that same work, raises a widow’s only son from the dead. He begins to speak to them in parables, teaching that the kingdom of God is like a seed sowed on fertile ground that grows and grows, not like a lamp put under a jar, but shining. After all this, as Luke is unveiling for us more of who Jesus is, we pause at today’s second text. On the edge of the season of Lent the church remembers Jesus taking three disciples up the mountain to pray. As they arrive, after all of the frenetic activity, all the business of ministry, the appearance of his face changes, clothes dazzling white. Moses and Elijah join him in glory. Peter and James and John are stunned, and try to help set up tables and pitch tents, but they remain there, shining.
Here’s when clouds roll in, and Luke reaches back, making the link. Back in chapter 3, when Jesus is baptized, the clouds part and a voice from heaven says, this is my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. Here on the Mount of Transfiguration in chapter 9 we hear it again, this is my son, the chosen, listen to him! Baptism gets things moving, then he is tempted, then he heads to the synagogue at Nazareth, bringing us right back to today’s text. The people there are threatened by him already as he embodies Isaiah’s amazing words: "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."
Jesus stands still at the front of the temple. He rolls the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down. The eyes of all were fixed upon him. "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." He must have said something else, because in the next verse Luke says everyone was amazed at his gracious words. But, this scene continues on as a conversation with folks there and outside, not more direct teaching on the text. The sermon portion is complete. But, when he says the scripture is fulfilled, he doesn’t just say that and stop. He adds it is fulfilled in YOUR HEARING. He does this, I think, because he wants us to understand that this is about all of us. Gail O’Day writes that, "Jesus does not say, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in my speaking"-but "in your hearing"… By saying, "The scripture is fulfilled," Jesus asserts that something has happened in this moment of the communal hearing of Scripture. To say that the text is fulfilled is to say that now, in the present moment of proclamation, the text finds its meaning."2
There are times we stand in awe. A few weeks ago in John’s gospel, when Jesus turned all that water into wine at a wedding in Cana, was one of those times. We marvel at the miracle, and that is enough. But Luke shows us that Jesus also invites us into the new thing God is doing, in our hearing, in our presence, that we might find our own way to be a part of the proclamation, or that we might ALL be those proclaimers, that Jesus’ really short sermon didn’t end that day, but continued through the living of those gathered, and is a sermon that handed down, generation after generation, so that maybe, maybe, all of what we are doing, all any of us have been doing, is responding to that sermon that day in the temple in Nazareth, that our hearing, and our serving and praying, echoes, and echoes, and echoes…
Today, as you might have heard, is the Super Bowl, the peak of all this American consumerism and passion, as our present day gladiators take to the coliseum, as we root on our home-state Panthers. But one team that isn’t playing anymore is the Minnesota Vikings. In a frigid game played a month ago with temperatures in the low single digits, it all came down to a pedestrian 27-yard field goal by an ordinarily really reliable kicker, to win the game. And with all this energy, all of the amazing intensity involved, Blair Walsh stepped up and missed it. And immediately everyone piled on to the failure, the goat, the pitiful guy who let a region down. The internet was filled with people saying cruel and hateful things. Except a bunch of first graders. The very next day a class at Northpoint Elementary was beginning a unit on empathy, learning about compassion. And they decided to write Blair Walsh a bunch of letters, telling him they cared about him, that they were sorry everyone was being mean to him, that he was more than that one kick, that that kick wasn’t who he was. Walsh showed up later that week and spent the morning at the school.3
It’s more than the kindness those kids exhibited, but that’s surely a part of that same sermon from long ago. But maybe those kids continue it as they work hard and learn to serve their communities. Maybe you continue it at lunch as we support our youth as we show them, and they show us, that the life of faith MUST be about serving others. Many of you participated in that same sermon as we packed soup kits for Hope Valley Elementary on and food for formerly homeless veterans on Wednesday. But it’s underneath that, not only as we string acts, things we do, together. It is understanding our lives as part of that same sermon, flowing out of God’s love for each of you, claimed at your baptism. What sermons might you preach if you really understood just how loved you were? If you could truly believe that God loves you so much, and that Jesus comes to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, that we are free, that God’s love is loose on all the world? What if that informed every single thing you did? Who would you be?
Jesus preached that one really solid short sermon those years ago, but let us not dare think it’s over. As we begin this season of Lent on Wednesday as we receive ashes on our foreheads, we the sermon continues. As we come to this table, as we move out into the world. And we’ve got a few lines – you’ve got a few lines – to add of our own.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. Linda Bridges, "Exegetical Perspective: Luke 4:14-21," Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: WJK, 2009) 287. This cite comes from the Rev. Ellen Crawford True’s paper on this text for the 2012 gathering of The Well in Montreat, NC.
2. Gail R. O’Day, "‘Today this word is fulfilled in your hearing’: A Scriptural Hermeneutic of Biblical Authority," Word & World, Vol.26, Number 4, Fall 2006, 360, 361.
3. "Vikings kicker Blair Walsh tells first-graders he’ll ‘cherish’ their cards forever," Star Tribune, 1/15/16.