Sermon "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
January 31, 2016
We begin today’s Gospel reading with the same verse that we heard at the end of last week’s Gospel reading. Verse 21: In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
I hear Luke, the physician telling his hearers, the Gentiles among whom he ministered, “The future is now.” Luke’s purpose in writing the Gospel and Acts is to build up the faithful after Jesus has died. He is confirming Jesus’ teachings with the goal of building up the Church. That opening, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled,” leaves us with a big question—what will his listeners say and do now? If this is the future spoken of by the prophets, then what does that mean for Jesus’ hometown crowd, and what does that mean for Luke’s hearers?
Here we are at our annual meeting. We take today as an opportunity to reflect on what we have done over the past year and to look forward and ask what is coming. We are Luke’s hearers today, we can ask this question too—what does it mean that the prophesy has been fulfilled, the future is now?
What were the promises of the prophets that Jesus is referring to? In this passage we hear Isaiah’s promises of “freedom from oppression”, “good news for the poor”, “release for the captives,” “recovery of sight to the blind.” This is the year of the Lord's favor. In the psalm today, we hear the promise that God will be our rock and our stronghold, our refuge, our deliverer.
I imagine that the people of Jerusalem who heard Jesus telling them that the future is now looked around at one another. Just as Luke’s hearers or we might look around at one another. On one hand, we hear that the future is now, and we think, “this is great-- freedom reigns, no more poverty, no more oppression or sickness.” The gospel says that the people of Jerusalem “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
But then Jesus knows what the people of Jerusalem are thinking. He knows that they are thinking of the proverb, “Doctor, heal yourself.” In other words, “if you are so great, then why don’t you fulfill the prophesy here, now.” The people are waiting, looking at Jesus and hoping that he will do for them what they want most. They are hoping that God will answer their prayers, their prayers for themselves, their families, their community.
But Jesus says no. Jesus rebukes them. He reminds the people that there were widows and lepers in the times of the prophets and God did not heal the ones that the stories tell about, but instead went out and healed elsewhere. I think that Jesus is rebuking the people for two things—first he is reminding them that God’s promises (as told by the prophets) are much bigger than the narrow interests of the people who hear the prophesy. God’s promises of freedom, end to sickness, prosperity for all, these are promises for all time. This “Kingdom” that God promises is not what I can imagine for myself. I can imagine being without aches when I get up in the morning. I can imagine having more money than I have today. I can begin to imagine my community here being freed from racism or economic disparities. But my vision is only partial. God’s vision is of a new life, a world in which all thrive. What Jesus brings is bigger than any human prophet’s voice.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reinforces this theme. “But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.”
But there is a second reason that Luke tells this story about Jesus, and gives words to Jesus, rebuking the people not just because he wants to point out that God’s vision is bigger than the human desires of the people. Remember that Luke’s purpose in writing the Gospel is to reaffirm that Jesus is the Messiah among the Gentiles. He is focused on building up the Church. So we can imagine that Luke’s hearers identify with the people of Jerusalem in the story. They are initially “amazed at [Jesus’] gracious words.” But then they were disappointed when their belief didn’t immediately transform their social situation as diaspora Jews and Gentiles under Roman rule. It seems that Luke wants his hearers to understand their role in this story.
Luke is helping he people to see that as followers of Jesus, they must participate in this healing work. They must be transformed as a community and live differently. They cannot simply say, “we believe” and expect that God’s miracles will follow. They must grow as a community. Luke, and Paul and Peter who were all either contemporaries, or at least knew of one another, were committed to building up the Church. They were instructing the communities about how to be disciples. In this story, Luke is critical of the people who want to lead Jesus over the cliff because he hasn’t performed healing miracles for them. The pericope ends with Jesus going on his way and healing in other places. His work is bigger than the needs of one community. And their disappointment and anger doesn’t stop his ministry. He goes on to heal the world, reconciling us all to God.
This story prefigures the crucifixion. Reminding us that Jesus will suffer and die on the cross to bring resurrected life to all of God’s creation. But the story also reminds us that as disciples we are called to be part of God’s reconciling, healing, emancipatory work. We are called to build up the community of faith in our hometown and to look beyond our walls and spread God’s vision, God’s hope, God’s healing throughout the world.
The Kingdom of God is coming, the future is now. The prophesy has been fulfilled, but we know that the fulfillment of the prophesy is not magic happening to us, it is God’s work in us and through us changing and making the whole world new. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describes this experience of God in the world.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
We humans can only experience this Love, the emancipatory, healing God in our midst in part. We can only see dimly. But we can participate with Jesus, bringing this love out into the world by our witness to Jesus, by our discipleship and our following in his ministry, and by our constant faithfulness—giving praise and thanksgiving for God’s presence in our lives.
So I take these lessons from today’s Scripture and I turn to our reflection on the past year at Nativity. What does it mean for us, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing?”
I feel God’s presence here. We have grown in faith and discipleship over this past year. It has been a year in which we have shared God’s love in this community and in the world around us. We are not perfectly healed. Our faith did not lead to a magical intervention, but God has been working in us.
I have been awed by the faithful commitment of our members to loving one another and serving in the world. We have continued our ministry with the Interfaith Street Chaplaincy. We have added a new ministry, joining St. Paul’s in making breakfast for the Alternative High School. We have started our caregiver support group, our senior fitness class. We have a mom’s group using our space occasionally. We have shared our church with the summer camps and music teachers. We can do more to partner and reach out to serve the poor here, but we are doing a lot for our neighbors.
Beyond our neighborhood, we are serving the broader Marin community through Rev. Rebecca’s work at San Quentin, through the Kairos Outside weekend led by Jean Heine, by our Cursillo leadership. We are reaching beyond our County by Ruth’s ministry in Honduras, by our support of the workers in Tuzla, Bosnia. We are contributing to the Marin County Foodbank. We are supporting Ritter House.
As Jesus reprimanded the people of Jerusalem, we have heard his message—God’s love is not just for us here, it is for people everywhere and we are participating in that work.
As we do God’s work in the world, we are also building up the Church here. We have developed a very rewarding pastoral care ministry, sharing God’s love with one another, noticing when someone needs a meal, or a call. Praying for one another and offering a ride or some flowers. Our cookies to students, sending that tast of God’s love to members who are far from home and to students who live at home or close by, but may feel isolated as they are emerged in studies and the process of becoming adults. We have built up our faith as a community—deepening our worship with the addition of an Evensong service once a month, the renewal of our choir, the continuation of our liturgical ministries. It is my sense that we are praying together and finding sustenance here, but that sustenance, this Holy Meal and fellowship that we share on Sundays, builds us up to bring God’s love to everyone we meet. It is my sense that we come here not for solace only, but also for strength to do God’s work, everywhere we go.
The fulfillment of the prophesy for us has meant a renewed sense of God’s love and welcome, God’s acceptance and God’s healing here. And we know that the Kingdom is not complete, there is more for us to do with God and we are listening to God, appreciating the gifts that God has given to each of us and extending ourselves as the Church working in the world.
As I look forward to the next year, I see that there is more for us to do. We must continue to follow Jesus, reaching out to poor, to the widows and orphans, to the oppressed and the sick. We must join with other faithful people, using our gifts to share God’s love everywhere.
And today, as we share our Eucharist together, and then our lasagna after our short annual meeting, we can feel this Love. As we sing our hymns, praising God, we know that God is present with us, God is working in us and we are part of God’s healing work in the world. Today, the Scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.