It’s never good when the report begins with how wonderful someone is. "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."
Because if someone speaks well of you these days, it is only a matter of time until the other shoe drops. We’ve had that on a couple of occasions in recent weeks. Lance Armstrong, through his courage and determination overcame cancer to go on to win the Tour de France, a bike race that this year is over 2200 miles, seven times. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research – everybody wore yellow livestrong rubber bracelets. And while there had always been rumors, we wanted to believe. He had denied that he had used performance enhancing drugs with such vehemence; he had gone after folks who had said he had cheated in lawsuits. But, we can’t escape who we are. So, after all of the years of rumors, he sat down with, who else, Oprah. He sat down on a couch at the church of Oprah and confessed his sins. It’s never good when the report begins with how wonderful someone is.
Instead of the church of Oprah, Manti T’eo picked Katie Couric. T’eo, runner up for the Heisman Trophy, was a senior linebacker for Notre Dame. He could have gone pro, but stayed and willed his team all the way to the National Championship Game. From a close family, a devout Mormon who didn’t get in trouble like many athletes do, he seemed to embody the best of collegiate athletics. But somehow, through astounding naïveté, he got sucked into an online relationship, on the computer or phone hours each day, speaking with someone who, it turns out, wasn’t real, and was eventually even convinced that this dear young woman had died of leukemia. Then he discovered that something wasn’t right, but the public already knew about her supposed death, and he waffled, and was confused, and not entirely forthright. It wasn’t criminal, just weird, and sad. And he will never again be who we thought he was. The world loves to build people up, so high, whether politician or athlete, actor or spiritual leader. And then, when they turn out to be people like us, we tear them down, talk about how stupid they are in the halls or at the water cooler. Hypocrite. Cheater. Liar. It’s never good when the report begins with how wonderful someone is.
At the very beginning, before he does anything, everyone loved Jesus. Luke takes more time than any of the other gospel writers setting the stage – we first meet Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, old and barren. God brings word to them they are to have a special baby, John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Mary the mother of Jesus are relatives, and Mary learns of her own pregnancy from an angel. Luke records her magnificent song of joy. All of that happens before Jesus is born in a stable, the shepherds visit, or he is presented as a baby in the Temple. The boy grows, and in the third chapter we meet John full grown, then Jesus, baptized in the Jordan. He impressively stands fast as the devil tempts him in the wilderness for 40 days. And then it begins, and Luke tells us, it was wonderful. Word spread through the surrounding country. Jesus got invited to be a guest preacher all over the place, and was, Luke said, praised by everyone…
And so you can’t blame the folks in Nazareth for getting excited when the famous guy came home. In the small town in the mountains where I grew up we had a couple of famous people who grew up there – Brad Daugherty, who came to UNC to play basketball before the NBA, and singer Roberta Flack. Whenever any one of them did anything, people went crazy. In the grocery store, at school, pumping gas. You see our boy, got the Cavs to the playoffs? You see our girl? Black Mountain girl wins a Grammy! In the markets, working in their shops. You hear about that boy, Joseph’s boy? He’s become quite a preacher.
I imagine the synagogue in Nazareth was packed that day, extra chairs in the narthex, people standing in the back. He probably wasn’t scheduled, didn’t have his name in the bulletin, but everyone just knew he was going to say something. Scholars seem to agree that it would not have been unusual for Jesus to stand and read – any male present could ask or be asked to read and/or preach.1 Scholars also seem to agree that Jesus had freedom to choose the text. And so he moves to the front, and the crowd rumbles for a moment, people whispering, nudging their neighbor, look! The scroll from the prophet Isaiah was given to him, Luke tells us, but it seems as though he picks the text, from Isaiah 61, with a bit from chapter 58 stuck in.
"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."
Scholars often refer to this as Jesus’ inaugural address. As we know from this past Monday inaugurals are places leaders chart a course, point a way forward, telling us what he or she is to be about. He takes these familiar words from Isaiah, words to a people leaving exile, words of hope and promise, and reinterprets them for the congregation. He takes this mantle upon himself, the Anointed One, who is to – here’s the list of verbs – bring good news, proclaim, let, proclaim. He will be the One brings news, new news, good news to a particular set of people – those the words consistently leaves behind. The poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, that a new kin-dom is breaking in, that the old values, old ways are coming to a screeching halt. Those who are used to BAD NEWS, in their time and ours: the hungry and poor, the left out, the hurt and sick and disabled, the weak and bullied. Those who are used to bad news are finally going to have One who is for THEM. Who is looking out for them, to tell them God is changing the rules, and Jesus is the One who is going to make sure we all know it.
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue, Luke said, were fixed upon him. It was silent, that really quiet moment when the sermon is about to begin. Then he said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And that’s it. 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 presumably outside, not more teaching on the text. Sermon over. The text did the work for him, and some of it was simply about claiming the mantle, claiming this role as the Anointed One. But when he says the scripture is fulfilled, he doesn’t just say "the scripture is fulfilled." He says it is fulfilled in YOUR HEARING, to the crowd.
He tells us that our hearing matters. Gail O’Day writes that you, WE, must be involved.
"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 (today). To say that the text is fulfilled is to say that now, in the present moment of proclamation, the text finds its meaning."2 Jesus is telling us that the community – YOU – has a crucial role to play in interpreting the word of God, responding to the Word of God, and living into the reign of God itself.3
So, here’s the deal. Here in a minute I’ll be finished, and you’ll say, the sermon is over. That’s the cue that it is getting close to time to leave. Thank goodness. But I am here to suggest, to remind you, really, that when we finish talking today, THAT, in that precise moment, is when the sermon begins. It percolates within you as worship continues and then, in that precise moment, YOU will have the opportunity to leave this place and be a part of Christ’s work, proclaiming good news, grace, to those who are used to BAD NEWS, used to being ground down by the world, used to struggling for every thing they get. And WE have the chance to be FOR THEM, to listen, to take care of people, to head to the coast to repair homes next weekend, to stand up to someone being bullied, give an extra gift, to pick up trash around the outside of our campus like den 9 did for awhile Saturday before last. So that the world might know that in YOUR HEARING, and your living, everyone knows that in Jesus, God is changing the rules.
Don’t ever think that what happens up here, what we preachers say, whether it is the slightest bit interesting or rather dull, is what matters. All of this is worthless if we don’t leave this place caught up in praise and joy. So….are you ready? The sermon….starts….NOW…..
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. From Ellen’s paper.