Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Third Sunday After the Epiphany
January 23, 2022
We don’t talk about Jesus
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For the first time in 10 years, Disney has a new hit song. Kids, and let's be honest…adults too, are no longer singing, “Let it go.” They are now sing, “We don't talk about Bruno, no, no, no.” If you haven’t seen Encanto, seriously, go and watch it. We have watch it probably 100 times by now. Isaiah and Thomas both love singing the music and doing all the dance moves. Thomas has really gotten into the music. On Friday, I put on the soundtrack while we went and picked up dinner and he was singing along to all the words.
Kids movies today, especially anything Pixar related, have a lot of really minute details that really makes the story line pop. For example, notice when the character Camilo sings about his Tio Bruno, he says, “A seven-foot frame, rats along his back. When he calls your name it all fades to black. Yeah, he sees your dreams and feasts on your screams.” From that description, we get this creepy looking guy who sounds more like a monster than a human. Camilo describes his uncle as a monster not because of his appearance, but because of Burno’s gift. See, every one in the Madrigal family has a gift. Bruno’s gift is that he can see into the future. Which sounds like a pretty good gift to have especially in these days when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, let alone next month. Bruno’s gift turns out to be less of a gift and more of a punishment. His niece, Dolores, sums up the punishment pretty well in the song:
It’s a heavy lift with a gift so humbling
Always left Abuela and the family fumbling
Grappling with prophecies they couldn't understand
Another interesting thing about Bruno is seen in the company of rats, and rats typically associated with the despised and ostracized. So you got Camilo description of Bruno looking and acting like a monster lurking in the night and talking to him means your inevitable doom plus the whole outcast imagery of the rats. Yet when you finally meet him in the film, he is this dorky guy who nobody likes because he tells them the truth and the truth leaves people feeling hurt, called out, and miserable. They don’t like Bruno because he is a prophet.
I remember watching these silly, cartoon shows in Sunday called “Superbook.” The characters would travel back in time and watch the biblical stories happen. They would get to interact with the Biblical characters, but they couldn’t change the outcome. I always remember them describing the prophets as these wonderful guys who loved God and loved the people. Everyone loved them. There was no conflict whatsoever. Even in our modern children’s bible, we describe the prophets as these warm, kind souls. However, the prophets were none of that. The adage I was taught about the prophets was that 95% of the time, when the prophets showed up, it was already too late. That is why Jonah runs away. He is suppose to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent or face the wrath of God. Jonah figures it is already too late so why go and upset an entire city that is already doomed from the start. Well, the people listen and they changed. God spares them from destruction. Typically, that is not what happens. When the prophets show up, they tell the people what they don’t want to hear—you are going to be invaded, your temple destroyed, your land will be taken away from you and you will be removed—you will never see your home again in your lifetime. That was what the prophet Isaiah and Jeremiah were sent to proclaim to the people of Israel—bad news and I can garuntee you that their words brought with it a lot, a lot of conflict. We read their words and see the hope because we know what ultimately happened. But at the time, the truth was painful to hear. When the prophets show up, it was already too late to be stop the impending doom. Jesus knew this. The people knew this. When Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” That is because nobody likes it when a prophet shows up.
So, in walks Jesus to a place he has called home for many years. Nazareth is a small town where everyone certainly knew everyone’s name. They knew your story. They changed your diapers. They wiped your tears after you fell. Jesus walks into his home town after being baptized by John and spending 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He walks in to the synagogue, filled with the Holy Spirit, and reads from the scroll of Isaiah.
Walter Pilgrim in his book (Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts) says this about Luke 4:16-30:
“No text is more important for understanding Luke's two volumes than this one…These verses introduce four major emphases:
the announcement of Jesus ministry as the fulfillment of God's salvation-time,
a statement about the content of Jesus' ministry based on the quotation from Isaiah,
the foreshadowing of Jesus' final suffering and rejection,
the foreshadowing of the movement of the gospel from Jew to Gentile. [pp. 64-65]
The text is important because we see where Jesus is going to concentrate his future ministry:
good news to the poor.
Setting the captives
recovery of sight to the blind,
setting the oppressed free
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This sounds all well and good until people start to realize that the reason people who are poor are lacking the good news is because the rich have denied the good news to the poor. Release to the captives is only good news for the captives, not the captors. The blind and other persons with disabilities are looked down upon and ostracized because it was believed they did something wrong in order to become disable (to be blind, you must have done something wrong and therefore God is not with you; God is against you.) Jesus, though, heals them and proclaims that is God is with persons all the more. The oppressed going free is good news only for the oppressed, not for the oppressors. The year of the Lord’s favor will only benefit those who are not already living in luxury and favor. Very quickly, the good news that Jesus proclaimed today in their hearing became okay news which then quickly turned into very bad news.
Bruno experienced this every time he spoke the truth. His family was left with the feeling that they must make excuses for their son after he simply told them what was going to happen. Nobody tried to get to know Bruno because they were afraid of being his next victim. He was ostriches by everyone all because Bruno speaks the truth.
I took this class once where we read a book called “Prophetic preaching.” You know, looking back on that class, the hardest lesson I have learned is that prophetic preaching just makes people want to hate you. People don’t want truth tellers. People want to leave church feeling refreshed and happy. You paid for the hour, you want to feel good, right? But how can the gospel effect any mark of change in individual’s actions or thoughts if we just pander it off as a feel good message? The message about repentance is for us all, not just hose who are outside our community. How can you ever grow spiritually if you you are not willing to be challenged in your beliefs? The gospel is more than just pillows with cross-stitched, feel good sayings. But I also recognize that in order for my preaching to have any kind of impact, I need an audience. And if I go around and make people not want to participate in the life of the church or hear my message, how can I be effective communicator, preacher, pastor? And how can be an effective father, husband, parent if I constant get fired from jobs or even worse, crucified? How do I speak the truth like Bruno, have strength like Luisa all while having grace and beauty like Isabella?
what Jesus is describing here is an impossible task. A lifetime of work filled with ups and down, success and failures—most likely filled with more downs and failures. One week they will love you. The next week, they will try to stone you. Ever since Bishop Wolfgang put that stole on my shoulders, I have felt the weight of this holy office. How do I even participate in this impossible task and invite others to participate when the work is impossible? (Pause). How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right? Jesus came with an impossible mission and worked every day of his life too make that the mission a reality. When he died, the poor still existed, there were still people living with the harsh stigma of being disable, the oppressed were still held against their will. Was Jesus not successful?
What I love about this pericope is that Jesus tells us that the impossible is happening today and you can be part of those miracles today. The bad news is: You'll never finish. But my son, Thomas, helped me figure some of this out the other day. Thomas asked me the other day if Jesus was alive. I looked at him and said, “yeah, bud. Of course he is. He rose from the dead on Easter morning.” That got me thinking: When Jesus was alive and walking around the earth, we always found him with poor, lame, the outcast people of the world. If we believe that Jesus is alive today, where do you think he is at today? IF Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, where is our God at? He told us exactly where we can find him today. If we want to be close to Jesus, we need to go to the places and the people he spent his entire ministry proclaiming the good news to. The impossible might never be accomplished, but one day all these things will be accomplished. And where will we be? Will we be the rich denying the good news to the poor? Will we be be captors? Will we be the oppressors? Will we continue to ostracized and oppress persons with disabilities? We will continue to downplay the importance of the gospel into a feel good message or will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor? Are we going to tell the truth or make church void of the truth in fear of saying something that might ruffling a few feathers? Today, the good news has been proclaimed in your presence. How are you, how are we, going respond to the good news, to the truth?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.