Carolyn’s Sermon for Epiphany 3 – 1/27/13

Sermon Epiphany 3

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

During this season of Epiphany, we hear about the ways that Jesus is revealed to us.

First we heard from the gospel of Matthew that the Wise Men followed a star and found Jesus as a little child.  They worshipped him as a king, a king who was both human and divine.

The next week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from Luke.  We learned his baptism changed everything with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Last week we heard John’s story of the first miracle Jesus performed, when he changed the water into wine, at the wedding at Cana.  We heard that Jesus comes to us in ordinary times.

This week, Jesus is revealed to us as he shares the Word of God. Words matter.

Some words matter more than others.  For example, the words we used to invite someone on a first date, matter more than all the other invitations for dates after that.

The words we use when we say goodbye to a loved one for the last time, matter more than the thousands of other goodbyes we said over the years.

Words matter.  Last week the president gave his second inaugural address.  You may have listened to it or read about it in the paper. In it, Barack Obama laid out his vision for the nation, his goals for the next four years.  What he did in his inaugural address, was present his mission statement for his second term. Whether you agree with him or not, we can agree that these are words that matter.

Institutional mission statements were very popular a few years ago. Everyone had to have one.  Every business had a mission statement and a list of core values.

When I was working at Madonna, I was on the committee that helped write the mission and core values statements.  When we finished, they framed pretty copies and hung them in every office.

Green Burse and Veil at St. Mark's.

Green Burse and Veil at St. Mark’s.

I had a colleague at Texas Lutheran University who tried to get all the students he worked with to write personal mission statements.  He said we all need to state clearly the values and goals that guide our lives.  If we don’t do that we might end up wandering aimlessly through life.

In today’s gospel lesson from Luke, we hear Jesus’ inaugural address.  Jesus had been making a name for himself in the surrounding area.  He returned to his hometown, Nazareth, where he grew up.  This is the town where he worked with Joseph as a carpenter.  They have heard that he is becoming famous and they are eager to hear what he has to say.

It was customary on the Sabbath for the rabbi to read from the Torah, the Hebrew Bible.  The first reading was from the lectionary, that is, it was the prescribed reading for the day.  It was always something from one of the first five books of the Bible.

The second reading was always from one of the prophets.  One of the men in the synagogue was chosen to read each week.  He could read whatever he wanted from the scroll of the prophet.  Then he was to sit down and explain what he read.

Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah until he found what he wanted.  He had to unroll a long way to get to the sixty-first chapter.  Then he read verses 1 and 2.

“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, 

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When Jesus finished reading, he sat down.  Back then, they sat down to preach.  Then he preached a much shorter sermon than I have ever preached.  He said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The words Jesus chose from Isaiah are words that matter.  His inaugural sermon was his mission statement.  It was his way of telling us who he is and what his priorities are for his ministry.

The reason God’s Spirit came down on Jesus at his Baptism was to empower him to do exactly what he read: bring good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The year of the Lord’s favor was also known as the Jubilee Year.  In that year the economy was totally restructured.  All debts were forgiven.  All slaves were freed.  People were given their ancestral land back.  It was an opportunity for people to get out of poverty.

For Jesus, this is not a mission statement that gets framed and hung on the walls.  This is not just a bunch of pretty words for him.  For Jesus, this is the meaning and direction for the rest of his life.

Not everyone received Jesus’ mission well. But he kept doing those things and they finally got him killed. The ones who put him to death thought they ended his mission, but they were wrong.  Jesus rose from the dead.

Now his mission continues with the church, with us.  When we were baptized, we received the Spirit of God.  The Spirit empowers us. The mission of Jesus is our mission.

As the church, we continue the mission. The poor receive good news when we contribute to the food pantry, and the lunch bunch, and now the community meal.

The captives are released whenever someone accepts the words, “your sins are forgiven.”

The blind receive their sight, whether it is surgery at one of our church hospitals or the scales of prejudice falling off the eyes of a bigot.

The oppressed go free when our synod benevolence provides a pastor for the state prison and Lutheran Family Services helps immigrants and refugees newly arriving in Nebraska.

The year of the Lord’s favor is proclaimed when we support Fair Trade through Lutheran World Relief and help people around the world earn a fair wage and feed and educate their children.

The year of the Lord’s favor is proclaimed when we support living wages for all workers and work for justice for everyone in our country.

There are many more examples.  You do many things in the name of Jesus that you remain quiet about.  God notices all of them. God is pleased with you.

As St. Paul tells us, we are all members of the body of Christ. We have different gifts for ministry.  Our gifts come alive in the words we use and the actions that carry them out. Our gifts are much more effective because we work together.

Words matter.  Hear the words of the prophet that Jesus now proclaims to you:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, 

because he has anointed you

to bring good news to the poor.  

He has sent you to proclaim release to the captives 

and recovery of sight to the blind, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  Amen.


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