Third Sunday in Epiphany: State of the Union Address

First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1All the people [of Israel] gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
  9And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Psalm: Psalm 19

1The heavens declare the glory of God,
  and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.
2One day tells its tale to another,
  and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3Although they have no words or language,
  and their voices are not heard,
4their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the        ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
  it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs   about to the end of it again;
  nothing is hidden from its burning heat. 
7The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
  the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
8The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
  the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;
  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
  sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11By them also is your servant enlightened,
  and in keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can detect one’s own offenses?
  Cleanse me from my secret faults.
13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get  dominion over me;
  then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be     acceptable in your sight,
  O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
  14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
  27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31aBut strive for the greater gifts.

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21

14Then 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.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  It is not long now until the President gives his State of the Union Address.  Share with your neighbor a couple items that you think will be on his agenda…..  I will be surprised if he does not cover accomplishments surrounding Coved, need for movement on voting rights, thoughts on international situation brewing, and of course finances.  Truly we need God’s help and mercy!

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

This week’s text returns us to the Gospel of Luke, the writer through whom we are experiencing Epiphany this year.  After the nativity story of Jesus, Luke glimpses Jesus at age 12 differentiating himself from Joseph as he remains at the temple in Jerusalem, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  At age 12 Jesus knows who he is and during Epiphany we too are getting insights into who this God incarnate is.  Two weeks ago Jesus was baptized and we saw the Trinity’s presence, Father speaking, Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus identifying with us, you and me.  We are baptized into that Trinity!  Jesus was then driven into the wilderness by the Spirit and tested by Satan. Our text skips that scene and jumps to the next. Luke now tells of Jesus’ opening ministry experience. Jesus chooses his hometown Nazareth of Galilee in Northern Israel to give his State of the Union Address.

15He began to teach in their synagogues

and was praised by everyone.

         Jesus begins preaching but chooses Nazareth to “introduce” himself and his vision.  It’s not Congress like the President but the opinions later will be divided. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though.  Jesus has had a unique experience at his baptism but there was no CNN, no telephones, and so awareness of him as an adult grew with personal encounters.  Our relationship with Christ grows as we interact with him, more and more.

         For sure Nazareth knew Jesus as the child of Joseph and Mary, perhaps they even heard stories from the wedding at Cana nearby but Jesus is notching up that understanding of himself.  Everyone is praising Jesus as the rumors of his ministry circulate but they are about to meet him face to face, not as the person whom they think they know but now as an adult living out his mission.  Jesus introduces himself through the words of the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus is about to give his State of the Union Address.  Are we tuned in?

         We know about State of the Union Addresses.  In fact around January 20th I start listening for when the President of the USA will address the combined Congress and the American people.  I looked up the history of this speech.       
         “The address fulfills the requirement in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution for the president to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

George Washington gave the first address to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1790 in NYC, our capitol then.  Until 1934 reports were written to Congress.  But in 1913 Woodrow Wilson started giving the address in person in Congress.  With technological advances, Americans and others now see the speech in all time zones.  In 1934 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the speech in January but in 1981 Ronald Reagan switched to February.  This year President Biden will address Congress and the US public on March 1, 2022.  The opportunity to hear this message has only become available in our lifetime!!!  We can hear, watch and critique today. Because of the gift of Scripture we can tune in and sit and listen to Jesus give his speech connecting the writings of the prophet Isaiah to his present. What topics will Jesus touch on as he brings to life for the people at his time the issues he sees and how will his words challenge us as we ponder how these words come alive in our context?  Is he relevant today?  Perhaps an epiphany moment of “ah ha” will open in our hearts today.  Lord, give us ears to hear and open our hearts.
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
   to bring good news to the poor.

“Good news” makes me think of the Good News Bible that translates Scripture into easy English.  I think of the message of salvation and the hidden challenge to evangelism for followers of Jesus.  We are often charged to make the good news of salvation through Jesus known to people who do not know. These are both cognitive, or knowledge interpretations.  We think bringing the good news is reading the Word and sharing a verse here and there!  Wait, let’s dig a little deeper.

         I note this starting point of the prophet, does not start with sharing Scripture but with the Spirit of the Lord who anoints.  As baptized Christians, we have that same Spirit working in our hearts and speaking to us about “bringing”, carrying, living out God’s desires surrounding the sharing of the good news for whom?  The poor. 

         The poor throws us to Jesus’ opening talk in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)” I think of Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Isaiah and Jesus are not talking just about the ignorant or the financially burdened.  Other words for “poor” might be discouraged, defeated, guilty, shamed, forgotten, or unseen.  When we take our eyes off God and look at our plight in life, it is easy to sing the “Woe Is Me” song.  That is when we need Jesus and the representatives of Jesus to put their arms around us and offer a hug.  It may not mean to lecture about salvation but to love.  The “good news” is that we are seen, we are forgiven, we are important and we are saved.  Our life has purpose and meaning even if we have dementia, cancer, no education, and different talents.  Jesus has been anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the poor – you and me.

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
   to let the oppressed go free,”

Do I hear you thinking: I am not a captive, I am not blind, and I live in the country of the free and the home of the brave.  These words must apply to the Jews who were dominated by the Romans.  We think of the blind beggars who pleaded for sight.  Jesus has come for a ministry of release and recovery from that which seems to “own” our lives.  I may not be a “captive” to Rome or in prison but for sure every month I pay my rent or mortgage.  For some we are captive to dementia.  For some it is alcohol or that TV show that we just have to watch.  That clock speaks of our responsibilities or lack there of, of our age, of our debts.  Oh my.  Is this verse a promise of a check in the mail or a healing?  Perhaps but I have my doubts. 

         Release is not just a promise to those of great faith who believe and can move the mountain into the sea.  What does Jesus release us from?  The realities of being alive?  I do not think he is referring to miracles but that faith in him releases us from the weight of worry and anxiety, from guilt and shame, and from loneliness – those things that weigh us down and lock us in a prison of fear.

         “Recovery of sight to the blind” often is preached as if my dark heart becomes enlightened and I see Jesus clearly.  Some are gifted with that kind of clarity and certainty but I agree with Paul that, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (I Corinthians 13: 12)” Faith does open my heart to Christ and the blindness and hopelessness of sin disappears but much is still unknown.  Perhaps then the blindness that Jesus can remove is our inability to see God acting in our life.  As Jesus’ representatives we can help each other persevere during our trials and we can encourage each other to see the hand of God.  Without help, the blindness that gives us tunnel vision in crisis often blinds us to resources and God.  We may be the eyes for someone, not to remove the speck but to help them see Christ alive in our world, acting to help us recover sight.

19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

NOW is the time.  Today is the day.  The past is forgivable and the future may not be ours to see.  Isaiah’s time was the year of the Lord’s favor.  Jesus’ time was the year of the Lord’s favor.  Now is the day of the Lord’s favor.  God is alive and active.  He does not slumber or sleep.  His arm is not short and he is not slow to act as we count time.  That word “favor” implies to me that the heart of God is seeking to bless, to forgive, and to walk with us.  He does not want any to be lost.  The evil one would have us look to our left and to our right comparing our selves and our blessings and to believe that God is somewhere in the heavens and we need to climb up to him with our good deeds.  Christianity, Jesus, brings a different message to those listeners at Jesus’ time who were prisoners of Romans, of disease, of ignorance, or injustice and prejudice.  God is working to bless and defeat the powers of evil.  He is walking with us into a future of hope.  Right now is the time God is working for good.  Now is the year of the Lord’s favor.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

When President Biden gives his State of the Union Address on March 1, he will probably spend some time talking about the challenge of Coved, of getting everyone vaccinated, and encourage masking.  Of course the government is working on it but it is a problem we are learning to live with.

         Jesus in his State of the Union Address brings good news to us poor.  He talks about the diseases beyond Coved that plague our lives and hold us captive.  He can set us free from guilt and shame; will walk with us through detox from addictions, and offers eternal life insurance.  Good News! 

President Biden will address our concerns about Ukraine and Kazakhstan and the threat of war that looms on our horizon.  I suspect he will say US diplomacy is effective.  Our alliances are strong.

         Jesus, on the other hand, brings the good news that the war is won and Satan is defeated.  Diplomacy is not needed as God is in control.  Allies are found in the body of Christ, the Church universal.  Good News!

President Biden will address the reality of inflation that is pinching the pockets of so many people.  He might try to reassure us that Social Security is strong and if Congress will only pass the proposed bills then the social network that supports our country will be even stronger.

         Jesus offers a long-term vision that does not necessarily offer health, wealth and prosperity now.  But he is about releasing us from the blindness that closes our eyes to his presence in our lives, working to eternal solutions.  He is about giving us freedom from the oppression of fear from the evil one. Good News!

President Biden will probably also talk about broadening voter security by passing the proposed bills surrounding voting rights. 

         Jesus uses the word “favor”.  We do not have to vote or fear our voice is not heard because “this is the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Happiness will not be voted on for only some and life will be fair and just for all.  God is working for us now.  Good News.”

As we reflect on Jesus’ State of Union Address impacting our lives today we see the heart of God who favors us with his presence as we go into this week.  God’s kingdom does not work like the powers of this world. 

Thank you, Lord! And the people of God said, “Amen!

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