Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Epiphany 3C

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."

During this fairly short season of Epiphany, the Church's year of grace is in Ordinary Time. You may remember when we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost we get a many months long green and growing season. Ordinary means ordered, regulated, measured, not messy or dis-ordered. I mentioned how much I love the way the color green represents growth and change; Pastor Peg commented there are literally countless different hues and varieties of green. I replied there just may be more types of green than of any other color? Exaggeration, but I like to think that's so.

Last week: John's version of Jesus' public ministry debut, his IPO/Initial Public Offering, was a party!

This week: we have Luke's version of Jesus public ministerial debut. Just as it was for John, it's also in his Galileean hometown, a place that was very working class, full of reprobates, thieves, robbers, disreputable people in general—and gentiles! This text emphasizes Luke's themes of Holy Spirit, the marginalized, the underprivileged. Nazareth is Jesus' hometown; he's in his home synagogue. Jesus was 30 years old and had been attending synagogue there for a long time. He knew the texts of scripture well, so after the attendant handed him the Isaiah scroll, Jesus would have been familiar enough to pick and choose the passage he wanted to read that comes from the third section of the long book of Isaiah 61:1, 58:6, 61:2.

In all four of the canonical gospels, before his first formal act of public ministry, Jesus calls disciples—followers, students he teaches/disciplines, people who later become apostles or "sent people" in the power of the same Holy Spirit that filled and accompanied Jesus, that fills and accompanies us.

A note about the word canon: canon literally is a measuring device, a yardstick, something used to compare other products of a similar genre. For an excellent description of a canon (that's not a gun that fires ammunition) via Isaiah, God announces, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line."

Besides this reading from Luke's gospel that displays the authority of the written word in the life of the synagogue and in Jesus' life and ministry, today we have an amazing reading from the Hebrew Bible book of Nehemiah 8:1-10. It describes an event that occurred shortly after Jews who returned came back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon where they'd had little or no access to scripture. This happened at a time in history when previously spoken or orally transmitted texts were starting to be written down by people from many religious and spiritual traditions, with those words then gaining an authority that came from their being codified. As I've described, the oral tradition was dynamic and fluid, definitely not the same as if one of us scheduled as lector decided to recite a Sunday lection from memory because the passage was fairly short and easy. Not only did parts of passages get changed through the process of telling, hearing, and retelling; scribes who copied texts onto scrolls sometimes made mistakes, which partly accounts for our having more than one authoritative "received tradition" of scripture.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we heard Mary's Magnificat (a canticle, song, or psalm also from Luke's gospel that describes magnifying or glorifying God) where Jesus' mother announces great leveling and immense reversals of have-nots gaining essentials for life, those who have-a-lot in a material sense losing some of their wealth in a massive re-distribution move. On Advent 4 we sang Canticle of the Turning that paraphrases Mary's words. Jesus' announcement of himself as God's justice and reversal embodied (enfleshed, incarnated) picks up on Mary's themes of distributive justice and equality. As I previously noted, Mary would have known Hannah's song from 1 Samuel 2:1-10 so well she could create a riff on it for herself.

We don't memorize scripture enough! Barbara mentioned the almost incredible power of concentrating throughout each day on only two or three verses of the book of scripture they're studying in a group she belongs to.

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