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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Epiphany 01/27/2013

The Holy Gospel, according to Luke

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘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.’

And 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. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

The Gospel of the Lord

When I opened this text to read it I had one of those little God surprise moments – maybe you've experienced this too – you pick up something you've read many times before and suddenly it says something totally different – it practically leaps off the page at you. You might have an audible response to it like Ohhh, or maybe ah-ha! In this case for me, it was more like Seriously, God? You've got to be kidding me!

When Larry and I were up here for a visit last spring, Pastor asked me what classes I was taking that fall. I mentioned my intro to preaching class and told him once I had that successfully under my belt, I was free to preach elsewhere.

I told him we would probably try to make a visit in the winter, sometime after Christmas. Would it be OK if I practiced preaching at Bethany? Pastor didn't hesitate for a moment. “Yep, just let me know when you're coming up.” So eventually, the date was set.

Then I opened the text … Jesus goes home to Nazareth! What?! And he preaches in the synagogue for the first time? Wait, don't they try to throw him off a cliff at the end of that story?!

Seriously, God? This is the text for the first time I go home to preach? You've got to be kidding me.

I immediately looked at my calendar to see if there was ANY other weekend that we could come home for a visit … and Larry definitely got a good belly laugh out of the whole thing. But this is the appointed weekend and here we are with the appointed text … And Pastor's assurance I wouldn't be thrown off a cliff.

Jesus and I have both come home. We're both preaching in our faith communities for the first time. I couldn't help but think of the parallels.

I love to come back here to Bethany. It has been a wonderful year and a half at LSTC for me – I've learned so much about the ministry of Word and Sacrament, about myself,  church history, Lutheran confessions, liturgy, pastoral care and I love it … even Greek and Hebrew.

But it's been a pretty crazy pace. Most weeks I put more time into this than I did then the job I left.

So I come home for hiatus. I come to reconnect with the people and the land and the big lake down the hill. I come back for the hugs and love. To catch up with people, hear stories about how everyone is doing, find out who are the newest snowbirds. I come home and delight in the fact that Preston and Bryan Smith are being baptized and welcomed into the faith community that has been such a positive force in the life of my own family. I come back for affirmation that deciding go to seminary at this point in my life isn't completely crazy. I come home for the care and I get it, abundantly.

Maybe Jesus went home for the care too. I mean think about where he's come from.

He's just been baptized too, and  by this regional, wild-eyed superstar who's out in the middle of the Jordan River warming up the crowds for the ministry Jesus is just beginning. And it's a radical ministry. John the Baptist has been assuring us … it's nothing we've ever seen before,.

Into this scene walks Jesus. When he is baptized the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice starts booming out of the sky – You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased. And I think seminary is intense?

But that's just the beginning of this intensity for Jesus because then, full of this Spirit,  he's catapulted into the wilderness for 40 days where there's nothing to eat, no water, no place to rest his head and nobody to hang around with except this prickly character who's dogging him with temptations to use the power of God of serve and save himself.

That's a pretty harsh first-call experience. But I also wonder through all of this testing and prodding and stretching and challenging, was Jesus' ministry being strengthened and tempered like my call to ministry has been in the last year and a half?

Regardless, I can understand why Jesus would want to go home for some respite after all of this. After the encounter with the eccentric John the Baptist and then 40 days surviving the extreme conditions of the wilderness I could see how he'd want to go back to the familiars of home. He could break bread with his family, sit around a fire at night and catch up his friends, maybe do a little theology over a cup wine. 

And then he goes to synagogue – his faith community, the place where he was brought up – and, like me, he's invited to read the text appointed for that day. It's a passage from Isaiah and he's probably read it many times before. But this time … in light of what's happened, in light of where he is going … it's different.

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.’ 

Jesus stops reading here and hands the scroll back to the attendant. He's sits down to teach and open up the text. All eyes in the synagogue are upon him. They are waiting to hear what Jesus has to say. .. And... why didn't he go on and read more of the passage – the part about how those who are doing the oppressing would suffer the vengeance of God?  

I have to wonder … did Jesus read those words from Isaiah and think ...This is the appointed reading when I come home to my brothers and sisters of Nazareth? You've got to be kidding me!

 Because Jesus knew where this ministry was taking him next. Nazareth was among the first stops on his way up to Jerusalem. The wait was nearly over and could be counted in the steps remaining in that intense journey to the cross and to our new lives three days later.

So even though it seems kind of cute and clever to play with the fact the Jesus and I have come home to preach for the first time, it's really quite different.

While I come home to Bethany preaching for the first time on my journey to becoming a minister of  Word and Sacrament, Jesus is the Word and Sacrament.

While I will continue to learn and practice ministry and preaching the good news, Jesus is the good news. He's the good news to the poor – those who struggle to keep their bellies full and homes warm in these long U.P. winters. Those who feel poor in spirit, in their closeness to God. Those who are poor in health or stamina or hope.

Jesus is our release from the captivity of death. He has thrown open wide the gates of heaven where we all will return to live fully in God's kingdom.

Jesus does make it possible for all to see – the blind, the rich and powerful, the marginalized, the distracted, the skeptical. The reign of God is now crystal clear and we are freed to life in that kingdom – and not just when we die, but right here and right now.

The Messiah has come home to this assembly – far from Nazareth – and is with us every time we gather around the font and welcome new brothers and sisters like  Preston and Bryan. 

We are reminded of it each time we come here … to this table on the top of this hill in Ishpeming – Every time we take bread in our hands and drink from a cup that embodies the promises made to us in the passage from Isaiah that Jesus just read to us.

It's where we are forever freed and forever graced. And it goes out with us each time we leave and head back to our lives outside of this place.

The wait is over.

Today … in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus ... this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Amen.

Ann Gonyea-Alexander

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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