Gospel: Luke 4:14-21  14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.    16When 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, 17and 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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It was rather sudden, I thought, the announcement that the government would be reopening, at least for three weeks, with a promise of back-pay to the workers to happen very quickly.  I believe this is for all federal workers, but that it doesn’t include those contracted for services like janitorial work within federal spaces.

It matters, because I know what it’s like to make oneself satisfied with what’s in the cupboard, because there’s no money to buy something else.  Sometimes you’re just glad there’s something in that cupboard!

I was reading through some statements given by federal workers in the food lines.  Their statements were poignant, because even in an hour of legitimate need, they didn’t want to be there—as if being in need is some kind of condemnation of one’s value as a person.

I just said, “legitimate need,” didn’t I? …as if needs can in any way be illegitimate…  Oh, I know, some people cheat… and because of that, some tend to judge all the needy as cheaters, or lazy, or something…

The divide in this country has become very large.  Some of our national leaders seem not to understand what it means to need that regular paycheck –on time. 

And I am sorry.

I long for a time that lives in my memory, but never really existed—at least not in my lifetime.  I long for the time when no one ever went hungry, because the people of the community looked out for one another.

I’ve heard stories where this kind of thing happened.   I’m not sure if I can say this without tearing up, but Gust and William would sometimes have to walk with their younger siblings over to the neighbors, because Mom had died some years before and sometimes Dad just didn’t come home.  The neighbors always fed them.  Even in Jesus’ day, though, that wasn’t the normal way of things.  The normal way was for a certain number of people to be hungry, and not eat, captive within their social situations, maybe oppressed by foreign governments, or even by the powerful within their own nations.  It was into that kind of normal that God spoke through Isaiah, and Jesus read those words in the synagogue.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  …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.”

Then he says that today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Let me repeat that.  Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

We’ve heard it many times.  We know Jesus is speaking of himself as he says those words.  Some might remember what comes quickly after that, but we’ll leave that for next week.  What does it mean that this scripture, this writing from the prophet Isaiah, is fulfilled as Jesus reads it?  Here again is the writing:  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.

How far away are these words from us as we sit here today in the pews at Concordia?  How many of us are doing the math, and how many are thinking just in terms of a rough estimate of 2000 years?  How many are thinking maybe that’s not the point? :D

After all, who can limit the Lord’s favor to a specific year, or even a specific person for that matter? 

One might claim, after all, that in the words of President Trump last Friday evening there was a kind of proclamation of freedom or release for those who had gone without their paychecks two months in a row. 

Is that too much of a stretch?  If so, why?

One side might claim that opening the government was premature without securing funding for a specific kind of border security, while another might claim that letting it get that far in the first place was a matter separating the whole thing from Christ-like behavior, and a third might claim it was nothing more than a needed distraction.  Let’s back off from all of that so we can garner some needed perspective.

Jesus proclaimed fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy on a day maybe 1986 years ago.  Probably three years later he was crucified, but was raised up again, gathering all his followers to himself and—there it is, isn’t it?  Our second reading this morning was in First Corinthians 12 (verses 12-31) where Paul writes of the unity of the body, even though the members within that body may be very different.  Are we not gathered as the body of Christ?  And if that prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ 1986 years ago, is it not still fulfilled within his body today?

Is not that prophecy fulfilled every time someone in this body of Christ reaches out to bring good news to the poor, to bring some kind of release to the captive, or some freedom to the oppressed?  Is this prophecy not fulfilled today in the work of senators and representatives and our president as their eyes are opened to see struggles of our people and the need for them to work as a body for this country and this world?

Or maybe that is too much of a stretch.  If so, then let’s relax the rubber band a bit and see if we can’t come up with something more easily acceptable.  Let’s bring it right here, within the bounds of this congregation.

If we can accept that we are all members of the body of Christ, then maybe we can see how this prophecy continues to be fulfilled today, 1986 (or so) years after Jesus claimed it in Nazareth.  Maybe we can find ways to bring good news to the poor—along with all the other things Jesus called forth from the Isaiah prophecy all those years ago.  Maybe we can see ourselves, as part of the body of Christ, as those now anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Lord’s favor, the Lord’s love, and the Lord’s inspiration for this vast creation.  Maybe we are those anointed and sent—in Jesus’ name.  Amen