Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Moira writes, As you light your candle in preparation for worship this morning, you may wish to focus for a minute on this image of Jesus in the Synagogue by James Tissot, as he prepares to read from the scroll of Isaiah.

The words that Jesus reads sets out a manifesto (or agenda) for a way of living and says that “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In this final sentence Jesus was claiming that the words of Isaiah were about himself. That is why the people in the synagogue were so upset. Nazareth was the home town of Jesus and everyone knew him as the carpenter’s son, so what right did he have to make such a claim.

You may wish to pause here to read Luke 4.14-21.

In the prophecy from Isaiah Jesus was given to read in the synagogue, we see set out, what Jesus’ ministry will be and who He will seek out to serve, just as Isaiah declared in the prophecy what his ministry would be.

In this opening address, some of the themes sound familiar to those set out by our own political leaders – issues of freedom, finding new ways to help those in need, how to tackle those oppressed by war, the nations’ health. But the impetus that Jesus had is different from our political leaders. Rather than a new commitment to an old ideal, with Jesus a new reality is offered. The hope that Jesus proclaims is a reality, not a pie in the sky promise which may or may not come to fruition.

The words of the prophet Isaiah serve as an outline for Jesus’ life and mission and within it we can discern two things; the people to whom Jesus is being sent, and the nature of his ministry to them. So who are the people that Jesus is being sent to? Luke tells us that Jesus will tend the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Some like to interpret Luke’s words with a spiritual meaning, the poor in spirit, those caught up in material things, those blind to the word of God and those weighed down by sin. But it would seem that this would not be fair or true to the life and ministry of Jesus if that was all we could see in these words.

Surely the people mentioned here by Luke are not just symbols, but real people. They are the socially excluded, those who by circumstance of birth are not allowed to be a part of the mainstream of society. In Jesus’ day they were the Gentiles, Samaritans, lepers, women and tax collectors. In our day they are the homeless, the refugees, and those who do not conform to our idea of ‘normal behaviour.’

They are the religiously excluded. In the time of Jesus, they were the uncircumcised, the publicans, the sinners, and women taken in adultery, whom the Pharisees would rather stone than redeem. In our day they include murderers, abusers, addicts and others we would rather condemn than redeem.

They are the economically excluded. In Jesus’ day and in ours, they are the poor, those who are dependent on others for support. Because of their economic circumstances they have no power, no influence and no real place in society. They are easily discounted, dismissed and defeated.

But what is this freedom that Jesus proclaimed in his address in the synagogue? Well firstly it points to a relationship with God. The only way that our brokenness, the brokenness of the human condition can be overcome, is through our relationship with the one who overcomes the world. In other words, we need to have a redemptive relationship with God. This is the only way we can be truly free. Freedom to live only happens, when we commit ourselves and our lives to the one who is ultimately free. Personal freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Not only do we need to be in a redemptive relationship with God, we must also have a redemptive relationship with those around us. Throughout scripture we find a strong sense of togetherness, of the need for fellowship, the need to ‘love one another as God loves us.’

The need to be aware that what one person does has an effect on others. How can we be free if there are people around us who are being oppressed! We cannot be truly free unless we join together with Jesus in attempting to free others.

Perhaps here you could read 1 Corinthians 12.12- 31a.

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the people of Corinth, reminds then, and us, that we are all part of the body of Christ. We are not alone when we live in God’s love. Just as we need each part of our body to work together, we need the support of each other as we journey on in faith.

Jesus also makes it clear in this address that he will bring freedom to those who are discriminated against, those who face economic deprivation, those who face religious hatred. He tells the people that he has been sent to free the hungry from want, to give refreshment to those who are thirsty and to set free those who have been enslaved.

God wants all of us to be free. That is why he sent his son Jesus into the world to be the proclaimer and bearer of liberation. Jesus seeks to bring about a community of free people who will carry out his mission and who will by doing so, make freedom a reality. As long as one person is not free, the work of God’s liberation is unfinished, and God has chosen us to join with Jesus in his ministry of liberation. How will we respond? Proclamation is more than just words, it’s putting those words into action. And so, this week, we are being challenged by this passage to be the people of God, and our mission is to join with Jesus in fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. We are to be the ones to bring good news to the poor and to do whatever we can to fight against injustice and oppression.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”

In our prayers this morning let us all pray for an end to poverty and hunger. An end to human trafficking and abuse of any kind. An end to vaccine poverty and for all to be able to access medical treatment.
Please pray for those you know who are ill at this time or who are struggling with difficulties in their lives.
Pray for God’s Good News to be spread to all who have not yet heard it.

I wish you all a good week ahead and God’s blessing on you and those you love.