Monday, February 1, 2010

Fulfillment (Part One)

(A sermon on Luke 4:14-21, preached at All Saints' Episcopal Church 1/24/2010)

Preaching wise, I could not have planned my arrival at All Saints’ any better than the way it just happened. Not only was I able to being here in Advent, the start of the church year, I was able to start with the year of the Gospel of Mark.

Even though Matthew comes first in sequence of the New Testament, the general consensus is that that Mark was the first Gospel written: most likely between the years 64 to 70 AD.

Starting our ministry together with Mark allowed us to explore what is arguably the essential foundation for answering the question that followers of Jesus must address: “Who do you say that I am?”

In our second year together, we get to explore the Gospel of Luke.

Most biblical scholars believe that the writer of Luke had the Gospel of Mark in his possession while constructing his Gospel. This explains why much of what is found in the Gospel of Mark also appears in the Gospel of Luke. It’s important to note, however, that Luke adds a number of events, and often changes the sequence of the way things happen. Luke also tends to emphasis different points and actions about Jesus than Mark does. He does this in part because he is writing to a different and specific audience: namely a Greek, Gentile audience.

As we’ve previously explored, Luke has all of this back-story into Jesus’ birth, as well as his presentation at the temple as baby, and his journey to Jerusalem as a teenager: all things not found in the Gospel of Mark.

What is shared with Mark is the account of Jesus as an adult. Both accounts start with baptism in the time of John, even while handled differently in each Gospel, still shares similar language and overall message. Both Gospels then continue with Jesus driven into the wilderness by the Spirit.

The section just prior to our Gospel this morning is a greatly expanded account of Jesus in the wilderness. Where Mark says simply that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days tempted by Satan, with the wild beasts and waited on by the angels, Luke’s account is full of actual dialogue between Jesus and the devil: an account we will not hear until the first Sunday in Lent.

So the “then” that this morning’s Gospel lesson begins with is after the wilderness and the temptations by the devil. We are told that Jesus leaves the wilderness “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.” He starts his public, adult ministry in a traditionally Jewish way: going to teach in the synagogues, where we are told that he is praised by everyone.

Now Luke shows us, firsthand, what that actually looks like, in a two-part Gospel (this week and next week) in his hometown of Nazareth. He does everything strictly by the book. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stands up to read.

It was custom that any Jewish man could volunteer to read simply by standing up.

Jesus is handed the scroll from Isaiah.

Luke, throughout his Gospel, connects Jesus directly with the Spirit, which could not be any clearer in this passage.

“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.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus reading comes mostly from Isaiah 61:1-2, although the final part is left out: the words “and the day of vengeance of our God.” He also adds the line “to let the oppressed go free,” which is from Isaiah 58:6. Blogger John Petty suggests that this phrase literally translates “to send the broken ones release,” which I think is an especially powerful way of thinking of it.

Jesus then, in the custom of synagogue tradition, rolls up the scroll and sits down. Preaching is always done while sitting. As everyone looks at him in great expectation, Jesus delivers his first public words of his ministry.

Flash back to the Gospel of Mark. The build up is essentially the same: baptism, off into the wilderness, John is arrested, and finally, the first public words of his ministry. In Mark, they were words I hope are now familiar to you: “The Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk. 2:15) These words set the tone and focus of the entire Gospel of Mark. Luke does the same thing: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:21)

The very first word, “today,” is a favorite of Luke’s, used twelve times in Luke’s Gospel. (John Petty) It speaks to the immediacy of the moment. Luke suggests that the claims of the read scripture are met in Jesus: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and the year of the Lord’s favor. This sets the tone and focus of the Gospel of Luke.

So Jesus says that this happens today, at the onset of his ministry. What is also rather interesting is how this all happens: this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

John Petty writes that “Hearing is an intimate thing. The words literally come all the way inside one's body where they are then 'processed' and understood through ones neural connections. Hearing Jesus' words, connecting them with the fulfillment of scripture, seeing Jesus' ministry of "release" on behalf of the poor--all this is apprehended intimately, right now, today." (John Petty writes at

I find it telling that in both Mark and Luke, Jesus requires action. In Mark, it’s “repent, and believe in the good news.” In Luke, it’s the action of hearing.

We are called into action by Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus’ presence...his words and his actions...speak to what is possible right now: be it Mark’s vision of kingdom of God, or the Good news found in Luke. Even today, in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake in Haiti, or the fires must closer to home (here in Littleton), Jesus fulfills what is possible: the broken ones of today’s world, wherever they are and whatever binds them, are released.

I think that's what Paul is getting at in this morning's lesson when he wrote, "If one member suffers, all suffer together." (1 Cor. 12:26) If we believe this to be true, then we cannot help but act: we won’t let our neighbor suffer if we really believe that God is working to bring relief. Believing this to be true frees us from the despair or complacency that we are powerless, and instead moves us to do our part in actually making this world...this a reflection of what God is doing today.


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