Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon; 3 Epiphany; Luke 4:14-21, 1 Cor. 12:12-31a

Epiphany is the season of revealings and beginnings.  Christ was manifested to the Gentiles (revealed) when the wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  He was revealed as the Beloved Son of God at his baptism when the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him; his public ministry beginning shortly thereafter.  And Jesus stepped into the spotlight when he performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, revealing his glory.

Today we get another revealing and beginning with the episode of Jesus reading from Isaiah and claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's end-time prophecy.  This end-time prophecy being ushered in by Jesus includes release of captives, sight for the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  This is a new beginning for the people of God.

The passage Jesus reads comes from two places in Isaiah – mainly from 61:1-2 and partly from 58:6.  Both of these quotes are taken from what scholars refer to as Third Isaiah, basically the last ten chapters of that book.  In this last section of the book, the Jewish exiles have returned home from Babylon and the prophet addresses practical problems of restoration and reconstruction.  There is a focus on living daily into the holiness of God and to remind the people of what that looks like.

What that looks like, according to Isaiah, is that God's spirit is upon us to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  In other words, now that God has freed us, we must help free others.

This prophetic message, however, fell by the wayside as Israel became focused on internal affairs, working to maintain their core identity, and life in general.  It eventually got forgotten and Israel began spending their collective time waiting for the arrival of a savior.

Enter Jesus.

At the time of Jesus, Israel was not in exile but they were occupied.  They had been overrun by the Roman military and political machine.  They were oppressed.  They worked hard to maintain their identity.  And they waited for a savior.

For us Christians we believe that Savior came in the person of Jesus Christ.  We believe that he was a fulfillment of the prophecies, born of the Virgin Mary, God incarnate, fully human and fully divine, and all of that other stuff we proclaim.  We also believe he came to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God.

Over time, however, this salvific message of the nearness of the kingdom has fallen by the wayside.  It seems we have spent more time focused on internal affairs, trying to maintain an identity and getting sidetracked by life.  And while we work to maintain the institution of Christianity, we sit idly by waiting for the arrival of a savior.

We need to avoid that trap.  We need to avoid arguing about internal affairs and get busy proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God.  We need to stop waiting for a savior and get to work proclaiming the message of Christ.

“But,” you may protest, “Jesus read that passage from Isaiah and interpreted it to refer to himself.”  That certainly may be technically correct because the text does say, “me,” and Jesus proclaims it fulfilled.  But this is one of those times when we need to take a wider view.

The Bible, for all its faults, messiness, and brutality, is, more than anything else, a love story between God and creation.  It is a story in which we participate, however imperfectly.  It is a story of our reunification with God.

The story begins in a garden and our banishment to keep us from eating from the tree of life.  The story ends in the city of God that has as its centerpiece that very same tree of life.  In between we are asked to participate with God in his vision of what creation is intended to be.  To do that, we need to have an all-encompassing view and understanding of Scripture.  And for that, Paul gives us an excellent example.

Today's Epistle from 1 Corinthians has Paul comparing the Church to a physical body.  We are baptized into one body – the body of Christ.  Paul goes on to talk about the various parts – hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, etc. – and how, though different, they are all part of the one body.  By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we are one with Christ.

If we are in Christ, if we are a member of Christ’s body, then the mission of Christ is our mission and the proclamations of Christ are our proclamations.  The mission of the Church as we understand it is to restore all people to unity with God.  This also happens to be the mission of Christ.

Part of that mission is to be found in the Isaiah passage read by Jesus.  Part of that mission is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and to free the oppressed.  Jesus reads that passage, complete with, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME,” and tells his audience that Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing.

It was certainly fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  But taking Scripture holistically, and using Paul's belief that, collectively, we are the body of Christ, that prophecy should be fulfilled in us.  Isaiah's writings point to us just as surely as they point to Jesus.

We are united together in Christ.  We are united with Christ in his mission.  We are not called to wait for a savior.  We are called to participate with the Savior in restoring all people to unity with God.

Today's epiphany is that we are one with Christ.  Today's epiphany is that we are called, along with Jesus, to begin to proclaim the good news to the people of Isaiah's prophecy.  Today's epiphany is that this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.



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