Third Sunday after Epiphany

Pastor Eric Deibler

  • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-108-10
  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Luke 4:14-21

Beginnings are important: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.” Immediately, you know what’s about to happen to the Dursley’s. They’ll become involved in something strange and mysterious. Namely, a young boy named Harry Potter, who doesn’t yet realize that he’s a wizard.

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” begins: “A squat grey building of only 34 stories. Over the main entrance the words CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTER, and, in a shield the World State’s motto COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.” With those couple of sentences, Huxley gives us a stark striking vision of what his Brave New World looks like.

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) Like all great beginnings, it creates a sense of expectation and draws you in, as it gives you a little taste of what’s to come.

Luke begins his Gospel with the following: “​1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4)

So, something big has happened. And we’re about to get the details from eyewitness accounts of what happened. We’re going to learn the truth.

Luke then tries to psych us out with a head-fake. He starts by first talking about not Jesus, but John the Baptizer.

Soon enough we get a sense of who the story is really about. Things get more and more specific. “’… to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11)

When Jesus is twelve, he gets left behind in the Temple. When his parents finally find him, he says to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Each step along the way, another piece gets added to the puzzle. At his baptism, he’s named specifically as God’s son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form.

He’s tempted in the desert.

And then, at last, we get to the reading for today which, in Luke’s Gospel, is another beginning. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

It intentionally echoes and reminds us of Mary’s Magnificat: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:50-53)

It actually goes beyond that because the “year of the Lord’s favor”, which Jesus quotes from Isaiah, is also known as the Jubilee year. According to Leviticus, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. Land would be returned to its rightful possessors, and people would be returned to their rightful land.

18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)

Finally, from very broad beginnings, we have become clearer and more specific in our understanding of Jesus, who he is, what he is, and what it means for us and the world. 

There’s another beginning happening here today. Mathis is being baptized. We will follow the injunction of Jesus. We will baptize him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God will fulfill the promise of baptism. He will be marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.

18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Today, once again, this scripture will be fulfilled. Through the waters of baptism, Mathis will be ordained into the priesthood of all believers. He will die to the power of sin and death. He’ll be reborn as a child of God, as have all of us, who have been baptized.

13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13). Mathis is as vital to that body, as anyone else. Mathis is as important to that same body, as anyone else. He is a gift, entrusted to our care. Because right now, he is, in many ways, a blank slate. Not entirely. I’m 50/50 when it comes to nature vs. nurture. But we, if we choose to, can have a profound impact upon his young life.

Mathis shares the same call as all of us do. “… to bring good news to the poor. … to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Part of our calling is to help him live into that. But in order to be able to do that, we need to understand how we share in that calling. We need to understand how we see ourselves as part of the priesthood of all believers. We need to be able to articulate the ministry to which we are called, and what it looks like in our lives. In other words, how do you, with your life bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind? What do you do to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?

I’m reminded of the poem “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

“The Work of Christmas,” p 23, from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations, Howard Thurman.

Jesus is filled with power. Luke tells us so: “14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…” Jesus says what he says and does what he does because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

In doing so, Jesus challenges our typical notions of power. Because Jesus’ power is demonstrated not by what he does for himself, but what he accomplishes for others. The power of the Holy Spirit sets others free, it builds up others, it’s used for the betterment of those around you. The power of God at work in Jesus, at work in us, pushes us to reconfigure our notions of power and re-orient our attention away from ourselves to those around us.

The power of the Holy Spirit is a power that will not wait. God will not wait for us to improve enough to be loved. and God is never satisfied that we are all we can be. God loves us enough to see us, God loves us enough to forgive us, God loves us enough to challenge us, and God loves us enough to send us out to see and to love others – especially those the world does not see. To do so is to share in the power of Jesus. 1The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us 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.” Today and every day, this scripture is fulfilled by your being in the world, bearing the name of Christ. AMEN

 

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