Theme: An upside down world
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, help us see how we can apply Jesus’ teachings – to see how the world isn’t right and the world and ourselves need to be turned upside down; guide us on the road of repentance where we strive as recipient’s of your grace, through our great preacher, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we pray. Amen.
I confuse “inversion therapy” with “aversion therapy.” The latter (“aversion therapy”) is where you train your dog not to leave your yard, or not dig, or not bark. If only that were true of our dogs.
“Inversion therapy” helps alleviate back and neck pain by taking the usual gravitational press we live with and literally “standing it on its head.” One method is to strap your feet into boots and hang upside down like a big bat. Another method is to strap your whole body to a flat surface that then completely flips upside down, the body suspended head down, feet in the air.
Inversion advocates claim when you exercise while in this upside down position — in other words, when you do sit-ups or torso twists upside down — you are helping your squished, painful vertebrae to expand, realign, and even regenerate. Strengthened by exercise and set free from the constant compression of gravity, sore backs, stiff necks, arthritic hips, can all relax and literally “take a load off.”
But here’s the rub: When our perspective is turned upside down, it is not usually very comfortable. Things look different. Things feel different. Things work different. Things are different.
The world of the Haitian people has turned terrifyingly and tragically upside down. What used to be ceilings and roofs are now floors and heaps of rubble. The center for Haiti’s commerce and government has become the center for devastation and loss. Where there had been roads, there is now impassable ruin. A 7.0 earthquake is no respecter of persons. Both the rich and the poor are homeless, helpless, and hurting. Port-au-Prince is gone. Nothing is the same. Things are different.
What turned Haiti upside down has changed our world as well. Last week the perspective of America was also forced upside down. Remember the tyranny of terrorism and the muscle-flexing of military might that has kept our eyes and energies focused on the far away Middle East? Suddenly overnight the natural disaster in Haiti snapped our hearts and hands back to this side of the world.
Remember the national debate on the need for “full body scans?” Suddenly we were frantically trying to help free bodies from the rubble and ruin.
Remember obsessing over how to keep airliners in American airspace terrorist free? Suddenly we were rushing airplanes filled with emergency supplies and rescue workers to land at an airport that for a few days didn’t even have any air traffic controllers. Pilots had to guide themselves in by chatting with each other, and the tarmac looked like a shopping mall parking lot on Thanksgiving weekend.
Remember sending our troops into a country armed with the latest weaponry? Suddenly we were sending our troops into a country with food, water, medicine, rescue dogs, earth moving equipment, and communications devices.
Who among us has not heard hearts breaking at the horror of the new realities confronting Haiti? But being turned upside down has released a healing spirit of humanity and compassion around the world. And as we identify with the Haitian people, we know we all stand on fragile crusts of earth that can shake us up and shake us down, at any time and any where.
Turning things upside down, shaking up perspectives, shaking down assumptions, was Jesus’ specialty. Jesus taught “inversion therapy” from the moment he began to speak in public until his final breath on the cross. That’s what he did in his hometown of Nazareth.
Jesus returns to Galilee from his baptism by John and from his time of temptations in the wilderness. He taught in many synagogues and received good reviews. News about him spread everywhere and Jesus’ reputation increased in the Galilee region.
Jesus doesn’t go home right away. He seems to deliberately stay away until he has built up his reputation. But he eventually goes to his hometown, Nazareth. Nazareth is a small town of about 300 people. Everyone knows everyone else. The people there are generally poor.
Nazareth is in the Galilee region but is not in the Galilee basin. It sits on at the top of a hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley. Over the top of the hill there is canyon that leads to the Sea of Galilee. It is a four hour walk from Capernaum to Nazareth.
On Saturday, Jesus attends the synagogue service as he usually does. In fact, I was in that synagogue. It’s still there in Nazareth. It was the Sabbath. In Jesus’ time only men attended synagogue. There was typically a reading from the Torah and a reading from the prophets. This would be followed by a sermon or explanation and concludes with a blessing.
There was not often a resident rabbi. Certainly, the people of Nazareth were too poor to afford a rabbi. In these cases, any man could read scripture and comment on it. If someone wants to publically read from scripture that person will stand. Jesus stands and is given a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Jesus unrolls the scroll and finds a particular passage he wants to read. Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2, with a snippet from Isaiah 58 thrown in (58:6). Dividing the Bible into chapters and verses didn’t occur until the middle ages. And words were not separated by spaces. It would take careful reading to find a place to begin reading in those days.
This particular part of Isaiah was written after the Babylonian exile. Some Jews have returned. The people are part of the Persian Empire. Jerusalem was in ruins, including the temple. Jesus was gone from Nazareth and has now returned. Like the exiles, he has returned with a religious fervor that did not exist before the time away.
Jesus reads about the spirit of the Lord being upon the author. This applies to the exiles and to Jesus’ baptism. God will bring good news to the poor. The exiles and those who stayed are very poor. In Luke, the poor refer to those who are on the margins of society. It is to these people that Jesus will bring good news. Some say that Jesus’ reading of this particular passage of Isaiah is the theme for Luke’s gospel.
The prophet was sent by God and so was Jesus to announce the year of the Lord’s favor. This is a reference to the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a commandment of God to occur every 50 years.
During the Jubilee year, any property that was sold is restored to the original owner and all debts are canceled. It was a time for an economic reset. Even non-Jews are to be treated in the same way. By Jesus’ time, the Jubilee was associated with the messiah.
Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down. Everyone was looking at him because the one who reads is allowed to comment on what was read. Having heard about Jesus’ activities in other towns, they waited with baited breath to hear what he would say.
We get a glimpse of why Jesus was a popular preacher – his sermon is one sentence, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Blessed be concise sermons. In other words, Jesus is implying that he is the one doing this.
Jesus comes to the world, bringing God’s grace and liberation. This is good news for all – for the whole person – and for every person. And for the baptized people of God, who have also been anointed by the Holy Spirit, who have also been set free from captivity to sin and guilt, this reading is a commission – to go, hands open wide, to share the good news in word and deed. You have an insert from Episcopal Relief and Development offering you ways to spread the good news by deed to people in great need in Haiti.
The people of Nazareth were livid. Not because the sermon was one sentence. They were probably grateful for that. No, they know Jesus. They saw him grow up. Just who does he think he is? What happens next, we will hear next week. Come back next week, for the rest . . . of the story.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, gift us with your favor, so that we may implement your desire on this broken world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 4:14–21 (NRSV)
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”