I preached this morning. A long time before a hotly contested election tied to race, gender, and social strata, I made plans to preach from the infamous household codes in Ephesians 5. God certainly has a sense of humor. But the text of my sermon wasn’t the only one looping through my mind.
2016 has been no cakewalk for many of us. Honestly, it’s been pretty rough for me, both in current affairs and my personal life. This week didn’t help. I spent Tuesday night, regardless of my disagreement with the winner himself, watching so many preexisting fault lines explode into undeniable pain. I slept horribly, face down on my couch as Scrubs played on the TV.
I woke up Wednesday, hours before my alarm, and within minutes God pushed a text into my mind. I don’t like putting words in God’s mouth, but I was far too sleepy and cumulatively depressed to think of this one on my own. That’s the text that has been washing over me for most of a week now.
It’s a story about another sermon, one of the best (and shortest) sermons ever preached. At its core, a good sermon is a piece of Scripture with an explanation connecting the then to the now. And that’s exactly what Jesus did in Luke’s account upon returning from the temptation in the wilderness. On the Sabbath, Jesus spoke at his local synagogue. He began by reading from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The crowd would have loved this. This was the “next year in Jerusalem” of ancient Judaism. In it the downtrodden could find hope that Messiah was coming, the angry could find strength to shake their fist at the oppression of Israel, and all could know things wouldn’t always be like this. It was deeply political and outright treasonous but, like how we reduce much of Christianity today, ultimately toothless as long as it remained as wishful thinking. Then something radical happened. Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The entire moment shifts from a longing sigh for the future to a carpenter’s son claiming that, right now in all the hell and horror, “one of these days” is today. Jesus claimed now to be the year of the Lord’s favor, the ultimate Jubilee and resetting of the world. In the midst of devastation, Jesus set out a feast.
I know this radical, treasonous hope makes little more sense to those who live in terror today than it did to those in Jesus’ time, but my heart can’t escape the call to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor with my mouth and enact it with my hands and feet. Maybe you aren’t there yet, and that’s ok. Sit as long as you need to. Cry. Grieve. When you’re ready, there’ll be a plate waiting at for you the table.
Christians, and fellow ministers especially, we have some people scared and hurting in our churches and wider communities. Fear of the future, the loss of previous cultural expectations, economic loss, and even bodily injury or death. No matter who we voted for, we can stand with the oppressed or we can stand against Jesus. It really is that simple. This is the time to be the church. If we follow the Middle Eastern former refugee who proclaimed a new day in the depths of oppression, not being an oppressor isn’t enough. We can weep like Jesus. We can be angry like Jesus. We can get between oppressor and oppressor like Jesus. We can give up our life like Jesus. But we can’t find solace in not being the bad guy. Because in troubled times, our Savior has proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor.