Epiphany III 2019
by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 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.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For 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. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In our journey of the season of Epiphany, this is a big Sunday. Last week we had Jesus turn water into wine. This is the first sign of his divinity and the nature of his ministry. Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana was not only the mystical ability to turn water into to wine, but that God always provides and always provides in abundance to our needs. Please note that this is the first of Jesus’ miracles: providing for us in abundance.
This week, things begin to get more complex. Jesus shows up in his home town synagogue in good pious fashion: he attends on the Sabbath as was his custom, he had been brought up locally, and ultimately he stands up as a now-famous figure to read the text for the day—this Jesus is a devoted local boy who turned out well (Luke 2:52).
He reads from the prophet Isaiah, a famous text: sits down, and says basically, that he is the fulfillment of these words: 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.” Amazing to hear now and I am pretty sure amazing to have heard then.
In short, Jesus is the answer to Isaiah’s prophecies. However, the hard part is the prophecy in itself: Jesus comes to give to the poor, release prisoners, give sight to the blind. He also refers to the year of the Lord’s favor. This is a reference to Leviticus and the jubilee year where all long-term debts are forgiven and lands are returned to rightful owners. So, another in short, not only does Jesus quote OT prophecies but also urges us to actively do this stuff.
The problem is how do we do it? Trust me the ancient world of the Hebrews ain’t much different than the world we live in now. We have the poor, prisoners, and blind people either figuratively or actually, physically blind. This is a high order. I can just imagine what society’s reaction would be to returning American lands to indigenous peoples. And with Jesus’ reaction to his own reading of Isaiah, it strikes me that even Jesus is a little surprised.
The problem with this narrative is that it takes a lot of work to live into the Luke gospel here. We have Jesus basically say, this is my call, my vocation to be with the poor, etc. And in order to follow me, this is what it means. To be present with those who are the most vulnerable in society. And my friends, that is so hard. It is like living into our own mission statement, “Gathered in Christ, Together We Serve.” It is easy to memorize or to print, or even say aloud.
However, probably the answer to our ongoing ministries challenges really lies in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. In fact, this same lesson was studied by all the young confirmands at the recent Camp Calumet Confirmation retreat. Various groups acted out in a skit fashion what this text meant to them. Basically, all the skits performed dealt with this notion of the Christian Community as a physical body. A physical body that is composed of many parts and utterly, utterly dependent upon each other.
And with this miraculous body that depends on all its moving and thinking parts, comes many gifts: apostles, prophets, and shepherds, those in speak in tongues, etc. But in the midst of this, we are to strive for the greater gift…that gift that serves this community best.
Given today’s prophecies, given today’s gospel, we are urged as a community to seek the greater good this year using the gifts God has given us. To me, this letter from Paul might as well be addressed to us here at FLC. We have unique challenges this year in both ministry and in money. How do we proclaim the good news to the poor in the midst of everyday challenges of the business of the church? And that’s where I need, God needs, all of our gifts…not just the gifts of the pastor, or the finance committee, but everyone.
Finally, I close with these words of Paul: “25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
So I saw today, we rejoice because we honor each other as members of the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters in Christ, the mystical Body of Christ. And with this body called First Lutheran Church, Brockton, we can proudly proclaim together our mission: “Gathered in Christ, Together We Serve.”