Epiphany II

The Virginia Seminary gives out a yearly award call the John Hines Preaching Award, it goes to the best sermon given in a certain time-frame, which that preacher thought enough of to submit to the judging panel. A few years ago the award winning sermon was well written, but it contained one of the most egregious cases of ‘missing the point’ I have ever encountered. About half-way into the sermon, the author writes: “God’s divine love is wider – even wider – than the love of the human Jesus of Nazareth.” I’m actually hoping you kinda missed that, because it is Arian heresy, so here it is again: “God’s divine love is wider – even wider – than the love of the human Jesus of Nazareth.” Wow. That author might have meant well, but what she missed is that God’s divine love is not wider than the earthly love of the human Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth is God’s divine love. To teach anything else is to put souls at risk. We might as well tell people that some scholars believe that Jesus was an enlightened magician eventually eaten by wolves in Northern Asia. But if the Gospel lesson we just heard from the Blessed Apostle Luke teaches us anything, it is that Jesus Christ was not just some guy anointed to bring good news to the poor and release to captives and sight to the blind, He wasn’t a harmless hippie sent to let the oppressed go free and proclaim God’s Jubilee, He is God’s Jubilee, He is the freedom of the oppressed, the sight of the blind and the release of captives, He is the Good News to the poor.

Blessed Saint Luke knew all of this, and he gives us more of the story than the other Gospels. Saint Matthew and Saint Mark touched on the story: Jesus taught in the synagogue in His hometown, where no honor was ascribed to Him. Only Luke tells us what Jesus said in His sermon, only Luke recounts the words that brought not honor but amazement, not admiration but scorn, not love but death.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So much for those gray areas we so like to call home. Jesus could not have been more plain in His speech, more distinct about His mission, more clear about who He was, and is. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Really? Yes, really. In Christ all Scripture is fulfilled, all things are fulfilled. The cries of Israel were heard, and God gathered up His people into the arms of His Son, into the arms of His pity those who had been shown no pity, into the arms of His mercy those who had cried out for mercy from above. The Good News came; our freedom, our sight, our release, and our salvation came in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s wide divine Love personally saw to His own Jubilee.

And in many ways it really is that simple, if not that easy. To be a Christian is to be free, to have eyes to see the Kingdom of Heaven, to have all things even if you have almost nothing, to be free of sin if not free of earthly bond. To be a Christian is to be free, yes, but to be a Christian in some places is to feel anything but free. Across the world Christians are persecuted, expelled, suppressed, maligned and killed for their faith. More people were killed for the Christian Faith in the 20th century than in all the previous 19 centuries combined. So it’s not so easy to be a Christian, to see the Kingdom of God when what we see all around us is war and persecution and genocide and oppression, it’s not so easy to believe that all those promises Isaiah made were fulfilled in Jesus, to believe that the quiet little man who sat down in the Nazareth synagogue that day was God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. The world is broken, the world cries out still for good news to be proclaimed to the poor,
for release of those held captive, the world cries out for sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed, the world needs someone to proclaim the year of jubilee.

That’s our job. Saint Luke gave us these words of Jesus, Luke told us the Good News so that we also would be gathered into Christ’s arms. St. Luke gave us these words of Jesus so that we would what to proclaim and to whom we make our proclamation, that the Good News is who Jesus is. So don’t confuse the Good News, don’t live like it’s a burden, and for the sake of souls, least of all your own, don’t keep it a secret.

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