In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
One day a minister got up in the pulpit to preach the Sunday message. It was a day like any other day. Suddenly a man stood up in the balcony and proclaimed “I have a word from the Lord.” Heads swiveled from their usual forward looking position to the balcony to see what was going on. Now the congregation that day never heard what the man had to say. Quick as can be, the ushers were up in the balcony and the man removed from the premises. The service was able to go on as usual. (Story taken from Pulpit Resources, Vol. 32, No. 1)
Of course, every week ministers across the world struggle (or perhaps not struggle) to bring a word from the Lord to their flock. This is not always an easy and pretty event. But it is what we are called to do. I suppose some days come out wonderful, some days not so wonderful and perhaps an occasional surprise.
For Jesus audience in today’s reading, it was a definite surprise. Imagine for a moment how it must have felt back on that day so long ago. Week in and week out people attend the synagogue to hear the Word of God and to hear a word from God hopefully in the explanation of the scripture read. Jesus has been out of town traveling. The local boy is coming home. Word is quickly passed that Jesus is back. As the word travels around people hear that Jesus will be speaking at the synagogue in his first day back. I’m sure the excitement must have been mounting. What would Jesus have to say fresh back from his travels. As the community gathers the tension builds. And so finally the moment arrives, Jesus stands up and reads from Isaiah. Then something very unusual happens. Jesus just sits down. I’m sure people start whispering things. Why didn’t he speak? What is happening? We expected him to wow us. And then Jesus does speak. And boy does he wow them. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If they were whispering before, they were crying out now. This is the Jesus they know. They knew him as a kid. They knew him better than anyone else.
How dare this young whippersnapper make a statement like that. Now I’m sure some of you might be silently praying that more sermons today would be that short and succinct! That might be a great blessing. But alas is it not to be so today. Sorry.
But I did want to talk about this passage that Jesus claimed was fulfilled. It is a powerful message and I believe it has as much application to us today as it did to Jesus back then. Not that I or any of us can claim to be the messiah, but the things that Jesus claimed to fulfill are just as valid today as they were back then. And as the daughters and sons of God in Christ we are called upon to fulfill them in our own time. We need to be preaching the good news to the poor. We need to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, we need to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Now this is powerful and liberating stuff. As Christians we have much to offer the world and we need to share this message. We need to do it both individually and corporately. We need to do it personally and politically. We need to purposely think about these important goals and how we can best contribute, each in our own way to making them happen.
Now preaching good news to the poor is not necessarily what you think of when you think of Episcopalians. But it does happen. And it needs to continue to happen. And when you think about it, the poor are probably much more ready for the rich to hear this message anyway.
We need to proclaim release to the captives. Jesus provides the release from our sins which hold us in captivity. But I think we need to do even more. People are also help captivity in poverty. We need to be doing what we can to alleviate that as well. Hundreds of Alaskan prisoners are being held in prison thousands of miles away from family and friends just to save money. That is a sin we need to address as well. No matter how you feel about private versus public prisons, housing our prisoners so far from home is just plain wrong. We need to let our elected officials know this.
We need to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. The spiritually blind need to hear the good news of Jesus and be freed from their blindness.
And we need to set at liberty those who are oppressed. This is such a huge category I don’t even know where to start in listing it. And perhaps you see this need as well, but are likewise overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. If that is the case, just find one area of oppression and start working on it. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Those words, by Margaret Mead are absolutely true. And they are never truer than when lived out by faithful committed Christians intent on changing wrongs and spreading the Gospel.