GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Today - 01/27/2019

“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.” (Luke 4:18-19)

What does this even mean to us? It is steeped in the culture and practices of Hebrew cousins from long ago … their scriptures, their slavery and harsh treatment of those in debt, this ancient practice of the Jubilee of the Year of the Lord’s Favor, their limited abilities to address crippled limbs and diseased brains.

Even the details that set this scene so vividly are distinctly Jewish. Jesus went to synagogue on the Sabbath, as he usually did, being a faithful Jew. In what appears to be a voluntary, unsolicited action, he stood up in the midst of the assembly to read … just come to worship, all are welcome! come as you are!,  and stand up to read when the time comes if you feel like it. That’s definitely not a Lutheran custom!

 He’s handed the scroll to read from, imagery we often associate with the scriptures of our Jewish siblings. And after Jesus read from the scroll, he handed it to the attendant … kind of like an acolyte to us … and then he sat down, which in Jewish tradition is the customary posture of the teacher. That’s why “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” They looked and they waited for him to teach … to preach … to open up the scriptures figuratively now that the attendant had tucked them safely back into the Aron Kodesh … the Holy Ark.

This is very unfamiliar and maybe even a little unapproachable for us Jesus followers of the mostly Lutheran variety, firmly planted in the 21st century.

However, we are wise to remember that our Gospels and the other letters and books of our New Testament were not written only for the movement of Jewish people proclaiming Jesus was the long-prophesied Messiah. They were also written for the gentile people who were being drawn into the story and this different Way of life that came with it. They were written for the future people of this Way. They were written for us too.

And so we let the Holy Spirit or God or our own curiosity push us beyond what is initially kind of unfamiliar and maybe even off-putting in this centuries-old scene to see what it holds for us. What does the Year of the Lord’s Favor mean to us? What does it mean that the Jesus we encounter as we are on the Way is here to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and bring sight to the blind?

***

Here’s a funny thing about this story … for all the precision of detail the Gospel writer employed to set up this scene in our minds as we hear it … there’s actually a pretty notable discrepancy going on here too. I think for many of us, in the scene we imagine, we assume Jesus reads from the scroll what is written there … just as our assisting ministers do each week … they read the appointed OT, Psalm and Epistle reading as they are printed in the bulletin.

But that’s not what Jesus does here … maybe in part, but not entirely. What Jesus “reads” from the scroll is actually a mash up of two parts Isaiah and one part Leviticus.

The faithful Jewish people whose eyes were fixed on him would have known this and now we do too.

Part of this reading comes from Isaiah 61:

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…” (Isa 61:1-2)

Mixed into what Jesus actually says is part of Isaiah’s prophecy from chapter 58, which reads:

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to (release) the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (58.6)

And then Jesus ends by highlighting scripture that takes us back to Leviticus 25 and God’s decree to observe a Jubilee year, every 50 years. A Jubilee year would mean an extended Sabbath time for the people and the land, forgiveness of debt, reconnection and probably reconciliation of divided kin, return of land to its ancestral occupants, freedom for people who served as slaves. It was like the slate was wiped clean. Anyone who was trapped in poverty or debt, oppression or homelessness got a fresh start.

In a way, it sounds lot like what we experience when we repent and eat at the Lord’s Table or wash in the waters of baptism. Maybe we have more in common with these ancient cousins then we realize.

***

I have wondered, when I’ve read this passage before, why Jesus conflates these scriptures. Maybe it’s one of my questions for Jesus when I see him someday, because we just don’t know. Jesus doesn’t say and the Gospel writer doesn’t comment. And so we are left to keep wondering … as our scriptures so often leave us … why these passages, Jesus?

There is a connection between them – they are words of hope and life spoken throughout God’s creation, covering and encompassing all that is – even and maybe especially everything and everyone on the margins – the stuff that human-born grace often cannot or will not cover and encompass.

I’ll also note that Jesus’ mash-up of texts give shape to our primer verse this season following Epiphany, from John, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1.16)

And perhaps, by doing something unexpected – not uncommon for this Savior of ours – Jesus is simply trying to get our attention. In that, he has succeeded and so we too, like the faithful Jews in that synagogue, wait, our eyes fixed on Jesus, in the posture of the student. What will he teach us?

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

***

 “Today” Jesus says. Not “one day,” or “some day” or “another day,” … not past tense or future tense, but Today, as in always situated in the right now.

We get this use of the word “today” in other places in Luke’s Gospel. Like when God’s messenger was speaking to the shepherds in the field the night Jesus was born, “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” (2.11) or later on the cross when one of those crucified with Jesus asks to be remembered in his kingdom. “And Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

This “today” is a different kind of time marker. It holds the power to shift the whole creation, to change everything … like the way everything changed in the birth of our Savior … the way everything changed after we hung him on a cross and he defeated death and the tomb. And it is happening here too.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words … we are in God’s time now – it is no longer the human time of brokenness and disrepair – the time of God is now and this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing. A great shift has taken place – God is on the move.

And so we start to grasp that Jesus means much more than simply “Saturday” or “Sunday” when he says “today” – that this time marker of “today” has been on every single day since that one in the synagogue in Nazareth some 2,000 years ago … including this one.

And Jesus speaks into this day … “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today, Jesus speaks into your life … Where is your poverty? Is it in your cupboard? Your relationships? Your vocation? Your sense of worth? Jesus brings you Good News today – God sees you on those margins, meets you there and works endlessly to lift you from that poverty because you are God’s favored.

Today, Jesus speaks into your life … What holds you captive or oppresses you? Is it another person? Is it the temptations of this world – money, power, status, sex, drugs? Is it fear of failure or being unloved or misunderstood? Is it the past or the future? Today, Jesus brings you release. In the God time declared today, these things are small and weak can no longer bind you and hold you back.

Today, Jesus speaks into your life … Where are your blind spots? Where do you fail to see God in the face of another? How do you fail to see the ways God has created you so fearfully and wonderfully? How do your passions and familiars make it hard to recognize the passions and familiars of others? Today Jesus brings you the freedom and confidence to see in new ways, to see the world all around you a little more like God does.

Today and everyday this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing. Thanks be to God. Let’s go forth and live like it! Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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