Epiphany 3C/Ordinary 3
January 24, 2016
Wow, Jesus really is flavour of the month. Just listen to all the positives in this passage … in the power of the Spirit … a report went out … he taught in their synagogues … glorified by all … eyes of all fixed on him …
Then the bombshell. “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” Boom!
The paparazzi waiting outside were delighted – great sound-bite for the midday news report and Jesus was the hot topic over every cup of coffee. Who is this man? He looks like Yusuf’s eldest. What did he mean? Was he talking about himself?
This was a high-point in Jesus’ ministry. It was one of the few times when no-one was complaining or arguing or trying to chuck him off a cliff. (That’s another 8 verses on.) Everybody loved him, everybody listened to him, everybody ‘liked’ him on Facebook.
We’ve all had times like this – when everything goes well and we feel the world is on our side. Other times, it all goes dreadfully wrong and we can’t wait to go to bed just to get the day over with. Jesus had days like that too. There were plenty of times when people heard Jesus’ words and saw the miracles and even ate the bread and the fish, yet still walked away with their hearts stubbornly closed. People misinterpreted him, lied about him and accused him of being in league with the devil. They humiliated him, beat him up and eventually killed him.
Pretty bad days. Where was ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ then? Where was the anointing? Where was the Lord’s favour?
Still there. Still exactly where it had always been. None of the bad stuff meant that the reading today was any less true that it had been in the glory days.
What Jesus had was not just the temporary ‘up’ of having a good day – passing the test, finding that thing you’d lost and winning the office quiz, plus having really good hair. It was a much bigger, deeper kind of ‘up’. It was the kind of ‘up’ that stays up even when the scaffolding underneath is taken away.
Ignatius of Loyola called this state ‘consolation’. It is much more than just feeling good because things are going well. It is an abiding joy that goes way beyond happy. It is the state of knowing that you are walking in step with God and it is not dependent on the circumstances.
It was this ‘consolation’ or abiding joy that enabled Paul and Silas to sing hymns of praise in the Philippian jail. Later, Paul did not mind whether he was in prison or not, even if he lived or not, because he was sure that he was doing what he should be doing. (Phil 1) He was walking in step with God and so he could stride forward confidently. If it led to huge crowds and Caesar, that was fine. If it led to unseen drudgery and apparently fruitless ministry, that was fine. If it lead to prison and martyrdom, that was fine too.
Jesus knew that he was walking in step with God, both here in our reading, in the glory days, and later, when the wind of opinion became a gale against him. That firm conviction stayed with him even in the most dire of circumstances. If it was going well and people loved him, that was fine. If it was not going well and people were baying for his blood, that was fine too.
What about today, in our lives? I know that I do not live in that permanent certainly of walking in step with God. I am more in step at some times and awkwardly hobbling behind at others. The first is definitely better. When we are walking in step with God, joining in the work that he is doing, allowing our hearts to beat with his, then we can all know the deep sense of peace – that passes all understanding. (Phil 4:7)
It is the ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ spoken of by Julian of Norwich – no matter what the external circumstances. This is the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness depends on good things happening, and when those change, so does our mood. Happiness requires support from circumstances. Joy, or consolation, requires no external support, it is reliant solely on God.
This is the “rejoice always” of 1 Thess 5:6. It does not mean we have to pretend that life is a happy place when it is not. Sometimes life can be rotten. It means living beyond the rotten. It means knowing that if you are walking in step with God, then even when that walk takes you through muddy places, steep hills or shadowy valleys, it really is OK.
You will need a sheet of paper, two large books, sticky notes and a pen. You will also need a small person such as a Lego figure or tiny doll, or you could make one from a pipe cleaner.
Place the paper flat on the table with the figure on top. Then think of some of the good things in life, such as friends or activities you enjoy – holidays, hobbies, loved ones, pets, health. Write each one on a sticky note and roll it up into a tube. Use the sticky strip to hold it together.
Stand the tubes up under your paper and form a hill over the supports with your little person on the top. These are good times, and it is great to have these. However, if your happiness is dependent on them … knock over the tubes and watch what happen to your person.
Now put each end of the paper on a book, so that it forms a flat bridge. When you put the person over the gap the paper goes down. Some days are bad days. Use your tubes to support the paper and bring it back up. This is how most of us live most of the time. We have ups and we have downs, and it is important to have a good support network to help us through the bad times.
But again, if these external supports are all we have … knock over the tubes again.
We need something more solid; a lasting joy, or consolation, that is not dependent on external circumstances; a deeper, more durable, peace of knowing that we are walking in step with God.
Keep the books in place, but this time bend the paper and place it between them, not on top of them. It will form a hill shape with the ends on the table and the top will easily hold up the little person with no other support needed.
teach me to hear to the beat of your heart,
teach me to see your work and to work with you,
teach me to walk in step, neither in front nor behind,
but always keeping pace with you.
Luke 4:14-21 English Standard Version
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and 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 proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.