Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 13, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

(1 Kings 17:8-16)+Psalm 146+James 1:22-27+Luke 4:16-27

The first time I stepped into a pulpit to preach – many years ago – it was in a church I had been attending for a while. The people knew me. I was just one of them, occasionally filling in as the musician and visiting elderly people and others who couldn’t get to church. And while I had a very mystical experience as I climbed the steps into that pulpit, feeling the presence of a grandfather I had never met placing a mantle about my shoulders – to the people sitting in the pews, I was just Elaine, Tim’s wife.

When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and sat to read from the Isaiah scroll, he was just one of them. Remember him? The whispers about his mother when it was clear she was pregnant? Or that time we were all coming back from the Passover festival in Jerusalem, and he got left behind? Yeah, we know this guy, his family, and friends. We watched him grow up.

But then this one that they think they know launches into a sermon about God’s reign in present-tense, about the prophecy’s fulfillment here and now.

What’s that?

It might be helpful to take a step back for just a moment and remember where we are in Luke’s gospel. He packs a lot into the first four chapters! You may recall that, from the outset, Luke wants to present an “orderly account” of the life of Christ. He begins with John the Baptist, with Elizabeth and Zechariah. He then moves to the annunciation, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, the Magnificat, John’s birth, and then the birth of Jesus. After 40 days, Jesus is presented in the temple where old Simeon and Anna make prophecies about him, and then the family returns to Nazareth from Bethlehem. Jesus grows up, gets left behind in the temple when he’s about 12, and the next thing you know, we are with John the Baptist, baptizing everyone out in the desert when Jesus comes to him to be baptized. He immediately goes out into the desert for 40 days where he is tempted by Satan, and when he returns, this – where we are this morning – this is where he turns up next.

The people who know him have no idea what’s coming.

The year of the Lord’s favor has arrived. This is the day the prophets talked about, when the prisoners would be freed, the blind receive their sight, the lame would walk, and all the people would hear good news.

It sounds a lot like that Magnificat his mother proclaimed about the hungry being filled with good things and the lowly being lifted up.

And at first, the people are excited about this, amazed at his wisdom. But then he tells them that it isn’t just for them. He’s taking this show on the road. And while our text this morning stops before we get there, the people get mad. They want to hurl him off of a cliff. Who does he think he is? He’s a little bit big for his britches, this carpenter’s son.

In telling these little anecdotes about Elijah and Elisha, Jesus is making it clear that he’s there for all people. The Good News is not just for Nazareth. Not just for his family and friends. And they don’t like it very much.

But before you look down your nose at the people of Nazareth, there are plenty of people who want to claim ownership of Jesus these days. Those who claim a direct line to what Jesus really meant, what the scriptures really say, who the good news is really for. We look at those people and judge them unworthy or outside of the boundaries we have set. Others look at us and make the same judgment.

Meanwhile, Jesus slips on by and continues teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons.

In this very first statement from Jesus in the gospel of Luke, he rejects the idea that any community, any culture, any country, can claim him as their own exclusively. He is a Savior for all people. He has Good News for all people. Just because we can now only see “in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12) as Paul puts it, does not make this less so. It’s a message of love, of forgiveness, of liberation, of reconciliation, of non-violence, and of redemption, and if it’s not that, it’s not gospel. It’s as simple as that.

And if that’s not the message we want to hear, maybe, just maybe, it’s the one we most need to hear, right here and right now.

Friends, God does not belong to us, we belong to God. God loves us. And in that love, God invites us to proclaim good news to the poor, to release captives, to restore sight, to free the enslaved and imprisoned, to proclaim God’s favor to all people.

That first sermon I preached so long ago was on a text from Matthew about letting the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest, because in our lack of understanding, we might pull out good wheat while trying to get rid of the weeds. God will take care of the weeds. God wants us to know that there is enough to go around, enough for everybody. We need to take care of the work that is ours to do, to be “doers of the words and not just hearers,” (James 1:22) because we have our part to play, our ministry to do, our gifts to use, to make real this year of the Lords’ favor.

[These are the promises we make in our baptism and the promises we are making on behalf of Beau this morning as he is baptized and the promise we make to help him grow in faith, even as we grow in ours.]

May the deepest longing of our hearts be uttered in prayer: “Yes, Lord, may this scripture be fulfilled today and may we have the strength and courage to help make it so. Amen.”

ASEPSermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 13, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas