3rd Sunday After Epiphany, Year C, Sunday, January 27th, 2013
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Luke 4:14-21
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s Gospel lesson shows us the first act of Jesus’ public ministry recorded in Luke. Jesus goes to his home town, Nazareth, and participates in regular Sabbath worship. He reads a short passage from Isaiah, sits down, and says the prophecy has been fulfilled. What an announcement! As sermons go, that’s pretty short. Only one sentence. (Sorry, but mine’s going to be a little longer than that.) Yet Jesus’s sermon is so short because the prophecy from Isaiah says it all. It perfectly encapsulated what Jesus’ ministry on earth was about.
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit came down like a dove to him. The Holy Spirit was with him, as he began his ministry, and there in Nazareth he proclaimed what his ministry was about, what God’s kingdom is about. Good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and God’s abundant grace for all. That’s what Jesus is all about. That’s what God is all about. That’s what life is like in the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim.
Good news for the poor: not a handout that feeds them for a day, but dignity and respect and a world in which they can earn enough to support their family. Release to those who are held captive, whether that captivity is of body or mind. There are all kinds of captivity. Prisoners in jail are captives, yes, but so are those trapped by the cares of life that are grinding them down. People in abusive relationships are captives, too. And the longer you’re trapped, no matter what’s holding you down, the harder it is to even imagine what it would be like to be released. What a relief to hear that you are free! And blindness comes in all forms, from the physical to the spiritual to the intellectual. Trapped in a dark world, what a joy to finally see the light. Oppression comes in many forms, some blatant, some subtle. To all people weighed down in body, mind, or spirit, Jesus comes bringing news of freedom. Jesus comes proclaiming God’s love and grace.
Jesus comes to tell people that they have not been forgotten, and they have not been abandoned. God wants us to be happy, and healthy, and free. God wants us to live abundant lives filled with love and faith. We live in a broken, sinful world, with all kinds of things that trap us and weigh us down. We live in a world full of bad news and injustice. It’s easy to take it for granted, to take it for normal, to assume that that is what the world is supposed to be like. But that is not the life God wants for us. Jesus Christ was sent to proclaim Good News to all, but especially the ones who are most in need of it: the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the trapped, all those who suffer.
And that’s not all. Jesus didn’t just tell people the good news. Jesus came to make the Good News a reality, to start the process of creating the kingdom of God, the place where sin is forgiven, brokenness is made whole, and where there is abundant life and freedom for all. That kingdom isn’t here yet—it won’t be until Christ comes again—but it will come. That is the deepest, truest reality of the universe. In this world we live in, we see and experience so much pain and loss and brokenness. But we know that it will not last forever, that the Good News is true, that all the world will be redeemed and healed and made free. We have heard the words of Jesus, we have the Spirit in us, and we wait.
Last week I talked about the gifts of the Spirit. These are all the talents that God gives to all of us. Everything from the ability to teach or preach to the ability to heal or lead or follow—all are gifts of the Spirit. All are given by God. But why does God give them? What are they for? When the Spirit comes to us, what is it moving us to do? The interesting thing about the Spirit is that if you look at the times the Spirit appears, it points to Christ. The Spirit appears at Jesus’ baptism and again at his transfiguration, when God the Father claimed Jesus as his Son and told the Disciples to listen to him. The Spirit appears at Pentecost, sending the Disciples out into the world to tell the crowds about Jesus. The Spirit still points to Christ today, showing us the way to Christ.
In the Spirit, we were all baptized into the body of Christ. We are Christ’s body in the world. And what was Jesus Christ sent to do? As he told the people of Nazareth, he was sent to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and to tell God’s grace to all people. Jesus was sent to proclaim the coming kingdom, and to bring it to all, so that they could see and hear and feel God’s presence with them. Jesus came to help people live in the reality of the world to come.
We, too, are called to live in the reality of the world to come. We are called to be the body of Christ in the world. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet and ears and eyes and mouth in the world. We aren’t just here to think about Jesus for an hour a week. We aren’t just called to remember him fondly. We are called to live our lives in response to the Good News that Jesus came to bring. Now, we can’t create God’s kingdom or make it come more quickly—only God can do that. But we can live lives that point to that coming reality. We can follow the Spirit which leads us to Christ, and with the Spirit’s help we can live lives that point to Christ and the Good News he brought. We can live in the light of Christ.
None of us can do it alone. We are all members of the body of Christ, but not one of us is Christ alone. We all have different skills, different passions. We have all been called to different ministries by the Holy Spirit. But those ministries all work together to proclaim the Good News in word and deed.
As Paul says, no part of the body is complete in itself. Hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and all the other parts. Each one is needed, each one has its own task and its own gift. We may like some parts better, and we may think some parts are prettier and more valuable, but all are needed. All have been given gifts by the Spirit, and all are needed.
There are many divisions in our world. Money, race, gender, politics, sexuality, religion. You’ll find those divisions within the church as well as outside of it. It’s very easy to let our differences and disagreements take center stage. After all, they touch on fundamental issues. But there is one thing more fundamental still: our lord and savior Jesus Christ, whose body we are. Despite all the divisions and brokenness, we are called and gifted by the Spirit, beloved children of the Father, saved by the Son. Despite all our divisions and the brokenness, we have heard the Good News of Jesus, the news of freedom and light and renewal and healing. Despite all our divisions and brokenness, we are called to be the body of Christ in the world, to live in the light of God’s grace and show God’s love to the world. May the Spirit which points to Christ guide our thoughts and our actions.