The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 4:14-21

THE OLD TESTAMENT LESSON FOR TODAY IS THE STORY OF THE READING OF THE WORD OF GOD TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. THIS EVENT TOOK PLACE AFTER THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL HAD RETURNED TO THE PROMISED LAND FROM SEVENTY YEARS OF EXILE IN BABYLON. IT WOULD BE SAFE TO ASSUME THAT ALMOST NO ONE PRESENT HAD BEEN BORN IN ISRAEL, SO THEY HAD COME TO A HOME THEY DID NOT KNOW, AND TO REBUILD AN UNFAMILIAR COUNTRY AND CULTURE. THE FIRST TASK WAS DEFENSE, SO WHEN THE CITY WALLS HAD BEEN COMPLETED, THE GOVERNOR, NEHEMIAH, CALLED THE PEOPLE TOGETHER TO CELEBRATE. HE HAD THE CHIEF PRIEST, EZRA, AND THE LEVITES, READ THE WORD OF GOD TO THE PEOPLE. THIS WAS NOT JUST A STRAIGHT READING OF THE TEXT, AS WAS DONE HERE LAST WEEKEND AT THE MIQRA GATHERING, BUT WAS A READING OF A PASSAGE FOLLOWED BY AN EXPLAINATION OF THE PASSAGE. THIS WAS THE FIRST RECORDED EXAMPLE OF EXPOSITORY PREACHING; WHAT STEVE AND I DO FROM THIS PULPIT EACH SUNDAY. WE STUDY THE TEXT AND TRY TO EXPLAIN WHAT IT MEANS TO US HERE AND NOW.

BY THE TIME OF THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT FOR TODAY, THE EXPOSITION OF THE WORD OF GOD WAS A COMMON FEATURE IN THE LIFE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. THIS WAS DONE BY THE PHARISEES AND LEVITES AS MEANS OF STUDYING THE LAW; BUT IT WAS DONE BY THE COMMON PEOPLE AS WELL. THE SYNOGOGUE BEGAN AS A SORT OF COMMUNITY CENTER FOR THE VILLAGE, WHERE ALL SORTS OF ACTIVITIES TOOK PLACE, INCLUDING THE VILLAGE SCHOOL. SINCE ONE COULD GET TO THE TEMPLE ONLY ONCE A YEAR, THE SYNAGOGUE BECAME THE PLACE TO HAVE A WORSHIP SERVICE ON THE SABBATH. OVER THE CENTURIES, THIS SERVICE DEVELOPED A FORMAT WE WOULD RECOGNIZE TODAY; INCLUDING PSALMS, PRAYERS, AN APPOINTED READING FOR THE WEEK FROM A WELL DESIGNED LECTIONARY, AFTER WHICH THE PRESIDENT OF THE SYNAGOGUE WOULD ASK AN ADULT MEMBER TO GIVE AN EXPOSITION OF THE TEXT. THE TEXT WOULD BE READ STANDING UP, WHILE THE EXPOSITION WOULD BE GIVEN FROM A SITTING POSITION; FROM A SPECIAL SEAT CALLED MOSES’ SEAT. THEN FOLLOWED QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, ARGUMENTS, AND EVEN OBJECTIONS TO THE INTERPRETATION. THANK GOODNESS WE HAVE STOPPED THAT PART.

ALL THAT WAS IN THE WAY OF PROVIDING SOME CONTEXT FOR THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY. JESUS HAD BECOME A BIT OF A SENSATION AS HE TRAVELED THE REGION TEACHING AND PREACHING; HE HAD NOT YET PERFORMED ANY HEALINGS OR OTHER MIRACLES. WHEN HE FINALLY RETURNED TO HIS HOME TOWN, THE PEOPLE WERE EXCITED TO HEAR WHAT THIS FAMEOUS LOCAL YOUNG MAN HAD TO SAY. SO, OF COURSE, WHEN HE WENT TO THE SYNAGOGUE ON THE SABBATH, AS WAS HIS CUSTOM, THE PRESIDENT OF THE SYNAGOGUE INVITED HIM TO READ THE TEXT FOR THE DAY AND PROVIDE THE EXPOSITION. HE TOOK THE SCROLL HANDED TO HIM, STOOD UP, UNROLLED IT TO THE PORTION FOR THE DAY AND READ; THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE HAS ANNOINTED ME TO BRING GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM THE RELEASE OF CAPTIVES AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO LET THE OPPRESSED GO FREE, TO PROCLAIM THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOR.” THEN HE ROLLED UP THE SCROLL, RETURNED IT TO THE ATTENDANT, SAT ON THE SEAT OF MOSES, AND GAVE A ONE SENTENCE EXPOSITION: “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE HAS BEEN FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.”

WE REALLY CAN’T TELL IF THIS WAS ALL HE SAID, OR IS A SUMMARY OF HIS SERMON; AND IF YOU WANT TO KNOW THE REACTION TO HIS EXPOSITORY SERMON, COME BACK NEXT SUNDAY. THIS ONE SENTENCE SERMON CAN BE CONSIDERED AS JESUS’ INAUGERAL ADDRESS, IN WHICH HE CLEARLY STATES HIS PURPOSE AND HIS PROMISE. THE PASSAGE HE READ FROM THE PROPHET ISAIAH IS ABOUT THE COMING OF THE PROMISED ONE, THE ANNOINTED OF GOD, THE MESSIAH, AND JESUS SAID THAT, IN HEARING HIM SPEAK THE WORD OF GOD, THAT PROMISE HAS BEEN FULFILLED.

AS LUTHER WROTE IN HIS CATHECHISM, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?” MORE POINTEDLY, WE SHOULD ASK, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME; WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO YOU?” IF WE, INDEED, BELIEVE THAT THE PROMISE OF GOD HAS BEEN FULFILLED IN JESUS, THE ANNOINTED ONE, THEN THE WHOLE OF HIS MINISTRY, HIS ENTIRE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION, MUST HAVE A DETERMINATIVE INFUENCE ON THE WAY WE LIVE THIS LIFE. IN OUR FAITH, OUR TURST, THAT JESUS IS THE WORD OF GOD MADE FLESH, WE ARE CALLED INTO THE LIFE OF THE ANNOINTED OF GOD. THIS IS WHY WE ARE MARKED WITH OIL AT OUR BAPTISM; IN CHIRST WE BECOME ANNOINTED INTO HIS MINSITRY AS OUR OWN. IN HIM, WE ARE NO LONGER JUST HEARERS OF THE WORD OF GOD, BUT ARE THE ACTIVE EXPOSITORS OF THE WORD OF GOD TO THE WORLD.

AS PAUL WROTE IN HIS LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS, “YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST AND INDIVIDUALY MEMBERS OF IT,” SO THE MINISTRY OF THE CHRIST IS OUR MINISTRY. HOW, THEN, DO WE BRING GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR, PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVE AND SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO LET THE OPPRESSED GO FREE, AND PROCLAIM THE YEAR OF GOD’S FAVOR? IT IS BY WHAT WE DO IN LIVING OUT THE WORD OF GOD IN OUR LIVES. WE MUST SEARCH OUT THE GIFT THAT GOD HAS GIVEN EACH OF US TO DO THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST FOR THE WORLD. WE ARE NOT ALL CALLED TO PREACH, BUT WE ARE ALL CALLED TO SERVE IN SOME WAY. WE EACH HAVE TIME, TALENTS, AND ABILITIES THE BODY OF CHRIST CAN USE; WE EACH HAVE HANDS TO TURN TO THE MISSION.

THE BEST EXPOSITORY SERMON WE CAN EVER PREACH, THE OPENING UP OF THE WORD OF GOD TO ANOTHER, IS TO SHOW THEM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS IN WHAT WE DO. THEN, INDEED, THE WORD OF GOD WILL BE FULFILLED IN THEIR HEARING.

AMEN

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