I know. Christmas seems to have been a really long time ago. We’ve long since returned what we didn’t like, exchanged what didn’t fit, put away most of our decorations, discarded the wrapping paper and have gotten on with life. But as far as the traditional church calendar is concerned January 27th is the third Sunday of Epiphany. And, not being Greek or Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Episcopalian we Quakers are not all that familiar with what Epiphany means. It means “manifestation” or “revelation”. An epic narrative begins with a revelation to Mary in which we hear the story of a pre-natal revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Creation iparticipates with the story of the Magi’s pilgrimage. The angelic announcement to the shepherds continues the revelation. The infancy and childhood narratives of Jesus’ visits to the Temple, the story of Jesus’ baptism God in Christ is further revealed. In turning the water into wine Jesus reveals even more about himself. You could say Epiphany is about Jesus’ coming out…as the long awaited Messiah.
Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:14-30;
It was extraordinary, that Sunday, when David Bills, home from Asbury Seminary, preached his first sermon as a seminarian in his home church, Friendswood Friends Church. I remember to this day his opening three words. He said “It is axiomatic…” Now I have recollection of what that self evident truth was that was so vitally essential to understand that he labeled it “axiomatic”. He doesn’t either. I just remember the phrase. It was impressive.
David is three years older than me. He and his 1954 Chevy got me to Friends University for my freshman year, the year he was a senior. You’d like David. He has served as pastor to New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina for forty-one years. His was a well established and extended family in the community and the church. He, his two sisters and their cousins were born in the community. One sister became a nurse, the other married a Friends pastor. Luther Dillon, his grandfather, was a revered preacher throughout Kansas Yearly Meeting. Everyone felt a part of David’s preparation for the ministry. His story might help you connect to our text today as Jesus returns for his first sermon at the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth.
Luke 4:14-30 reads: Then 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.”
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.
25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
I know. Christmas seems to have been a really long time ago. We’ve long since returned what we didn’t like, exchanged what didn’t fit, put away most of our decorations, discarded the wrapping paper and have gotten on with life. But as far as the traditional church calendar is concerned January 27th is the third Sunday of Epiphany. And, not being Greek or Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Episcopalian we Quakers are not all that familiar with what Epiphany means. It means “manifestation” or “revelation”. According to the synoptic Gospels an epic narrative begins with Mary. To her, then related to Joseph, to Elizabeth and then to Zechariah we hear the story of a pre-natal revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Creation itself participates in this continuing saga with the story of the Magi’s seeing a star that initiated a pilgrimage. The angelic announcement to the shepherds continues the revelation. The infancy and childhood narratives of Jesus’ visits to the Temple follow this same course and then in the story of Jesus’ baptism again God in Christ is further revealed. In turning the water into wine Jesus reveals even more about himself. You could say Epiphany is about Jesus’ coming out – as the long awaited Messiah.
I don’t think that Jesus would be dealt with as brutally by the religious, economic and political powers of today that was his experience two thousand years ago. I think it much more likely that he would be heavily sedated and sheltered on a ward to be cared for by compassionate attendants. Stories of stars, angel bands, itinerant Zoroastrian scholars, descending doves, disembodied voices, water becoming wine…and the claim of Messiahship would be just too much to countenance. Jesus, certifiably delusional, would be put away, for his own safety, because of his highly developed Messianic complex.
This is probably a good time to fess up to my own beliefs. I believe Jesus to have been the long awaited and promised Jewish Messiah. I don’t believe that Jesus was just like you or me but just way more in tune with God’s intention for his life. I believe that God revealed God’s self with Creation, then with the gift of the Torah to Jacob’s progeny and then in the coming of Jesus, God’s own spirit in human flesh. The people from whom and to whom Jesus came did just like humanity had done with God’s self revelation through creation and through the law. They too rejected him. I think that’s pretty orthodox. Because I believe that the God revealed in creation, in word and flesh, according to Jesus, is a God of love and a God who desires nothing more than to be in relationship with humanity.
The economic, judicial, sacrificial and political notions about the efficiency and efficaciousness of Jesus’ death I find to be disastrous distractions. Because I believe in a God with an enormous loving heart who has always been able and willing to say to the worst of we human beings ‘I love you and you are forgiven’.
I’ve come to believe that when the great attempt to reconcile God’s-self with creation by becoming human failed dismally God tried again. This was no wholly new thing. We have God’s spirit anointing some of Israel’s earliest leaders. The Apostle Peter early in the Book of Acts refers to the prophecy of Joel 2:28 of how God’s spirit was to be distributed among all people. This coming May 19th, Pentecost Sunday, the whole church will commemorate the Holy Spirit’s descent on the followers of Jesus. Some of the most either confusing or encouraging words of Jesus are in John 14. where Jesus says: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
For the Apostle Paul, that this Holy Spirit dwells within us was a really big thing. He refers to it in his letters to the churches in Roman, Corinth, Ephesus and Thessalonica. It was a metaphor of each of our bodies being a Temple – the place where God’s spirit dwells. So where we started out talking about Jesus coming out we come to the reality that Jesus, in the form of the Spirit of Christ, comes in, and there leads, guides and challenges us to be about the continuing work of God’s Kingdom on Earth, a kingdom known for justice and righteousness, compassion and peace. That’s the Quaker take on living Gospel values. When I acknowledge that Christ is within me I also acknowledge Christ’s presence in others. Even those with whom I may disagree. here In the grand scheme of acknowledging this impossible possibility of seeing Jesus in everybody Mother Teresa wrote a very fitting prayer:
Jesus is the Hungry – to be fed.
Jesus is the Thirsty – to be satiated.
Jesus is the Naked – to be clothed.
Jesus is the Homeless – to be taken in.
Jesus is the Sick – to be healed.
Jesus is the Lonely – to be loved.
Jesus is the Unwanted – to be wanted.
Jesus is the Leper – to wash his wounds.
Jesus is the Beggar – to give him a smile.
Jesus is the Drunkard – to listen to him.
Jesus is the Little One – to embrace him.
Jesus is the Dumb – to speak to him.
Jesus is the Crippled – to walk with him.
Jesus is the Drug Addict – to befriend him.
Jesus is the Prostitute – to remove from danger & befriend her.
Jesus is the Prisoner – to be visited.
Jesus is the Old – to be served.
Our text for today continues Jesus’ self revelation and what it meant. From the Isaiah scroll from which he read made clear the work of the Messiah. “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.” None of that for which Jesus was anointed is applicable to some future other worldly place rather it is an appropriate and realizable ministry to the community of Nazareth. Imagine what would be good news to someone in living in hopeless poverty. What would it do if those in debtor’s prison would be freed? Imagine people blinded by ignorance to their own interests would gain sight. Imagine the upset emancipation of the slaves in first century Judea would have caused. This is what makes Epiphany so important. We learn more and more about what Jesus was about. It was only after Jesus pointed out the meaning of the miracle stories of Elijah saving a gentle widow from starvation and Elisha cleansing a leprous gentile that the folks in Nazareth understood that this one whom they had hoped for, that they had seen grow up and were absolutely delighted about his prospects in ministry had a mission and a ministry not focused on them, the privileged insiders, but on survivors of an unjust and cruel world, the least and the most vulnerable. Our call is to continue Jesus’ ministry.