Thursday, September 28, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 1

Reflection on Luke 4:14-30

This is a time of new beginnings. We are beginning a new academic year. We are beginning a new program year at the Episcopal Campus Ministry and at the United Methodist Campus Ministry. For me, it is my first year as an ordained clergy person. For some of you, this is the beginning of a new way of life – a life away from your parents, on your own, possibly for the first time – a life as an adult. All of these are significant new beginnings.

New beginnings are terribly exciting. There is the sense of excitement and exhilaration at the prospect of starting something new, of becoming someone new, of entering into new possibilities. There is a sense of anticipation about what will yet be. But, at the same time, new beginnings can bring a sense of uncertainty – they hold an element of the unknown, potentially bringing with them a sense of confusion, questioning, or even fear. What will this new thing, this new phase of my life look like? What will it feel like? How will I be changed by the experience?

Today’s scripture passage provides some guidance to help us face new beginnings head-on. The passage we just read from Luke tells of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In his first public act following his baptism and being tested in the wilderness, Jesus goes to Nazareth, his home town. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read. Unlike today, there was not a fixed lectionary – a designated set of readings for the day. Jesus had the opportunity to choose the lesson that he would read and use as a basis for the subsequent teaching – for the equivalent of the sermon. What passage did he chose?

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.

On the surface, this was a pretty typical passage to be selected for reading in the synagogue. This passage, which would have been known to all Jews, is about the hope of the coming of the Messiah – a pretty good, and pretty safe topic for the start of public ministry. But then Jesus blows the congregation out of the water. He begins his teaching by saying “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Right off the bat, he basically equates himself with the Messiah – that he has been anointed by God to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to free the oppressed. Talk about a gutsy statement for your first day of ministry! Now, of course at this point in his public ministry, which had only just begun, Jesus had not accomplished all these things. But what he was doing was laying out the agenda for his ministry – he was giving a preview of what he would accomplish over the next three years. Of course, on this side of Christ’s death and resurrection, we know that while these things he cited in Luke were pretty miraculous, they were only a fraction of what he would ultimately accomplish during his ministry – of what he would accomplish on our behalf.

Did Jesus know exactly what his public ministry would entail? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But one thing is certain from this Gospel lesson – he had a vision for what his ministry would look like and he was able to boldly proclaim that vision by taking the words of scripture and applying them to himself, by making them his own.

By starting this year by attending this worship service, we are making a statement about the true source of our visions and the source of strength that will help us achieve those visions, just as Jesus did in that synagogue in Nazareth. As we begin this new year, this new phase of our journeys, I challenge each of us to follow the example of Jesus and boldly proclaim our vision for our own paths, and to boldly live into that vision, trusting in the power of the God who sent Jesus to minister to the world, and who likewise sends us to minister to the world in our own unique ways.

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