A one sentence sermon. Did you catch it? “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I don’t think my preaching professors in seminary would let me get by with a one sentence sermon. I’ve only heard of one other sermon that was only one sentence, and I understand that pastor got a lot of dazed, confused looks. A previous pastor in the church where we did our internship walked up to the pulpit and said, “God is love.” and sat down. From the way people told the story, they were grasping for some reason why he would do that. Maybe it was a busy week and he didn’t have time to get a proper sermon done, or maybe there had been a crisis in his family. But it was the one sermon people talked about years later. Now we read about Jesus, back in his home town, and we find his first recorded sermon, a one liner. And it is a doozy, one that makes his family and friends react to him in a way they never had before.
After being baptized by John and spending 40 days in the wilderness, he makes his way to his home country. Reports start spreading about him through Galilee because of the miracles he is bringing to people’s lives and how he has taught. So when he makes it back to Nazareth, it is quite a day in synagogue. This is where he grew up, and everybody is there, eager to hear a world proclaimed from their hometown boy.
In the synagogue, there were no professional clergy, so to speak. The leader of this community house of worship could invite any appropriate person to read and comment on the text. So Jesus is asked to read the lesson from the prophets. The choice is up to him. Since there isn’t a book like we have today, a bulky scroll is brought to him and placed upon the lectern. Jesus unrolls it, searching for the text from Isaiah. In a voice strong with anticipation, he reads aloud these words: “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.”
Finished with his reading from the prophet, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat. It was the custom that the teachers and rabbis sit, so when he takes his seat, everyone looks at him, expecting some sermon and commentary on the text. This was a text they knew well, one that had been read multiple times. They knew what Jesus was supposed to say, the question was would he say it correctly or not.
And what Jesus says catches them all off guard. Jesus sets free the scripture passage he has just read. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He claims those ancient words of Isaiah as his own personal mission statement. The reason the Holy Spirit came down on him in his baptism was to empower Jesus to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; free the oppressed, and usher in the Jubilee year of God’s justice.
Jesus takes all this as his mission statement, and everything that follows in this life, especially as we see through the gospel of Luke, can be pointed back to his reading of this prophecy he claimed for himself that Sabbath morning. As you go through the gospel, every time Jesus acts, he is living into these words, until it finally kills him. Now there are some who welcome what Jesus does, especially those who are freed from bondage of sin and illness and those whose eyes are literally opened and those whose eyes are opened to the reality of God in their midst. Based upon some scholars calculations, the year that Jesus stood in the synagogue and read these words was an actual year of jubilee, a once every 50 year cycle of freedom and rest, freedom for the fields to rest, a year debts are forgiven, a year when people return home and slaves are freed. Relationships are restored and salvation is found. In Jesus, literally the time of salvation had begun.
But there are those who do not like what Jesus does. They do not want to give up the power and control they have been given or acquired. They do not want to face the possibility of freedom for others that is found in the year of jubilee. When someone is freed, they have to be freed from someone or something, and that is when the balance of control gets upset. Jesus pushes those in control to question their complacency and pushes them to recognize that their relationship with God may not be as it should. They find their discomfort increasingly intolerable and think his crucifixion will bring an end to the matter. They are wrong. Jesus rose from the dead to show that the freedom that is promised by God and found in God even extends to being freed from the grave. The captivity of the grave cannot stop the Holy Spirit.
Friends, that same Spirit that fell upon Jesus is the same spirit that falls upon us. The same Spirit that anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor is the same Spirit that anoints (name of congregant) to bring good news to the poor. It is the same Spirit that sent Jesus to proclaim release to the captives that sends (Name of congregant) to proclaim release to all those who are imprisoned. It is the same Spirit that gave Jesus authority to give sight to the blind that gives (name of congregant) the same authority. The same Spirit that gave Christ his mission gives us, the church, our mission.
God in Christ is still active in the world in and through his church. Jesus still does these things because his church does them. Now we might say we cannot perform these kinds of miracles. However, as individuals we can indeed do much. Remember the Holy Spirit is upon us. But only if we think we are alone are we limited. Christ is with us in and through his body, the church. As his body, collectively, we can also do miracles.
And we are called to do those miracles together here and now. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Do you hear the urgency of that one sentence sermon? The time of God’s Holy Spirit is today, right now. Daily we are called to live into the mission Christ calls us into. Not just the mission field in Africa or some place far away, but in our hometown, on the corner of Washington and Fir Street, La Grande, Oregon. The poor in our neighborhoods gain hope, whether it’s their souls or their bodies that we find starving. The captives experience freedom, whether they are prisoners in a jail or prisoners in the biggest house on the block. The blind receive sight, whether it is from lack of Vitamin K, by cataract surgery at the Grande Ronde Hospital or the scales of prejudice falling off the eyes of someone filled with hate and are blind to the love and grace of God. The oppressed are set free, whether oppression is a political regime or a drug addiction. When Jesus reads that passage in the Nazareth synagogue, he announces the mission statement for himself and for his body, the church. He announces the mission we are called to do with and for him in our world and especially our community today.
So, here we are, remembering a one sentence sermon given two thousand years ago. It had an impact, hasn’t it? Even the day he gave, tempers flared and the people attempted to throw him off a cliff. But as his church, we do more than just remember it. We live into it everyday, no matter the consequences, because Christ is with us, forming us into his people, his body, who will carry his mission into the world. His mission is our mission. Amen.