The Year of the Lord’s Favour

Readings
1 Corinthians 12.12–31a
Luke 4.14–21

We held a long-planned service last week, and so held our Day of Mourning service today rather than last Sunday. In this service, we remember the truth of our history and honour the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. — Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail

In choosing this passage from Isaiah to read in his hometown synagogue, [Jesus] announces the year of the jubilee, that all-bets-are-off year described in detail in Leviticus 25. Debts forgiven, slaves freed, bad real-estate transactions redeemed—economic, agrarian, and even domestic life in the year of jubilee will be quite unlike life as most people live it, which is why scholars have had their doubts about whether the jubilee was ever actually observed in ancient Israel. — Feasting on the Gospels—Luke, Vol.1

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I’d like to make two brief comments today. The first is to quote St Paul:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

We often talk about being church members, but I’m not sure we always get what St Paul meant. We’re not members of the church like being members of a book club or a knitting circle. 

We’re members of the church like being members of a body—the body of Christ. We don’t often use the word ‘member’ like that these days, but Paul is using the word ‘member’ to mean organs, or parts, of a body.

The closest we get these days is watching a grisly forensic pathology show on tv where someone ‘dismembers’ their victim. 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

We do know that. I know what it’s like to have back problems, and when your back really hurts that’s all you can think about. Or if you have a really bad toothache, or you have a spot on your skin that’s looking like it’s changing. You tend to focus on that.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

That’s an indication of how close we are to be in the church. You may not feel close to every single person to that degree, but it’s beyond sad when a member isn’t that close to anyone in the church. 

A lot of members of Christ’s body have suffered in our lifetimes. We can name asylum seekers, LGBTIQ people, or the First Peoples of this country. 

When they suffer, we all suffer. And the church does suffer, even if individuals within the church don’t care at all. The church suffers because it becomes known as a place where people don’t care. A house of hypocrisy.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress has done a great job of reminding us of what has been done to First Peoples; it has sought to exercise its own life and make its own decisions within the Uniting Church; it has invited us to go further in covenanting with them; it has challenged us to recognise continuing Indigenous sovereignty; and it has extended a gracious hand of forgiveness and fellowship to us as Second Peoples. Yet, 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

Indigenous people have suffered since Europeans came to this land, and they continue to suffer.

I said I’d make two brief comments today; let me turn to the second.

When he read the Scriptures in his home town synagogue, Jesus read these words from Isaiah 61: 

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 favour.

This is the work of Jesus, and this is the work of Jesus’ continuing body, the church. Clearly, we have to say we have not done well as we look at the last two thousand years.

How do we do better?

Let’s look at that last line:

…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Scripture scholars tell us this most likely refers to the Year of Jubilee, which is described in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. 

What was the Year of Jubilee? Every fifty years, everyone was to be given a fresh start. All debts were to be cancelled, slaves set free, and land returned to the family that had originally owned it. It would be a brand new start, every half century. This Jubilee Year was God’s will for God’s people.

It was an amazing idea. Yet it probably remained just that. There is no evidence that the Jubilee Year was ever put into practice. The Jewish people began to expect that this would happen at the end of time, not in the middle of time.

Yet along comes Jesus, and declares the Year of Jubilee and it’s now, people! It’s been the Jubilee Year ever since—but we have yet to put it into practice.

I want to suggest that a new start is needed when part of the body is suffering. That new start could take its shape from the jubilee.

This is a Day of Mourning for the way indigenous peoples have suffered in this land. Part of the body has been treated poorly, and the whole body suffers.

There are many Second Peoples who say What’s that got to do with me? Yet we continue to benefit economically from the poor treatment of First Peoples. 

And as a body of Christ’s people, we suffer because part of the body is suffering. We are linked to the First Peoples of this land far more than we know. 

What has it got to do with us? It has everything to do with us. 

The Year of Jubilee proclaims that debts can be cancelled, restoration can be made, people can be set free. At Nazareth, Jesus proclaims that this being set free is the heart of the Good News.

How are we going to respond, as the Uniting Church in Australia, as a congregation, as people of West End, as individuals? These are questions for us, and they won’t go away. 

How can we mend the body? We can’t. All we can do is place ourselves into this larger story, the story that includes a time of Jubilee for First Peoples. 

First steps include getting out of the way so that Indigenous leaders like Aunty Jean Phillips and Brooke Prentis may be heard, as they were here on Friday night. 

First steps include listening to the accounts of the high rates of incarceration of Indigenous people, of Black Deaths in Custody, or youth suicide among Aboriginal people, of the yearning for a voice in the government of this country—and so much more.

First steps mean letting Indigenous leadership speak and be heard.

So we bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favour for all who have been pushed to the edges, and we seek to make space for it. We open our eyes and hearts to the First Peoples of this place, and listen to their hopes and dreams. We’re not going to fix the situation by our own efforts, but we need to respond to God’s gracious invitation to act where we can. Remember: today is the time of God’s favour. 

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Filed under Church & world, Epiphany Season, Lament, RCL, sermon

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