This is week two of new sermon series that we’re calling the Salvation Project. The goal of this series is to move the word salvation from the exclusive realm of the afterlife into day to day existence. God’s salvation is much much more than what happens after we die. Because, as much as God cares deeply and fundamentally about our forevers, God also cares about our right nows and the right nows of our neighbors. And as we’ll see in the coming weeks, the Jesus we encounter in Luke’s gospel demonstrates a special concern for helping people see that God’s care is for them now, not just then.
Today we read the story of Jesus returning to the synagogue in his hometown. After standing up to read, as he apparently used to do quite often, Jesus preaches a sermon, a brief sermon, and at first the people in the synagogue kind of dig what he’s saying. Maybe it’s because it’s a short sermon, everyone loves a pithy preacher. Maybe it’s because Jesus is promising some big things.
But as he expands a little bit on the implications of what he’s about, the folks in his hometown decide it’s time to kill him. It’s a pretty dramatic turn of events. What does Jesus say that’s so offensive, that enrages this congregation of people he presumably knows and grew up with? Why all of a sudden do people want to kill him?
Well in someways Jesus sort of picks this fight. He seems to be saying to them, I know what you’re thinking and you’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t about you. Or rather this isn’t only about you.
See I think that when the folks in his hometown heard what Jesus was offering they assumed that they’d hit the jackpot. I mean Jesus is talking about jubilee here, the biblical practice where every fiftieth year there was a jubilee year during which time slaves would be emancipated, debts would be forgiven, the land would go back to the original owner and even the land itself would be allowed to rest.
“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 says this has been fulfilled in your hearing, the people start to get excited. All of a sudden there’s this guy, a guy they watched grow up, and he’s making big promises, extravagant promises, promises of biblical proportions.
And surely he’s going to give some of this goodness to us. To his family. To his friends.
But Jesus quotes to them a common aphorism of the day, he says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” Which basically meant, you take care of you and your household first.
But Jesus has something bigger in mind. He starts reminding them of stories from their past where God’s prophets were sent to heal people outside the community, outside societal constructs, outside God’s chosen people. Jesus reminds them of God’s providential care for those without status, without community, a sick Syrian man and a gentile widow without any safety net. It’s consistent with what God has done and who God has been. And they don’t get claim it for themselves first.
Me first. Us first. The impulse comes so naturally, so effortlessly. Maybe it stems from a deep love we have for ourselves and our family. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid that there won’t be enough to go around. Maybe we’re fearful that someone might take advantage of us. Maybe we’re trying to save ourselves, from whomever and whatever is out there.
We’re living at a time of such heightened polarity. The gulf between us and them seems to be expanding by the minute. Black and white. Rich and poor. Republicans and democrats. America and the rest of the world. Me and the guy that I’ve chosen to pick a fight with in a random Facebook comment thread. There’s a chasm between us and a poisonous river of venom and vitriol that is flowing between.
And it’s into that poisonous space between that Jesus steps and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. It’s our unwillingness to see the other side as worthy of God’s love and God’s presence that God’s proclaims release to us and to them.
Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Recently he wrote a letter to his church, to those that have asked about whether or not it’s appropriate to pray for the President, particularly one with whom you disagree. He wrote this which I find quite helpful.
When we pray for Donald, Barack, George, Bill, George, or Jimmy, Presidents of the United States, we pray for their well-being, for they too are children of God, but we also pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they will lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest but the common good. When we pray for them, we are actually praying for our nation, for our world, indeed we are praying for ourselves.
Prayer is not a simplistic cheer or declaration of support. Prayers of lament cry out in pain and cry for justice. Prayer can celebrate. Prayer can also ask God to intervene and change the course of history, to change someone’s mind, or his or her heart. When we pray for our enemies, we may find that we are simultaneously emboldened to stand for justice while we are also less able to demonize another human being.
Brothers and sisters, the salvation that Jesus announces in his first sermon, is the salvation that he desires for, that he gives to all people. It’s a release from those things that bind us, a release from those things that hold us hostage, that prevent us from seeing our neighbor as being worthy of God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s mercy. What Jesus proclaims is the dawning of a new reality where there is enough for all, enough love, enough space, enough food, enough life. You and I get to be a part of that, we are drawn into that if we can only see that we too have been freed.
Oh, the temptation to claim something that isn’t ours for ourselves is still very real, but day after day, week after week Jesus comes among us and says to you, today, this day, this very minute this has been fulfilled in your hearing. Amen, thanks be to God.