Coming Home

Sermon preached on February 3, 2019 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Coming Home

Today, our lectionary has Jesus dressed in the most interesting outfit for his trip home to the synagogue in Nazareth. From our first lesson, he has a shirt that looks homemade – pieced together from a layette – the outfits God picked out for him before he was born in Jeremiah’s text, the shirt carefully stitched together by his mother Mary.

And around his waist you can catch a glimpse of the climbing gear of his teens. Clipped to his climbing harness he has carabiners and a chalk pouch – contributed by our psalm, with its rock-climbing verse: Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. (Psalm 71:3)

None of this outfit goes all that well with the tuxedo jacket that comes with our reading from I Corinthians, the wedding text. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that Jesus completes the outfit not with the rest of the tux wear and wingtips – but that he’s wearing worn-through Carhartt pants and hand me down work boots. An odd image to be sure, but it’s an odd collection of texts.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter what he’s wearing when Jesus arrives in Nazareth. The hometown crowd is just glad to see him, this Jesus they have known. They welcome him into the synagogue. Until he reads from the text and sits down to teach, and then things begin to shift.

Maybe they become convinced that he is really who he is rumored to be – the miracles are true. And they think there’ll be a distinct advantage to be had for those in his hometown, and they begin to work the angles. Or maybe they see him with increased cynicism: He speaks like a prophet, but we’ve known him all his life… and we know better.

The way Luke writes about their response, you can interpret it either way. But it’s clear that Jesus is certain about the central message of God’s good news, Jesus is focused on the Great Jubilee.

Jubilee is an ideal that was revered in ancient Israel, though it’s not clear if it was ever truly put into practice. The Jubilee was meant to happen every 50th year, as a way of rebooting or restarting society as a whole. When Jubilee was declared, slaves would go free, debts were cancelled, and liberty proclaimed, “throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10)

This is a relief for the most vulnerable in Israel, but Jubilee is more than that – it’s also understood as a way of protecting Israel from dramatic or entrenched long term inequality. At the Jubilee property returned to its original owners, which would preserve Israel’s founding clan structure, by periodically restoring their landholdings. Effectively preventing any one clan from becoming dominant over the others. Keeping the balance established with the founding of the 12 tribes.

When Jesus declares the Great Jubilee, he’s drawing on these ancient themes of liberty and equality. He’s proclaiming a new era of redemption and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth. This is great news for the vulnerable, and truly unsettling news for anyone whose interests are invested in the privileges of the status quo.¹

Which explains some of the reaction we see in the text this morning. This is difficult news for many. As noted, the hometown crowd’s response is open for some interpretation. They’re either skeptical that Joseph’s son is the anointed one and they want proof; or they’re looking to work this to their advantage, as the hometown favorites. Either way, Jesus is having none of it. He rebukes them by referencing stories of prophets who bless outsiders over insiders; adding for good measure, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” The people are offended, embarrassed, and furious. For them this isn’t good news, it’s not what they want to hear, Jesus’s words are challenging, disturbing. So, they drive him out of town. They actually try to drive him off a cliff, but he gets away.

For Luke this episode sets a theme we hear throughout the Gospel – the good news is proclaimed and addressed particularly to outsiders – and insiders are outraged by it.² Jesus spends his ministry provoking and challenging people, particularly those inside the tradition. He challenges us to examine our motives, convictions, and ways of life. And if we’re honest, we, like the hometown folks in the synagogue, probably find it easier to live our lives for our own sake, for the sake of the status quo. Because most of us have it pretty good as it is, and a major shift like the one implied in Jubilee, is not in our best interest. It’s difficult to imagine living for the sake of all of God’s creation, for the sake of God’s Great Jubilee. It’d be easier to downplay it, or think of it in the abstract. But the Gospel challenge before us is: can those of us who have so much – hear the Good News of God’s Jubilee?

I think we can, if we remember a few important things. In Luke’s Gospel salvation is universal. Truly – salvation is meant for everyone and all of creation. The essence of the Great Jubilee is that everyone will have enough. And when there is truly enough: enough food and water, enough shelter and safety, enough justice and mercy; when everyone has enough to thrive as beloved children of God, and all creation as well; then we have Jubilee, and the kingdom of God will be near.

Jesus calls us to embrace the Great Jubilee – which will fill the hungry with good things and free the captives, and otherwise restore the community to balance. First, for those most in need, but also for all of humanity. If we listen to what Jesus is saying with trust and love, we can hear it as Good News.

Consider the core of Jubilee: to address hunger, to free from oppression, to lift up the lowly, and to unburden people so everyone can live abundantly. Now consider our culture: overwhelmed by anxiety, exhausted by daily life that is unsustainable, suffering from grand scale depression (and self-medicating with drugs, alcohol and the internet); and starving for connection and meaning.

God’s Jubilee: addresses hunger, frees from oppression, lifts up the lowly, and unburdens people so everyone can live abundantly.

In the simplest terms God’s Jubilee calls for less of this life, and more of God’s Love. Jubilee calls us to trust in God’s Love and release our white-knuckle grip on this world’s stuff: our need to control everything, our fear of a moment that isn’t filled with programming or noise of some kind, our racing from one thing to the next, all that doing and proving, all that competing. Our living out loud, as if everyone were watching. Jubilee allows us to let all that go and fill our lives with something worthy of our lives. Trust that God has loved you all your life, from before you were formed in the womb, and you have purpose and meaning, just by being YOU. Trust in God’s radical, inclusive love for everyone – which will truly benefit all, not only you and me. But yes, even you and me.

We participate in God’s Jubilee by paying attention: to the voice of God in our lives, and to the needs of the world. And along the way we may find our vocation – what we are meant to do, our meaning and our purpose. Frederick Buechner writes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”³

It’s not surprising really, we find our path toward who we are meant to become, in part, by participating in making Jubilee a reality for others. Finding our way is almost always entwined in responding to the needs of others, it’s a discerning and knowing, how we are community together.

Which is why Jesus is outfitted the way he is today. It all works together in a strange sort of way. This outfit of love and trust, and who we have been called to become as Jesus proclaims the Great Jubilee – God’s good news for us and for all. Everyone is beloved, everyone is of value, and everyone matters. Each of us, all of us, together.

May we continue to live into our call as individuals and as beloved community caring for one another, and participating in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. Working together to bring God’s loving, liberating and life-giving ways to the world, Amen.


[1] SALT Two Kinds of Fury: Salt Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Four, January 29, 2019.

[2] SALT Two Kinds of Fury: Salt Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Four, January 29, 2019.

[3] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.