|We are all aware,
Iím sure, that the word of God is a living word. Even though it was
spoken so long ago, itís always a word that is being spoken to us at this
very moment. Today, if we listen deeply to Godís word, weíll discover something
that will give us a deep sense of hope and a real reason for the joy that
this Sunday calls forth.
And, probably, this word
of God will provide a challenge to us.
If we listen carefully
to that first lesson today and understand the circumstances in which Isaiah
was proclaiming this word, it was to a people who had been in exile for
decades. Their land had been overrun, their crops had been burned, their
animals killed and theyíd been driven away out of their homes. A few of
them had returned, kind of like pioneers coming back. The exile was going
to be over. But they found everything in desolation and they were terribly
poor and still feeling the oppression of that exile.
But then Isaiah says
to them, ďLook, the spirit of God is upon me.Ē That means God is
in our midst. And this God tells us that good news is coming to the poor.
They will be lifted up again. ďThe oppressors will be overthrown. The downtrodden
will be set free. The blind, those who canít see, will be given new sight.Ē
Isaiah promises all this
because Godís spirit is in their midst.
And because they heard
that word and were confident, they began to hope and to build on that hope
and restore their cities and their temple. All that had God had promised
began to be true.
Godís word is a living
word, itís a word with power, and it makes happen what that word
And the same thing comes
through so powerfully and so clearly in the response that we had after
our first reading. If you were listening to the words that Keir Ward
(a parishioner) was singing, they all come from the first chapter of St.
Lukeís gospel, when shortly after Mary has been told that she is to be
the mother of the Messiah and that she had experienced the spirit of God
coming upon her and bringing this new life of Jesus within her. Mary
proclaims those words that we know so well, ďMy soul exalts and proclaims
the greatness of God; because God has looked upon me, Godís lowly servant.Ē
And think of this. Mary
was simply a young peasant girl, totally unknown, living in a very small
village, in a very remote part of the world. Nothing famous or important
about her and, yet, she says, ďBecause Godís spirit is within me, people
will forever call me blessed.Ē
And thatís happened,
hasnít it? What God says will happen, happens; because the spirit
of God and Godís word is a word of power. Godís spirit makes happen
what God proclaims.
And Mary goes on to say,
ďFrom age to age, Godís mercy extends to those who live in Godís presence.
God acts with power and does wonders, scatters the proud with their plans,
puts down the mighty, but lifts up the lowly and the poor.Ē
Again, almost the same
message that Isaiah was proclaiming. And, in Mary, all of this became
true. Again, Godís word is a word that always makes happen what
that word proclaims.
And in Johnís gospel
that we read today, John tells us, as he was telling those people who came
to him when they asked, ďWho are you?Ē and he said, ďWell, Iím not the
messiah, Iím not Elijah, Iím not the prophet. Iím only a voice crying
out in the wilderness in a world where people arenít too willing to listen.
But I cry out and I tell you Iím here to point out somebody. And
that very person is already in your midst, you just donít know him.Ē
** NOTE: Bishop Gumbleton referred to Luke instead
of John because the Magnificat was sung as a response before the homily.
Now Luke is telling us,
through Godís word, that same truth right now. Jesus is in our midst. Heís
alive. Heís among us and he proclaims Godís word, too.
In fact, I think itís
very important, as we listen to those words of Isaiah from our first lesson
today, to remember that those were words that were very special to Jesus.
It seems as though they were probably a favorite passage of his. Because,
as you remember, when he began his public life, right after he spent those
40 days and 40 nights in deep prayer and communion with God in the desert
discovering Godís will for him, he comes back and goes to his hometown,
Nazareth, and goes into the synagogue, itís the Sabbath day, and the leader
asks him to read. And so he takes up the scroll (and John tells us
that he looks carefully for a special place) and he looks until he finds
it and then he proclaims those words that we heard already, ďThe spirit
of God is upon me. God anoints me and God sends me to proclaim good
news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim Godís year of favor.Ē
Jesus proclaimed those words with power, Iím sure, and the people were
astonished, because Luke says that when he sat down everybody looked upon
him in quiet amazement. And then, Jesus said words that give us hope
and also present a challenge. He said, ďThis day, this scripture
passage is fulfilled even as you listen.Ē
He meant it was being
fulfilled right then and you can see it in what he did. He did heal the
broken hearted, physical infirmities, but even more he healed people in
their spirit. He lifted up the downtrodden, challenged the proud and put
them down for their own good. He said that the rich would no longer
be rich, but that the poor would share in the blessings that are given
for all, and he began to make that happen.
If we listen carefully
to these passages from Godís word, we can draw hope and joy because we
can see how Godís word is always fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled
in our world.
ďThis day, this scripture
passage is fulfilled even as you listen.Ē
I suppose that most of
us this past week, when we read about Senator Trent Lott, and thought,
ďWhat a terrible thing.Ē Remember what he said when he was at the
100 birthday for Senator Strom Thurmond. He said, ďIf only this man had
been elected in 1948, we wouldnít have the troubles we have.Ē And people
were angry. To suggest that that time, when Strom Thurmond was running
for president and wanted to make our nation a segregated nation forever,
would have prevented the troubles that we are experiencing nowÖ And
everybody was outraged.
But if you think of it
a little bit differently, you can see how Godís word is fulfilled. The
spirit of God is a work in our midst. One of the articles that I read showed
some pictures of how things were back in 1948. And Iím sure some
of you remember well how terrible how things were back in 1948 when there
was segregation, when there was extreme discrimination, when black people
were being lynched without anyone being held accountable. But look at how
it has changed. Martin Luther King came proclaiming Godís word, leading
a civil rights movement. And weíre most upset now because things havenít
come to there fulfillment, but weíve come so far compared to where we were
-- because Godís word is a word that has power. It changes things
and will continue to change things.
And so that can give
us hope and I trust will give us a spirit of joyfulness.
And there are many other
ways in which we could look at our world to see how Godís word is at work;
the spirit of God is among us. Jesus lives and he is proclaiming that good
news even at this moment.
But then there is also
the challenge because Jesus lives within us. See, we are the community
of disciples of Jesus. And when Jesus says, ďThe spirit of God is
upon me,Ē he is saying that the spirit of God is upon all of us and that
itís our task then, isnít it, to go out and say good news to the poor.
ďYouíll be poor no longer because weíre going to make things happen in
such a way that the goods of the world are shared, not held be a few.
Weíre going to set the downtrodden free. Weíre going to work to make change
And sometimes that change
will mean a change in my own life, because maybe I have too much. Maybe
Iím too often on the side of the oppressors and those who hold other people
down. Maybe I donít reach enough to heal the broken hearted.
And so weíre being challenged
by this word of God to really know that the spirit of God lives in us.
And thatís what Jesus says, ďThe word of God is being fulfilled even now
as you listen.Ē That becomes true as each one of us says these words that
Jesus proclaims and changes our lives to make these words come true.
In a few moments, weíll
celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. This will be a time for
each of us to look deeply in our heart, to try to listen to Godís word,
to hear it as a word of hope and a word of joy for all the beautiful things
that God has done in our midst; and also to hear it as a challenge.
How must I change my life in order be one who proclaims this good news,
to be one who helps to change this world and transform it into as close
an image of the reign of God as possible?
Godís word will challenge
us. But if we pray for healing and forgiveness, we can be reconciled
and God will continue to make the spirit of Jesus break forth in our midst
in the light of each one of us. And through that power of Godís spirit,
Godís word will be fulfilled and our world will be transformed. And each
of us will know ever more deeply the joy and the hope that the spirit of
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.