You Say You Want a Revelation…
Last week, I was invited to do a Zoomed text study with a group of rostered leaders in Wisconsin. WHAT a great group.
These good and faithful proclaimers were hoping I could perhaps offer a bit of an overview of the themes of this year’s Epiphany texts, and so I gave it a decent whirl; they’ll be the judge of whether the whirl was worthy!
I love Epiphany, as an aside, though I fear that it’s the season that, when we breezily rattle off the liturgical year, we say, “and…and…wait…there’s one more…give me a sec….”
Advent and Christmas we get, and Lent is easy.
It’s possible that we might overlook Easter as an actual season rather than just a Feast Day, but no one forgets Pentecost: its stretch is interminable. I once knew a pastor who, at the tail end of the season, would give up the count and just date his bulletins with “The Umpteenth Sunday after Pentecost!”
But Epiphany…were it a person, I’d fret that it might have a complex.
It’s a bit ironic, because Epiphany is the season of God-Made-Knowings, of God Made Manifest, of catching sightings of God’s intention for and Word to the world.
Still, when we do think about Epiphany, we tend to think about miracles (as in our text tomorrow, the changing of the water into wine…though, not a minor quibble, the Greek does not call it a miracle but rather a sign of the reign of God, but that’s for another blog…) or undeniable bursts of God’s radiating light, as on Transfiguration Sunday.
But as I prepped for this group, the texts for next Sunday and the Sunday following (the Third and Fourth Sundays after the Epiphany, January 23rd and 30th, respectively) were the ones that particularly caught my attention.
The passages run from Luke 4:14-21, and then (interestingly, picking up again with the exact last verse of the previous week, but more on that in a moment) Luke 4:21-30.
Luke 4:14-21 tells us of Jesus, the rock star come home. People were fanning and fawning all over the guy upon his return to Nazareth, and so followed him to his first stop, his favorite haunt: the Synagogue.
There, he was given a scroll from which to read.
Jesus’ eyes fell upon these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He 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 favor.”
All 21st century influencers should take note and pointers from what Jesus did next.
The guy rolled up the scroll, Luke tells us, and he handed it away, and he sat down.
He. Sat. Down.
And, says Luke, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”
Of course they were.
Jesus had them exactly where he wanted them and he knew it.
Over two thousand years later, our eyes are still fixed on him.
But Jesus wasn’t done.
“Today,” he announced, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In him, Jesus said, the expectations that the people of Israel had held all of these years, the words of Isaiah’s that they had treasured in hope, namely that the poor would receive good news, the enslaved would be released, the blind would be healed, and the oppressed would be free, were fulfilled and went down.
And that’s where the text ends.
With that line.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s all we’re given as an epiphanic moment.
Jesus is the one for whom we’ve been waiting, and Jesus brings equity, recovery, and freedom.
This sounds awesome, right?
Who doesn’t want that?
Well, our next week’s text tells us exactly who.
So the next week, namely the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany (January 30th), our Gospel reading begins with this same verse and these same words!
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In a moment of wisdom, the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) made an overt point of linking the previous week’s text with this one. (Well done RCL!)
So, Luke goes out of his way to note that initially, “all spoke well of him.”
Of course they did.
Christians, all of us, speak well of Jesus.
And so we should, right? After all, we say we follow him, and so speaking well of Jesus seems to follow too.
But then the well-speaking ceased.
Jesus began to tell of the consequences of this text from Isaiah, and the consequences for those who opt to throw their lot in with Jesus, the fulfiller of these words, the one over whom the crowd had just ooh-ed and ahh-ed while nudging each other saying, “I knew him when he was running around in swaddling cloths just around his bum!”
When they listend, really listened, this is what they heard:
The ‘outsider’ widow rather than the Hebrew insiders was visited by Elijah.
Moreover, Elisha didn’t heal a Jew, but rather a Syrian.
And in a flash, dots were connected.
Jesus has no time for privilege.
Jesus rejects exclusion.
Jesus is beyond over the presence of hunger, unhealed disease, or loneliness.
Jesus would like a word with those—especially those who purport to be God-fearers—who foster or remain silent in the face of any of it.
Jesus has an eye turned toward systems which uphold inequity, and is here to take. them. down.
From that point on, it pretty much went as you’d expect, especially these days:
“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
No, keep in mind, right, that these were the very same people who had sat in rapt attention of Jesus’ words, believing him to be a righteous and holy man.
They leaned in to hear him speak the Word of God.
They said they wanted a revelation.
Yes they did.
But what they, namely the people who have access to money, to health, to privilege, to power—and therefore what a good lot of we—instead got was a revelation of a revolution.
See, who chased Jesus out of town and toward that cliff?
Everyone who was going to distinctly not benefit from his revelation, that’s who.
These (we) are the people who refused to hear or see God Made Manifest because to hear, see, and act on this God means that they (we) have to open up hands to release power, open up hearts to welcome the stranger, open up our minds to a new way, to new systems, and to an entirely new way of being that solely reflects the reign of God.
It’s not to be missed that these are pretty much a decent chunk of people who sit in the pews of most mainstream churches, or have crafted how denominations are structured, or who make up the rules and regulations of our nation.
When God’s revelation, it seems, is of a revolution, we tend to run representatives and representations of Jesus right on out of wherever he and we are.
So as I sat with these texts, and how his revelation—pronounced before people who asked him for it—played out, a couple of distinct but related thoughts occurred to me.
1) Although we think of Epiphany as a gentle season of illumination, of the presence of God appearing in our midst, of our lives being brightened by God’s Word, these texts from Luke suggest that we might not actually, when you get right down to it, want or welcome God’s revelation.
In fact, we’ve got a pretty good track record of doing everything we can to squelch it, ignore it, or kill it.
This Epiphany season, then, might be an opportunity to ask whether we really want an epiphany, like we pietistically say we do, or if, when Jesus enters our community, our room, our lives, we only want him speaking as long as his revelations are just manifestations of affirmations of how things are streaming along just fine, thank you.
2) It is possible that, despite the assumptions that the Epiphany of God comes with sweetness and light, an Epiphany of God might come in the form of us crumpled up in tears huddled at the end of a couch realizing we can’t do x, y, or z anymore; it might reveal itself in a fit of anger as we see for the first time an injustice; it might appear in the form of the dissolution of a relationship, a work relationship, an institution’s structure; it might occur in Sidon, in Syria, and in the secular streets (as my friend and former professor Dr. Don Luck, I believe it was, said, “Women’s ordination didn’t finally come about in the ‘70s because a bunch of male theologians gathered in a closed room to swill bourbon while they discussed the biblical and theologian reasons for ordaining women—though there are plenty of those. No, women were ordained because bras were being burned in the streets!”
Perhaps, that is, when we see the limits of structures we’ve known and loved, when we see our own limits, when we realize that whatever is burdening our spirits or others’ well-being is simply neither sustainable nor just, that’s not when we are being abandoned by God.
It’s when we are seeing God.
You say you want a revelation?
Get ready for a revolution.