Scripture - Luke 4:14-21
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When 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, 17and 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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is often a passage that gets pulled out this time of year, during this Epiphany season, which in the Christian year is the time between Christmas and Lent where we see the revelation of Jesus’s mission and purpose on earth made known to the people - through his baptism, through his miracles, and through his teaching. It’s a season of exploring Jesus’s identity - who is this person of power and filled with the Spirit who has appeared among us? This story, in particular, is a fairly familiar one, where Jesus returns to his home region and everyone’s really excited about Jesus and talked up - and then he gets to his hometown and - well, if you read on in the chapter, the people end up wanting to throw Jesus off the nearest cliff, so it didn’t really go over so well for hometown hero Jesus.
Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah - a detail that I hadn’t noticed before in the reading - and he unrolled it to find a particular set of passages - a combination of Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. This is kind of like Jesus’ manifesto - if you want to know what Jesus himself thought about his work in the world, you could go back to this moment and these set of verses from the Prophets, and you would get a sense of how Jesus understood himself and what he was sent to do.
What I find fascinating as I read the passage this week - and as I looked up these two passages from Isaiah - isn’t so much what Jesus says - but what Jesus didn’t say from that reading. If you look up Isaiah 61:1-2, you’ll find “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;”
Jesus, though, doesn’t read the line about vengeance. Jesus stops at proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, and adds his own tagline that the scripture has been fulfilled today in their hearing.
No more vengeance - it’s the year of the Lord’s favor - and it’s here, right now, right in front of you.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It’s a notion that connects with the Jewish concept of Jubilee - a year observed once in 50 years (following seven sabbatical years, where you let the land rest every seven years). In the Jubilee year, slaves and prisoners would be set free, debts would be forgiven, and land rights restored. The provisions for this practice are outlined in Leviticus 25. The time of Jubilee was one of restoration and liberty for all - people, creatures, even the land - and in that movement of freedom, the fullness of God’s presence would be made known, as well as ultimate reliance upon God’s provision as the land rested from intentional cultivation.
Jesus’s hometown congregation would have known the practice of sabbath years and heard the promises of a Jubilee year - we don’t really know if the Jubilee was ever something actually enacted and celebrated and it most likely wasn’t something practiced in Jesus’ time. So to hear Jesus proclaim that the time was here and now, that the scripture has been fulfilled, that the year of the Lord’s favor was here and today - no wonder their first reaction was amazement - that this era of liberation and restoration and return was here.
I love how the lectionary commentary from the Salt Project puts it: “Great Jubilee, a new era of liberation, restoration, and return. Accordingly, this good news comes first of all not to the free but to captives, not to the comfortable but to the disadvantaged and downtrodden. In this “inaugural address” of his ministry, Jesus is crystal clear that the Gospel is above all about God “lifting up the lowly” — words we’ve heard ring out in song in Mary’s “Magnificat,” and therefore a theme Jesus no doubt first learned from his mother. But the Jubilee ideal, please note, isn’t only for the benefit of the poor — it’s also for the health of creation as a whole. Everyone benefits when liberty and wellbeing extend across the entire neighborhood; that’s the heart of “Jubilee.” And so following Jesus, as it turns out, isn’t merely about chasing down our own salvation; it’s about participating in God’s restoration of the most vulnerable, proclaiming good news to the poor, and helping to build a world worthy of that proclamation.”
Jesus was saying that the year of the lord’s favor - the Jubilee - the time of redemption and restoration - was here. Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Now if I was sitting where you all are, and if Jesus himself got up and said the exact same thing he did nearly 2000 years ago, I would laugh. Seriously. If someone said that 2022 was the year of the Lord’s favor, I would have to wonder what in the world they saw that would make that statement true. Because what has 2022 brought us so far? Omicron and continuing climate devastation and nations continually at war and refugees fleeing for their lives and mental health crises and a breakdown in basic civility and kindness toward our neighbors, particularly between folks who disagree politically. I don’t see much favor there.
I don’t think I need to paint any more of a picture here - I think you get what I’m going for.
There is nothing like a Jubilee out there.
And yet - goddess - what better time than now, when so many of us are desperate for a different way of being and for racial justice to break forth, for equal access to health care, to renew bonds with our neighbors, see opportunities for housing, to welcome the stranger and foreigner among us, to give prisoners a better opportunity in life - when….people are so fed up with everything, they will go out to meet up with strangers to scream their frustrations together… what better time than to point to the change that is coming - that restoration and liberation is wholeness is not just on it’s way, but available here, right now, for you and for me?
And what if the year of the Lord’s favor, what if Jubilee, is not something that’s handed to us, but a decision that each of us has to make about how we live and breathe and move about in the world? A choice we make about how we see and perceive things, about how we spend our time and energy, about we give ourselves over to?
Debie Thomas at Journey with Jesus writes, “the time for transformation, renewal, and metanoia is at hand… Lean into liberation today. Accept the joy of the Lord today. The time of the Lord’s favor — luminous and rich — stands in front of them, embodied before their very eyes, if only they will dare to see it. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
To live as if the year of the Lord’s favor - that Jubilee - is here - it’s a different kind of work.
And as much as I think we can make this choice as individuals - what if we took it a step further and imagined what a Jubilee year looks like for our congregation? What does the year of the Lord’s favor mean for us? What does accepting joy look like together? Letting the work lie fallow and tending to the seeds deep within our life together in sabbath rest? Exercising trust together? What does releasing captives and healing others look like?
And I have to wonder if as we tend to this different rhythm of life together - one marked by joy and celebration, a resting in grace and sabbath mercies - and as we lean into those spaces for ourselves personally - the work of liberation and healing isn’t so much work as it is witness. We live it, we become it, and it in and of itself becomes a signpost of hope and freedom for others…and our role becomes journeying with people as they are drawn deeper into the love of God and the companionship of Christ.
So I want to give you a little bit more time to mull this over in your doodles - as you consider what the year of the Lord’s favor looks like for you. What does it feel like as you imagine embodying that for you….and what about for this congregation? What color does joy represent - and what about wholeness? Liberation? What does freedom even look like for you, for this church? Spend some time doodling - and if it’s not your thing, free associate some words. I want us to get out of the rational part of our heads and into our more emotional, embodied self with this - so let the spirit take you where it will!
Doodle time (playlist)
After worship - take your phone or camera….and snap a picture of what you came up with, and email it to me or the church - you don’t need to sign your work if you don’t want to - and I’ll put it all together so that we can have a reminder of what this Jubilee year means for us as we make our way in the weeks and months ahead.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us - this is the year of the Lord’s favor. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Scripture - Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; 1 Corinthians 12:4-16
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (New Revised Standard Version)
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
A Retelling of 1 Corinthians 12, as written by enfleshed, which talks about the gifts given to us by God - gifts that we all use...gifts given to children and adults and elderly alike:
Though we bring different gifts, it is the same Spirit who makes them alive in us. There are so many ways to serve the vision of Love. None of us are without something to bring to the work of the common good.
To one, the Spirit gives wisdom
and to another, the strength to weep for all that is lost,
to another, the belief that change is possible among us,
to another, a soft presence that heals in the midst of destruction,
to another, a spirit that inspires and compels,
To another, the courage to name what is making us all ill,
To another, discernment about what is good and what is evil,
To another, the ability to translate between those who cannot communicate with each other,
To another still, the gifts of recognizing God in unexpected places.
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and just as all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – we are different in culture, social location, backgrounds, bodies, and beliefs – but we were all made to drink of one Spirit who collapses the power among us.
Our baptism does not condone hierarchies. It calls upon us to bring about the dreams of God on earth – where all is held in rightful balance, none oppressed or confined, and all with access to what is needed to flourish.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one part but of many. If the artist would say, “because I am not a bridge-builder, I do not belong to the work of the common good,” that would not make them any less needed. And if the healer would say, “because I am not a dynamic speaker, I do not belong to the work of the common good,” that would not make them any less needed.
If the whole body were listeners, where would the ones who tell the truth be? If the only ones who are valued in the work of Love are those with money to give, who will be the ones to practice civil disobedience for us when evil will not budge? Who will teach our children in the ways of justice and compassion? Who will nourish our bodies – feed us, offer us touch, tend to our wounds? Who will provide us with music, that our labor may be accompanied with dancing? Will we find laughter anywhere, to sustain our spirits?
God has arranged it so that each of us are needed and each of us have offerings to bring. If we were all the same, what could we achieve? How would we survive? What a dull endeavor this would be.
The business person cannot say to the activist, I have no need of you.
Nor can the doctor say to the poet, I need you not.
On the contrary, the members of the body that society deems least significant are those most needed. We respect the disrespected. We recognize the value of the quiet ones, the strange ones, the misunderstood, misrepresented, and under-resourced ones. We lift them up and honor them, that the whole body might be restored to its natural balance, as God intended.
If any of us suffer, we all suffer.
If any of us have cause to rejoice, we all celebrate.
Video Reflection - https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2022/1/10/a-visual-poem-for-mlk-day
“There is another reason why we must get rid of racial injustice. Not merely because it is sociologically untenable or because it is politically unsound, not merely to meet the communist challenge or to create a good image in the world or to appeal to African and Asian peoples, as important as that happens to be. In the final analysis racial injustice must be uprooted from American society because it is morally wrong. Segregation is morally wrong, to use the words of the great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, because it substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship. Or to use the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas, segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws that are out of harmony with the eternal natural and moral laws of the universe. The great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, said that sin is separation. And what is segregation but an existential expression of man's tragic estrangement - his awful segregation, his terrible sinfulness? And so in order to rise to our full moral maturity as a nation, we must get rid of segregation whether it is in housing, whether it is a de facto segregation in the public schools, whether it is segregation in public accommodations, or whether it is segregation in the church. We must see that it is morally wrong. We must see that it is a national problem. And no section of our country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. We strengthen our nation, above all we strengthen our moral commitment; as we work to get rid of this problem.
Now there is another problem facing us that we must deal with if we are to remain awake through a social revolution. We must get rid of violence, hatred, and war. Anyone who feels that the problems of mankind can be solved through violence is sleeping through a revolution. I've said this over and over again, and I believe it more than ever today. We know about violence. It's been the inseparable twin of Western materialism, the hallmark of its grandeur. I am convinced that violence ends up creating many more social problems than it solves. This is why I say to my people that if we succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness. There is another way - a way as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. For it is possible to stand up against an unjust system with all of your might, with all of your body, with all of your soul, and yet not stoop to hatred and violence. Something about this approach disarms the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, weakens his morale, and at the same time, works on his conscience. He doesn't know how to handle it. So it is my great hope that, as we struggle for racial justice, we will follow that philosophy and method of non-violent resistance, realizing that this is the approach that can bring about that better day of racial justice for everyone.” - from “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution", Commencement Address for Oberlin College by By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, June 1965, Oberlin Ohio
This Sunday for us combines a few different days we acknowledge in the year - first is the baptism of Jesus, the day that offers us an opportunity to reflect on the start of Jesus’s public ministry, on our own baptisms, and on our incorporation into God’s family -- and the second is Martin Luther King Jr. day, a day that honors the achievements of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and in recent years has been an opportunity to reflect on the work that is yet before our country in terms of racial equality and ending racial injustice.
I find that the pairing of these two days to be a bit fortuitous, for the first one, marked by the baptismal waters, offers us a foundation for thinking through the second.
One of the powerful pieces of baptism is this radical notion that we claim our identity as God’s children, and while we believe that all of humankind belongs to God’s family, in the waters of baptism, we stake ourselves on that identity and choose to live in such a way that reflects our place in God’s family. We are incorporated and gifted into a body where we serve the unfolding of God’s love and in the world around us, working for the day where all is made right. We grow in the life of the Spirit and as our Corinthian passage reminds us - we all have different abilities and callings and talents as we partner with what God is about in the world.
And as I think about the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and as I think about the ongoing conversations around racial justice and poverty and violence that are still happening more than 50 years after his assassination - I’m reminded of the responsibility that comes with being a part of God’s family and the body of Christ. It’s not only about loving my Black, Asian, Hispanic, poor, Islamic, neighbor - though that is certainly a large part of how we are to treat one another in this world. It’s about working for a world where God’s justice prevails, where - as we talked about in Advent in Mary’s Magnificat - the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled, those who are oppressed and exploited will find freedom and hope.
I’m reminded of the end of the rewrite of the Corinthians passage, and I love this retelling so much because it brings to life in contemporary images the different functions in the body of Christ. But it ends this way:
“On the contrary, the members of the body that society deems least significant are those most needed. We respect the disrespected. We recognize the value of the quiet ones, the strange ones, the misunderstood, misrepresented, and under-resourced ones. We lift them up and honor them, that the whole body might be restored to its natural balance, as God intended. If any of us suffer, we all suffer. If any of us have cause to rejoice, we all celebrate.”
As we remember our baptism today - and as we receive new members into the congregation - let us remember that is part of the call as those who are baptized - to proclaim that all belong, to understand that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, to feel in our bones that we are all inextricably connected….
…again in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., let us remember that “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Let us work for that day together. Amen.
Today’s the day we’re celebrating Epiphany - the day that the Magi arrived to visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their home in Bethlehem. It’s technically celebrated on January 6th, which is the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany is derived from the greek word “epipháneia” which basically means a “striking appearance” or “manifestation” - and it was used primarily in ancient Greek to refer to the manifestation of gods to worshippers.
In casual use today, we talk about having an Epiphany as having an “aha” moment, or when the lightbulb goes off over our heads -- but if we consider the way this word has been used - and we consider our scripture texts from Matthew and the passage from Isaiah we heard read at the start of worship, having an epiphany becomes deeper. An epiphany is a revelation - something that once was in darkness and concealed from you and that is now brought to light.
When we talk about the Magi having an epiphany, they literally saw and experienced the Word made Flesh, Love Incarnate, God-with-Us -- and understood Jesus’s presence as salvation for all humankind.
The Magi followed the star to the place where Jesus dwelled. Isaiah spoke of the light that would dawn upon the nations. Both these images point to God’s revealing light as a gift for a people trapped in darkness...in fear...in worry...this was true in the time of Jesus as the people longed for someone to deliver them from the oppression of empire...from their poverty and their hunger...from violence and threats of violence...and I think it’s not a stretch of the imagination to realize that there are places in our world, in our community, and even in our lives where darkness dwells...places where God’s light yet needs to shine.
The light of the star brought hope to a people in need of hope - it revealed that God was doing a new thing in the world. The Magi were open enough to follow the star wherever it led, searching for what its light would make manifest. They saw and experienced the child Jesus, salvation in the flesh...and it changed them. After this epiphany, their lives as they knew it would be different as even the mere encounter with Christ meant they had to go home by a different road - literally and figuratively. Our own encounters with Christ, too, leave us changed - enable us to see ourselves and others in a new light.
I love how Epiphany comes at the beginning of the year - because I think we, too, are invited to follow the light of the star to see what God’s gift to us might be in the coming year. I don’t know about you, but I’m so done with New Year’s Resolutions. I can never keep them, and all they do for me is serve as one more thing to try and do that I know I won’t be able to keep well. New Year’s Resolutions - for me - are far more often a curse than a gift.
What I want to suggest instead, as we think about the new year, as we consider what God might reveal to us as we seek to follow Christ, is that we open ourselves up to this light in our own lives. On our tree this year were a bunch of words - words that have companioned us as we’ve worshipped together over Advent and Christmas. Words that invite us and open us up to the gift of God in a whole new way.
“It is a prayer practice in churches all over the world to give people a star word
On this Epiphany Sunday.
There are many reasons behind this tradition.
First, we know that the Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus.
Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us--
including creative prayer practices and intention words for the new year--
to move closer to Jesus.
Secondly, we trust that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us.
Star words are one such lens that might provide us with a way to look for God in our midst,
Both actively and in hindsight.
Finally, we know that the most common prayer practice for many involves speaking to God
As opposed to silence or contemplation.
However, this prayer practice invites a new prayer rhythm of reflection and review
That can be a powerful new way to connect with God.” A Sanctified Art
The downside is that we aren’t all together for you to draw a star word off the tree - but we will have a basket of them in the narthex or we can mail one to you. This word - consider it a gift to be unwrapped and unpacked over this year. It may be a word that immediately resonates or it may be a word that you’ll have to sit with for awhile. You can exchange it for a different one - I’m not going to be the star police, and if I have them out in a basket in the sanctuary, I’m never going to know - but I do encourage you to trust the word you receive…and hang it up where you will be sure to see it every day - on a bathroom mirror, or computer screen, or refridgerator. And over the course of the year, allow the word to speak to you. What does it mean for your life now -- or for where you’ve been or where you feel called to go? What is God saying to you in this word? What is God revealing?
At the end of this year, we’ll do some star word sharing together about what lessons we’ve been learning - about God, about ourselves - that we’ve discovered through the journey with our words.
And so I offer this blessing as we begin our star word journey:
WHERE THE MAP BEGINS
A Blessing for Epiphany - Jan Richardson
This is not
any map you know.
Do not think
or of plotting
the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.
This is the map
that begins with a star.
This is the chart
that starts with fire,
with an ancient light
that has outlasted
Look starward once,
then look away.
Close your eyes
and see how the map
begins to blossom
behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out
from where you stand.
You cannot see it all,
cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how
the road you walk
will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth
of your own heart
But step out
and you will know
what the wise who traveled
this path before you
the treasure in this map
is buried not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.