First Reading Isaiah 45:22-25
Second Reading Romans 15:1-6
Gospel Luke 4:16-24
HOMILY Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:21)
Indulge me: Close your eyes – and imagine…
It’s the Sabbath, you’ve had a busy week, the usual normality of life – work, family, household tasks. Dealing with people, buying provisions at market, maybe some annoying paperwork or a business misunderstanding. But the week has played out its days and it’s the day of rest. A different day. A day where you can stop, put it all down. Reflect a little, be with those you love and spend time with people, in community. Fulfil your obligations, maybe try to pray a little and hear God, if God can really speak into the reality of everyday life and the craziness of this world, with the mess of politics and all those power struggles and wars, whilst the poor still suffer.
So you have maybe a little breakfast, it depends really what you’d still got in the house from the day before, and then set off to fulfil your religious duty, to pay your dues, be seen as you should be.
Arriving, things seem a bit busier than normal. You can’t see right in at first, as there’s a bit of a throng about the door, and you have to squeeze through, saying your excuse-me’s, until you can get out into the open space of the main area for worship, and so you can assume you usual space.
Looking round, everyone is chatting away in hushed but excited tones. The energy in the room is palpable, and it’s definitely more crowded than normal. You acknowledge a neighbour, seated across the way, and nod in greeting at a few other familiar faces around the room, but there are also strangers here, and people who don’t normally come or are little less reliable.
And then you see him. At first you are only aware of the movement and you can’t see his face, but it’s undeniably him. People who work hard at manual labour always have stronger limbs and hold their bodies differently. But as he comes forward there is an air of quiet confidence that makes you pause.
You recognise him of course, you remember that face – those eyes, that smile. You remember him as a boy, always reminded you of his devoted mother, though strong like his father, owing to following in his footsteps and plying the family trade.
And then taking the scroll, he reads: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
If you weren’t paying full attention before, you are now. His voice rings out. Declaring Isaiah’s prophecy, but it isn’t. There’s something in his voice that has an immediacy to it, an urgency, a reality. He’s saying it, but he’s not reading it. He’s saying it for real, right now, in front of you. And there’s a truth and a reality and an authority there that you’ve never seen before.
Everyone’s eyes are utterly fixed on him. They hardly dare breathe. He comes to the end. A moment of silence. And then he sits – the confidence, yet the nonchalance – and then he says those words that you will never forget: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Silence again, after a few gasps and a collective dropping of jaws. The pause hangs in the air as they try to take it in: his words, his promise, his foretelling, yet also the rumours, the gossip, and the memories and the opinions. And then mayhem breaks out – everyone’s talking now, can this be Joseph’s son? Did he really just say that? Is this the miracle worker that everyone’s been hearing about? Do some now they demand. Prove yourself. Some support, are in awe, amazed. Others are cynical, critical, suspicious.
You have you own opinions of course, you have your own questions, you have your own hopes and your own fears – and you do. We all do. You and me. Everyone here, sitting in this place of worship, at Thorpe. We hear the words of Jesus of Nazareth. We hear them read from Scripture and we hear his declaration.
A declaration of good news for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. It’s the word [GREEK] again – it isn’t just ‘not so rich’, it really means ‘homeless’. Is anyone here today who is homeless? In fact, there could be, without you knowing it. The governmental and multi-agency definition of homeless is not roofless. It’s anyone lacking a permanent, secure place of their own. It’s sofa surfers. Not just the young, or those fresh out of prison, but often those facing family or relationship breakdown. It’s more prevalent than you think, as mental health can often lead to unemployment, relationship problems and a pause in benefits can lead people today o horrendous problems.
But Jesus is talking about even more than that. He cries freedom and hope for those who are prisoners, those who are blind, those who are oppressed. Where are our society’s homeless, prisoners, blind, oppressed? If they are not a part of our community, where are they? Do we know them? Can we see them? Do they ever cross our paths?
Because in Jesus addressing them with words of love and welcome and encouragement, who then are we? In the comfort of this heated building, do we run the risk of having poverty of imagination? Being captive to addictions or worthless idols and entranced by capitalism? Are we not blind to our hypocrisy and faults, and more likely to subtly and unthinkingly be oppressors than oppressed in this globalised world of throwaway clothes and convenient plastics and environmental carelessness?
Scripture is dangerous. Today is bible Sunday, and the blurb on the Church of England website will encourage you to try some reading notes, suggest you to have a daily quiet time and seek to make it seem quite tame, just a good, reasonable habit.
But the bible contains Christ. It contains not just words, but the Word. The Word, the living Word, is Christ, and Christ is alive. And by the Spirit, those words of emancipation, of challenge to the status quo, of blessing to those who suffer and are oppressed, speak to us today, just as much as they did then.
They exhort us to realise our poverty and to see God brims over will love and compassion for the lost. When we read the bible, and engage with it, we are encouraged to see the world with God’s eyes, and to reorganise and reorientate ourselves to that vision.
I started this sermon with taking you on a journey into scripture. The technique of imagining you are really there. Of walking through the text with its story. Being live in the action, trying to imagine what it might have felt like. Reflecting on how you would have experienced Christ in that moment. Whether you would have been close ot the action, even what it might have been like to be one of the main characters, or conversely, realising you feel on the edge, but watch with fascination or awe or fear, or all of the above, is a really instructive method for experiencing the bible and for prayerfully encountering God through openness to the story and noticing what on this occasion, God wants you to see.
And that is the invitation that is in today’s declaration from Christ. His words of freedom and hope are there to be grasped today, by all of us, wherever we are in our lives. The encouragement on this day too, to read the bible, is one where if we respond to it, we are opening ourselves to hearing and meeting God’s living Word. To experience that grace, which the community in Nazareth identified but were challenged and unsure but amazed by – is to risk being utterly changed by it. Today I dare you to really read the bible. And let’s do it together and meet the living Word.
1. Jesus is the Living Word. The Spirit brings the bible alive for us and Jesus is the embodiment of its truth.
2. Experiment with Lectio Divina, using your imagination to inhabit and experience the text.