Sermon: Ordinary 3, Year C
Text: Luke 1:1-14; 4:14-21
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the expressions I remember as a nipper was: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” As children so often do, instead of physically fighting with one another we used to have a “war of words” by calling each other names.
It was to inflict insults and get somebody upset, and maybe even make them cry. One of the popular ways to defend yourself; one of the techniques for trying to deflect the name calling, and pretend that it wasn’t really bothering you, was to say: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Those are just words; they can’t hurt me.
But the truth is, they did hurt—those names, those words made a difference, and sometimes they cut deeply and really hurt.
Do words really make a difference? Words have enormous influence: the power to change lives, to create or to destroy, to build up or to knock down.
• Words of a powerful world leader which bring a country to war.
• Words of a helpless child who begs his Mum and Dad to stop fighting.
• Words of anguish and desperation—“I want a divorce.”—which rip a family apart.
• What about the simple words “I’m sorry?”—words from the heart and soul, words which heal and give hope?
Just words you say? Think again. Words have real power. Words make things happen. Words change lives.
Jesus grew up in a small community where everybody knew him. If he had misbehaved on his way home from school, his mother heard about it by the time he got home (or am I perhaps thinking of my own Devon childhood again?). He was like any other Jewish boy—growing up he heard and memorized his sacred scriptures, and he was shaped by them.
But today, in his own town, his own synagogue, things are different: today everything changes. Today Jesus preaches his first sermon to his own people. He had grown up in front of them and now he was saying: “Today I’m fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah . . . in your hearing—God has called me to bring Good News to the poor, liberty to the captive, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.”
You can almost hear the sharp intake of breath from the pews: If Jesus is the son of Joseph, that local craftsman who used to have the workshop down Straight Street, what gives him the right to preach and teach us? Shouldn’t he be there working with his hands?
For the first time, Jesus preached a living word to them. Some rejoiced, some repented, others became hostile, and all wondered what this word was going to do to them when they heard it.
Every Sunday we come to this place and we hear that same Word. Tradition teaches us that when that word is proclaimed it is Christ himself who is speaking: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament are perfectly balanced, and one cannot be fed by the body of Christ without having been fed by his holy word. These words do not destroy or undermine, but build: build the body of Christ and are just as essential to our spiritual journey as his blessed sacrament.
But is that what we really believe? If it was, wouldn’t we be listening and concentrating as best as we could, sitting on the very edges of our seats excited about what God has to say to each one of us? Jesus read and preached in the synagogue. Today we listen, but do these words change anything? Or are we looking for comfort of the same words we’ve heard over and over, year-after-year, Sunday-after-Sunday, changing nothing but making everything familiar and comfortable?”
What does this word have to do with us? What does this word do to us when we hear it? “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free?” Are we oppressed, do we need to be set free, are we imprisoned or exiled, are we downtrodden? Besides, the captives are in prison because that’s where they belong. The poor could become rich if they’d just get a job. The disabled and the disadvantaged? They’ve got laws to take care of them. What do they have to do with us?
But what if Our Lord had said: “Your mortgages are paid-off, your credit card balances have been taken care of, those terrible mistakes you made years ago, the hurt you caused, the damage you did, all record of it is gone, you’re forgiven. Your cancer has been cured?” Would that make a difference—would Jesus then have our attention?
But that isn’t what he said. Maybe those words of Christ were meant to unnerve us. Maybe those words were supposed to make us sit and think, examine our behaviour, and get us to act in a different way. Possibly Christ was trying to challenge our attitudes and confront our prejudices. Just maybe Our Lord was attempting to show us that our faith has everything to do with justice, economics, poverty, and other real world issues.
The words of Jesus Christ first proclaimed in that synagogue, and his words we hear every time we gather in his name—do they make a difference to us? Do we try live better lives, are we more understanding, do we become less tolerant of the status quo, are we more generous in our community and in our parish?
Those words spoken by Christ are supposed to be fulfilled in our hearing. Every one of us here brings life to those words—we give them voice, we walk with them, and we act with them. There are the poor, the captive, the morally and spiritually blind and the downtrodden, not just out there, where there are many, but I bet that describes most of us as well!
St Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) reminds us:
Christ has no body now on earth but ours,
no hands but ours, no feet but ours;
ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world,
ours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good
and ours are the hands with which He has to bless us now.
Without us those words of Isaiah are rendered barren and lifeless. We make them real. Do we really believe the words we hear? When we enter this sacred space, when we open our ears and our hearts to God’s words, we commit ourselves to Christ’s mission on earth.
Ask yourself this week: how can I make His words ring true, where are the poor, captive, blind and downtrodden in my midst and how can I proclaim Good News, Liberty, Sight and Freedom on behalf of the one who makes all things new. Today. In our earshot.