Epiphany 4 Text: Luke 4: 14-21
Before Jesus ever arrives at this moment where we find him in the synagogue, there have been a number of earlier significant events. Some of those are picked up in the Gospel accounts and many more aren’t, or are simply alluded to. We know very little of Jesus’ boyhood for example, but we do know something of his parents who raised him … faithful Jews, people who, in various ways, experienced the reality of God’s presence, guidance, God’s call in their lives. They were part of the community that gathered regularly in their home-town synagogue, and we can imagine Jesus was often in their company there and elsewhere. The fact that we see and hear Jesus turning to and relating to the presence of God as 'Abba' (in our language not just Father but something closer to Daddy), it would seem that something was nurtured in him along the way, giving rise to that kind of intimacy.
While we have a sense of Jesus’ spiritual journey beginning in his mother’s womb, it’s really as an adult that the Gospels show us more … as in that day in his life when Jesus finds himself along with others drawn out into the wilderness, compelled by the call of John--John known as John the Baptist. There was an urgency in John’s message … not unlike the urgency that is sounded these days … calling people to wake up to what’s happening … and to the need and to the possibility of re-orienting our lives. Something in that spoke to Jesus in a powerful way … a sense of deep calling unto deep.
And then something further happened that day where John was inviting people to wade into the river … to participate this ritual that allowed people to enter into and mark with their whole being a surrendering, a turn in their lives to begin again. Well that day in the river, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he experienced the touch, the felt presence of the Holy Spirit, and he heard "a voice out of the heavens" --is how it’s described-- saying to him, claiming him, “you are my beloved son; in you is my pleasure.”
Two powerful experiences of being spoken to … through John’s message, and then right there standing in the river. The next we’re told, Jesus returned from the Jordon river and was led by the Spirit that filled him into a time alone in the wilderness where he --as we might say in this day and age-- discerns the nature of his call. In case we imagine that was a ‘no-brainer’ for Jesus, the Gospels that speak of this experience make clear this was one rigorous process … a process of wrestling, and of being wrestled with by the voices that tempt him to do and be what seems both possible and wonderful. Except that a word of wisdom comes to him. Interestingly in Luke’s telling, that word comes by way of these little gems of sacred scripture that we can imagine have lodged themselves in Jesus being over the years. And through these words that come to him, he sees the appeal to self-aggrandizement for what it is … a pull away from that desire and that claiming he experienced in the river. And so we see him with each temptation, getting clearer … not that, but this, as he grounds himself more deeply in the wisdom of God. Yet another experience of finding himself “spoken to.”
It’s from here, the story has it, that Jesus begins his public ministry.
So then comes the scene we have today … where having come through that rigorous wrestling, Jesus returns to his home town. Here he is, in the synagogue with that community among whom he’s been raised, and on this day he’s handed the scroll to read. It’s the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he searches out this particular passage … and he begins to read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God 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 favour.
That’s it. That’s all he reads. He rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and he sits down to begin teaching. And out of the silence, with all eyes fixed on him, he says “this day, NOW, in your hearing, this text has come true.”
Of all that he might have read, he reads the text that speaks to him.
He reads the text that speaks for him, that speaks of him. He reads the text that he realizes has his name on it. He reads the text that reads him … that has come off the page and is alive in him!
And so the word became flesh.
Notice in Luke’s Gospel, that’s not where we started. Before we ever get here, it is in effect these same words that Mary sings to the child in her womb. Through his youth, there are all the passages that were read week-in week-out in the synagogue. There’s the word spoken to him through John the Baptist, and the word spoken to him in the river, and the word that spoke to him in the wrestling. And now, this word from the scroll given to him in the synagogue … all of them weaving their way through his being, forming and informing him, and ultimately empowering him to live the Word, to become the Word … a living expression of God’s liberating, healing, passionate life.
So many are the ways God speaks … through the voice of another person; through another’s embrace, their care, their suffering; through the natural world; through the energy of a group gathered around a common cause or quest; through singing; through reading; through prayer; at the table; through the sacred text. The ways are limitless. The whole creation is alive with God’s Word!
There’s a story that I brought to our Board retreat last Wednesday that I want to share with you this morning. To my ears it’s a parable of sorts … the kind of story that doesn’t so much have a point as it functions to leave us puzzled and puzzling. It’s the way of parables to dislodge our presumptions. So in offering you this story I invite you to receive it as something not so much to be figured out as maybe over time it works to figure us out.
“Once upon a time there was a very pious Jewish couple. They had married with great love and the love never died. Their greatest hope was to have a child so their love could walk the earth with joy.
Yet there were difficulties. And since they were very pious, they prayed and prayed and prayed. With that, along with considerable other efforts, lo and behold the wife conceived. When she conceived, she laughed louder than Sarah laughed when she conceived Isaac. And the child leapt in her womb more joyously than John leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary visited her. And nine months later there came rumbling into the world a delightful little boy.
They named him Mordecai and the sun and moon were his toys. He was rambunctious, zestful, gulping down the days and dreaming through the nights. He grew in age and wisdom and grace until it was time to go to the synagogue and learn the Word of God.
The night before his studies were to begin his parents sat Mordecai down and told him how important the Word of God was. They stressed that without the Word of God Mordecai would be an autumn leaf in the winter’s wind. He listened wide-eyed.
Yet the next day he never arrived at the synagogue. Instead he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees.
When he came home at night, the news had spread throughout the small village. Everyone knew of his shame. His parents were beside themselves. They did not know what to do.
So they called in the behaviour modificationists who modified Mordecai’s behaviour, so there was no behaviour of Mordecai that was not modified. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees.
So they called in the psychoanalysts, who unblocked Mordecai’s blockages, so there were no more blocks for Mordecai to be blocked by. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lake and climbing the trees.
His parents grieved for their beloved son. There seemed to be no hope.
It was at this time that the great Rabbi visited the village. And the parents said, “Ah! perhaps the Rabbi.” So they took Mordecai to the Rabbi and told him their tale of woe. The Rabbi bellowed, “Leave the boy with me and I will have a talking to him.”
Mordecai’s parents were terrified. So he would not go to the synagogue but to leave their beloved son with this lion of a man … But they had come this far and so they left him.
Now Mordecai stood in the hallway and the great Rabbi stood in his parlour. He beckoned, “Boy, come here.” Trembling, Mordecai came forward.
And then the great Rabbi picked him up and held him silently against his heart.
His parents came to get him and they took Mordecai home. The next day he went to the synagogue to learn the Word of God. And when he was done, he went to the woods. And the Word of God became one with the word of the woods which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he swam in the lake. And the Word of God became one with the word of the lake which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he climbed the trees. And the Word of God became one with the word of the trees which became one with the word of Mordecai.
And Mordecai himself grew up to become a great man. People came to him who were seized with inner panic and with him they found peace. People came to him who were without anybody and with him they found communion. People came to him with no exits and with him they found a way out.
And often he said, “I first learned the Word of God when the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.”
I wonder about the Word of God that has come to you? How it came? Through whom or what did it come to you?
And where has it taken you? What has it made of you?
Have you ever unrolled the scroll as Jesus did to find there, to read and receive a Word with your name on it in that collection of ancient pages brimming with life and testimony of the Holy Spirit?
What about that Word of God that has come to you … come alive in you … the Word that you are … are becoming?
 printed in An Experience Named Spirit, by John Shea, Chicago, Illinois: Thomas Moore Press, p.115-117.