Nehemiah 8:1-10; Luke 4:14-21
4th Sunday of Epiphany
St Barbara’s; 27.01.19
Israel occupied by the Romans, had once been great, and longed for the leader that would make Israel great again. Today fashionable circles criticise the Old Testament as backward and violent. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addressed this question recently arguing the prophets such as Isaiah and Micah provide the ideal of peace, hundreds of years ahead of anyone else. Jeremiah writes pray for the prosperity of the land where you are in exile. David cannot build the temple because he has shed blood. By the end of the Old Testament there is a deep prophetic longing for a better. People are thirsty for something more.
Jesus is preaching and teaching and everyone is listening to Him. 2000 years later people are still trying to work out who Jesus is? But just in Chapter 4 of Luke. Just past the birth narratives, John the Baptist and Jesus in the Wilderness at the very start of what we would now call Jesus’s earthly ministry. Who was this strange and yet amazing figure, and what was his message?
It’s the Jewish Sabbath, and as was his custom Jesus went to the Synagogue, the Jewish place of worship, and he has just read the scripture and then he stands up to preach. Weekly public worship was Jesus’s custom.
Jesus stands up and everyone says, we know this Jesus. We know what He is like. He’s that son of a carpenter, he’s one of us. But Jesus has just been out in the wilderness, he has been filled with the power of the Spirit, he has been anointed by God.
What do we expect of Jesus? What is Jesus to us? Someone we find in stories? Someone we sing about? But Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Him. Yes, here is Jesus and he is a preacher, but while Ezra stood up and gave the Law, he read from the Word. Jesus is not just reading from the Word of God, he is the Word of God.
Do we need to wake up to who Jesus really is? Jesus is not someone with some interesting ideas, but He came and lives are changed. Indeed, Jesus came and the respectable people decided that he shone so brightly, and revealed their darkness that that light needed to be snuffed out. Yet people who sought him found that He could, and He still can, change lives.
Background, and where you come from are not what matters when you are anointed by God. That is also true for us.
When we start talking about the Spirit and anointing there is a danger that it all suddenly becomes very spiritual and other worldly. In a consumerist individualistic what-can-the-Spirit-do-for-me way, and I don’t want to judge anyone, but it can become about me. However, when Jesus is anointed, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and it is good news to the poor.
Real faith is always good news to the poor. Whenever the Holy Spirit is at work, wherever God is at work, there is good news for the poor. The world rates people on what they do, what they have, how much they earn. God says everyone matters, everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone is precious. It does not matter who you are, what you are, you matter.
But Jesus did not leave it there. We could talk spiritually and say it does not matter what you have as long as you have Jesus, but God does not say that. God knows that we all need our daily bread, and some people don’t get it, some people don’t have a place to call home and they should have it. Some people leave in fear that because they are poor their very bodies can be abused physically and sexually. God says He cares about everyone, and that is good news for everyone, but most particularly those who need that care the most, the poor.
And this moves us on to the question posed in the next parts of verse 18. When Jesus talks about freedom and liberation and indeed recovery of sight to the blind does it mean literally physically or is it more spiritual. Big question.
The Bible starts in Eden and ends in the heavenly City, and we live in the middle of what we were created to be and what we shall be. We are here, between Eden and Heaven. Cast out of the garden and awaiting the City of God. Fundamentally all suffering and pain is a sign that everything is not as it should be.
Paul speaks in Romans 8 of the whole of creation being subject to frustration, to it being groaning in pains. God is interested in the redemption of everything, but while heaven, the plan of full redemption has been announced we do not see it fully yet. Jesus is clearly a special inbreaking of that Kingdom. There is something special going on when Jesus walked the earth, and the blind did see, but I’m blind in my left eye and I have had a lot of prayer, particularly when I was young and it was not clear how much sight I was going to have, and I’m still blind in my left eye. Though overall my sight is better than it was once feared it would be.
The truth is that despite a lot of prayer, everything eventually falls apart. Despite a lot of prayer every Christian, unless Christ returns first, will eventually die. The hope of the Christian is not a perfect physical life on this earth, but heaven beyond. Everything here comes apart.
There will be griefs here. Jesus demonstrates the in-breaking of the next world in setting free the oppressed and healing the sick and the blind miraculously, but miracles are signs that point forwards not a new earthly reality. All the disciples died, many unpleasantly. Don’t fix your eyes on this earth, fix your eyes on Jesus. Do pray for miracles, but faith is when we trust in God whatever happens next.
So point one Jesus was special and he did special miracles to demonstrate that.
However, we also are signs of Christ, filled with His Spirit, we should be signs of the inbreaking of heaven and a reminder of what we were created to do. We should use our skills and our resources (that includes, but is not limited to, our money) to bring God’s justice and God’s healing physically on this world. Christian surgeon’s in the name of Christ bring healing to preventable blindness, and because of Christ many who do not acknowledge Christ do as well. We believe the will of God is good and healing, therefore when bad things happen, we do not just shrug our shoulders and say it is the will of the gods, but we work to bring God’s kingdom, and it is clear that this is what God calls us to do. We see in the hungry Jesus waiting to be fed, and if we fail the poor, the needy, the oppressed, we do not just fail to live up to a moral code, we fail Jesus.
So point one was that, Jesus’s coming demonstrated the New Kingdom, that death ultimately does not win, destruction is not the ultimately end, but God is here, even amongst this world of death and pain. But point two is that we as the church share in the mission of God physically to do this, we are the inbreaking of that God, here on earth as it is in heaven. When we get to heaven’s gates, we shall be asked did we care for the hungry, were we good news to the poor?
But there is also a third sense in which we need to ask ourselves. Most of the blindness and oppression that God speaks of are not that which is physical or even political but about spiritual blindness. He describes the Pharisees as blind guides.
We also have to ask ourselves what do we need to be set free of, where are we blind? What do you struggle with? We can focus on the negatives the lusts, the lies, the anger, the unkind words, and ultimately theft, adultery and murder, but in any ways that we fail to live up to the perfect love and light of God we sin. We are called to live as the image of the God of love, and we don’t.
When I was in my teens I attended a Youth for Christ weekend where Jeff Lucas was speaking. He said, I want you to think about the person in your youth group who most annoys you. He then said, and now I want you to stop and think that someone is probably thinking of you.
It’s easy to be clear on what we would like to change in others, where we would like them to be set free and where we want them to see, but trying to change others is rarely fruitful. However, we are someone else’s someone else. Someone else is thinking of me, someone else is thinking you, need to see and be set free. Someone is thinking I need to change, and you need to change.
If we all think of the others that we would like to change we make no progress. If we all think and pray and ask God to help us to become the people we should be, we open the door to God working in each one of us, and us as a community.
Are we prepared to pray to God this morning and say God where do I need to be set free? Where do I need to see? Where do I, for the sake of others, for the sake of God’s Kingdom, for the sake of Jesus who loved me as I am, and died for me – need to be changed?
Time has gone. Jesus hands back the scroll, and says. Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. We are not Jesus, but this morning can we say
“The Spirit of the Lord is on us,
because he has anointed us
to proclaim and to be good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim and to be freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”