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Sermon - Third after Epiphany, January 27 2019

(We encourage you to also listen to the sermon, posted as an audio file; it contains materian not included in the text as written, below.)

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
January 27, 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Nehemiah8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Oh, look, here is God turning everything upside down.  Again.  Over and over, we have run into this – all the expectations we have are ignored and the Creator’s new ideas are planted in our sight, in our eyes, in our brains, and in our hearts.

For generations upon generations, the people of Israel were waiting for a messiah promised them of old, and when one waits and waits and waits, one may understandably begin to think that the thing they await may never come.  It gets to be a cliché, a meme, an image, but one less and less related to our day-to-day reality.

Maybe we can understand the way they felt, if we ask ourselves, “Do we really expect the Second Coming?  Really?”  We don’t have to think long and hard – because we know that countless times in our past, our world’s past, ever since Jesus’ resurrection, he has not returned.  And I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone saying that Jesus will come soon, be prepared, get ready, forbear from earthly things, I do not believe it. I just don’t.

So I wonder whether, when Jesus stood in his hometown synagogue and read this passage of promise from Isaiah, any of his townsfolk believed a word of it.

We’ll hear next week how they reacted, once his words sank in – and it wasn’t pretty.

It was likely a bit more radical and weird than they were willing to entertain, no matter whose son he was.

From Jesus’ perspective, though – what was he thinking as he claimed this promise as being fulfilled?

A couple weeks ago, we read about his baptism – how John the Baptist avowed himself unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals and how the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.  We skipped the next bit, though.  So to remind, what lies between the baptism and his current situation, was a period of time when the Holy Spirit drove him into the wilderness, where he was faced with all the temptations that might accrue to anyone called as he was called – to make it about himself, to bow to worldly powers, and to assume God would be merciful and blessing.

And then, we find him “filled with the power of the Spirit” and speaking all throughout Galilee, and being widely praised, before returning to his home town and the roll of the prophet Isaiah.

He has rejected all of Satan’s offers, and now he declares his perspective of his calling:

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.

The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to the captives, to the sick, to the oppressed, and to proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The year of the Lord’s favor – they would have heard it as the jubilee!  All debts wiped off the books, all property returned, all slaves set free – that’s what the jubilee meant, and the people of Israel celebrated great jubilee every 50 years, and a smaller one every seven, when the fields were left fallow to let the land rest.

But they would only have applied it to themselves, to the children of Israel.

So, as I said before – the world turned upside down again.  Because he not only declared himself the Messiah, he also pointed out times that God helped out people who were NOT the children of Israel.  That was what sent them over the edge, and nearly sent him over the edge…of a cliff.  But that’s next week’s selection.

Today, I just want to ask a question: Does God still turn the world upside down?  What does that look like?

[pause]

That’s not a rhetorical question.  But I understand if it feels awkward to just blurt out some idea.  That’s okay.

I never expected to be a priest.  I mean NEVER.  Until God turned the world upside down, and there it was before me.

And that’s just one person’s story, in one person’s life. 

Maybe you can think about times in yours when everything changed.  Maybe it was like the old Beatles’ love song, “I saw her standing there…” and everything changed.  Maybe it was the job offer, or the pink slip, and you realized that nothing was ever going to be the same again.  Maybe it was a good change, maybe it looked like a bad one, but somehow God was still there, calling you, calling you:

  • 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,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

After all, if we read the Gospels with Jesus’ perspective, isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t that what it’s always about?

God turns the world upside down, valuing those the world says are without value, releasing those who are bound, healing those who cannot see, freeing those who are oppressed, speaking jubilee and ransom and restoration and reconciliation and resurrection.  

Because if we follow Jesus, that’s our job description, too: Turning the world upside down.