Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, RCL
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Nehemiah stands in front of all the people, their eyes and ears are transfixed upon the Word of God. After the reading and with some explanation, they are told to celebrate with food. How different is this from what we are doing here today? We read the Bible. The Gospel is processed down among the people. The people’s gaze moves with the Book as they turn to follow it. And we all stand attentively listening to what God has for us to hear today. What comes next is some explanation, illumination as to what these words mean for us today. Then after all of this, we have a celebratory meal. We do not grieve, for during Eucharist “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Eucharist is a celebration a “mini Easter” as many have called it.
In between Nehemiah, 500 years BC, and us today we have Jesus, in a similar situation. Jesus returns home and his reputation precedes him. He was praised by everyone. You can almost imagine the anticipation of the crowd waiting to hear what Jesus has to say. They give him the honor of reading and after he reads, he begins to illuminate the meaning of the passage. Much as it was with Nehemiah, “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”
Jesus’ sermon is short. It is shorter than any I have ever heard. He says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Our pericope gets cut off abruptly and we do not hear what all the people have to say until next week. But their initial reactions are very favorable. They “were amazed at [his] gracious words.”
Jesus said what they heard has been fulfilled in their hearing. At that very moment, while they listening to what he was reading, the scripture was fulfilled. What they heard was that Spirit is upon Jesus and that the Lord has anointed him. We know this happened at his baptism. Jesus is to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We will see this happen in the rest of the Gospel.
Anyone of these items is a big task. Each one is a call to action whether they involve speaking out or doing something. Jesus is not simply going to say that his thoughts and prayers are with them. His is not simply saying that he will pray for you. Jesus has laid out his mission. He is telling us what he is going to do and he is actively working to make these changes in our lives and in the world. We know from reading the Gospel that Jesus did not do this work alone. Of course, he had the help of his Father and the Spirit but he also had the help of his disciples.
One of our family’s favorite book series is Harry Potter. In the fifth book, “The Order of the Phoenix”, the Ministry of Magic takes over the school, leaving the headmaster, Dumbledore, with little authority. Harry Potter and his friends create a secret club, Dumbledore’s Army. The purpose of this club is for the students to learn practical defensive skills. This wasn’t really an army or even a gang.
The students had a mission that required action. They wanted to learn how to defend and protect themselves from the evil in the world. They named themselves after Dumbledore because he was their inspirational figure known for truth, honor, and protection. When the time came the group did exactly what they trained to do; they protected themselves and others from the evil that surrounded them. In Dumbledore’s name and in his absence, they restored order to the school and the world around them. No longer would power, hatred, and injustice rule. Dumbledore’s world order of love, justice, and truth rained; at least until the next book in the series.
It is no wonder that people find these books inspiring. They show people working together, to stand up for what is right and true. They show how we are stronger together rather than divided and how each of us has gifts to share for a common goal. It’s a great story; one that has common themes; themes that are almost lifted right from the very pages of the Bible
Through our faith in Christ, through our baptism, we find that we are in this together; this mess that we call life. Along the way we have made a contract, a covenant in which there is no paper exchanged back and forth. In this new covenant, there are no stone tablets given to us as a reminder as to what we have promised. We made this covenant as a promise and it is written on our hearts. Many of us have stood up and professed this promise at our confirmations, even more of us have said this promise aloud during a baptism. We have promised to work toward justice and peace. We promised to resist evil, to repent, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. To love one another and respect the dignity of every human being. We have promised to work with Christ in his mission. The same mission that he fulfilled in the passage from Isaiah.
Christ's mission is not only for the world around us. We are part of his mission and through Christ, we are transformed from whatever holds us back and oppresses us from being who God made us to be. We are released from what we think is impossible to do the impossible. We are freed to live life anew and help others find this new life as well. We are called to come together as a group; in some places and time a secret group.
This group goes by many names. Its name started out as a derogatory name, but like so many who have been oppressed we too took the name on and made it our own; striving to live by the name it represents. In the world this name is Christian. Right now, right here, in this very place, we give ourselves the name Christ Church.
As this group, we strive to live our lives by following the ways of Christ himself. We come together to study and learn from one another so that we can do God’s work in the world. Unlike Dumbledore’s Army, we are not alone to figure this out by ourselves, because Christ is with us.
Through our faith in Christ, we can set out with action, not just words, and transform the world around us by bringing good news to the poor. Proclaim release to the captives, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.