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“No Prophet is Accepted in His Hometown”

a sermon based on Luke 4:14-32

This morning’s Bible text finds Jesus returning to his hometown synagogue where he was invited to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah -- about the Spirit of God anointing him to preach good news to the poor, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to declare the Jubilee, that is “the acceptable year of the Lord”.

He then closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. Luke tells us that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began by saying to them: ‘This day this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”

Just last Sunday (on Father’s Day) I took us back into Jesus’ childhood, when he was 12-years old. We pointed out that Jesus’ earthly father Joseph would have had a significant impact on raising the boy to young adulthood, and Jesus returned the compliment by referring to God by the familial (relational) word: “Abba”, Father.

Jesus is now 30 years old, and his hometown congregation remembered old Joseph, the carpenter, and how proud he was of his first-born son, Jesus… How Jesus had spent three days with the Rabbis and Teachers in the Jerusalem Temple, impressing them with his questions & answers when he was just a youngster of 12. (Wow.)

The congregation in Nazareth spoke well of Jesus and remarked upon the “grace-filled” words that came from his mouth. They were waiting to hear how Jesus would interpret the passage from Isaiah. He started with a bang: saying "on this day (today, right now! Right here!, in your very ears) this Scripture was being fulfilled!" The Jubilee Year was happening, and his hometown was first to hear it!

I’ve been thinking… With all the current turmoil about race relations -- protests in the streets, injustice & violence for all to see on the hightly news (and the relentless 24 hour-7 days a week news commentaries) on top of the economic shut-down & massive high unemployment… not to mention the continuing coronavirus crisis…(!) -- the poor could probably use some good news about now, don’t you think? (Wouldn’t we all like that for ourselves?)

Maybe the slogan “no justice, no peace” is a grass-roots way of demanding that the oppressed be set free? Isn’t the effort to “defund police” a back-door way of (possibly) getting some captives released? I wonder: is white America ready to declare “the Jubilee” -- forgiving debts and restoring a level playing field? If we do, that would make 2020 “the acceptable year of the Lord”. I’d be dancing in the streets!! But it sure doesn’t feel like it right now!

This is June 28, which means that this year “2020” is only six-months old! We are at the halfway point between the end of 2019 and the start of year 2021.

Cameron Trimble wrote on her daily blog (June 15): Yesterday in a meeting, my collegue said: “I wish 2020 would just be over! Let’s get to 2021, because it has to be better.” I suspect we can all relate to that sentiment.

The economy was shut down by order of the state governors in mid-March. (You all know that.) As a consequence of those “emergency orders”, 30 million Americans lost their jobs by mid-April. Of course, the poor who had no savings, and the homeless, were already hurting before the “stay home” orders were given.

Adding another 30 million jobless and furloughed families to the welfare lines has swamped an already tightly stretched “safety net” in every state. … I think it’s about time the poor had some good news preached to them!

By May, of course, most adult Americans had received tax-rebate checks from the U.S. Treasury for $1,200 per person… intended to “stimulate” the economy while it was still “shut-down”. In addition to those “stimulus” payments, unemployment benefits were supplemented by $600 bonus pay… I suppose a politician could say that such extravagant spending of tax-payer’s money over the last two months was “good news” for the poor… The problem is, they won’t ever tell you how they intend to pay the tab for it. (Don’t ask, they won’t tell!)

In that same legislation, many self-employed contractors and part-time laborers (who had formerly not been eligible for unemploy-ment pay) were granted eligibility so that they, too, could receive benefits. It was refreshning to see both parties in both houses of Congress working together (for the first time in years!) to pull three trillion more dollars up from the deep pockets of federal debt in an effort to keep the economy afloat in the midst of the mandated lock-down. The Federal Reserve is pumping out credit to buy back its own U.S. Treasury notes and, for the first time in history, “the Fed” is buying corporate bonds as well, in order to boost Wall Street stock market confidence. All that federal loot (which ultimately will come out of the American tax-payer’s pocket) is greasing the skids for a grand “re-opening” of the economy… maybe… after the election.

Cameron Trimble says: “The economy was shut down… what if this gives us the chance to create a more just & sustainable economy going forward? What becomes possible (if we declare a Jubilee)?

“We are in lockdown… [Children had to stay home from school, and their parents were told to work from home, if possible. The “stay home, stay safe” orders, together with the closing of sports events and other entertainments, forced families to hang out together!]

“What if we rediscover the value of our families and communities?” asks Cameron Trimble.

“People can’t go to their places of worship for the foreseeable future [and when they do, it will be a strange place of keeping physical distance between people, wearing face-masks, no choirs, no group singing indoors, no loud preaching or verbal responding by the congregation.]… What if this frees us from our [habitual ritual in our] buildings and sets us loose in the world? What becomes possible?

“George Floyd’s murder seems to be waking white people up,” she writes. “What if we will finally take meaningful steps to protect and honor black & brown lives? What becomes possible?”

She concludes her blog with a poem by Leslie Dwight:

“What if 2020 isn’t canceled?

What if 2020 is the year we have been waiting for?

A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw –

that it finally forces us to grow.

A year that screams so loud,

finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.

A year we finally accept the need for change.

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.

A year we finally band together,

instead of pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t canceled, but rather

it’s the most important year of them all.”

I say, let’s make this year be, as Jesus said to his hometown congregation, “The acceptable year of the Lord!” Can we do that? I think we can… and we should! 2020, the acceptable year for God!

Well, I probably ought to stop right now, with those hopeful and challenging words ringing in our ears… a nine-minute sermon! (Wow!) But the fact is… a lot of American Christians just don’t find Jesus’ Gospel agenda (as he articulated it so clearly in that sermon) all that persuasive.

His vision -- to preach good news to the poor, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and all the rest—is not considered all that practical… And his home congregation really didn't see it, either.

What Luke calls “the acceptable year of the Lord” was popularly understood in Judaism to mean the “Jubilee” year – the fiftieth year, in which all contracts and mortgages became null-&void, when all outstanding debts were forgiven, and all slaves were returned to their families of origin. I suppose the Nazarenes would have been very happy to think that the blessings of the Jubilee (release from poverty, from oppression, from foreign domination, and all the rest – healing their blindness, and setting them “at liberty”) would benefit them! So, when Jesus said that the text was being fulfilled that very day, he bolstered their hope! They all spoke well of him… at first. (!)