Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Some of you watched the Inauguration Day proceedings on Monday, and some of you did not. I always make a point to watch all the pomp and circumstance, because eight years ago, I was a part of all that pomp and circumstance. Along with the rest of the Longhorn Band, Maggie and I marched in the George Bush’s second inaugural in 2005. Snow was on the ground, it must have been about twenty degrees. As a way to remember that day, I always watch the whole inauguration, regardless of who is elected.
And I remember, eight years ago, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue on that bitterly cold day, thinking to myself, “This is a monumental day. People will remember this day for generations. And I am a part of it.”
But then I went back to Austin, and I went back to class, and went on living again. The whole thing – the parade, the speeches, the oath of office – it all seemed like a dream. Like it didn’t really happen. Life happened again, and reality set in. Eight years passed. Two presidential elections happened. Mid-term elections happened. I stopped remembering the swearing in and the speeches of that day I was in Washington, D.C. It all just faded out of my memory.
To show my point, let me give you all a pop quiz: How many of you, Americans, remember anything from Martin Van Buren’s inaugural address? Who can quote a line from Millard Fillmore’s inauguration? Or what about one of the most divisive presidents in our history – Andrew Jackson. Can anybody here remember what he said in either his first or second inaugural address?
Of course not. Because time passes on. Presidents come and go. Nations rise and fall. Empires wax and wane. It’s tempting for us to think of today as the most important day that has ever happened. We can succumb to the idea that this day, or some big event like a presidential inauguration, has a life of its own. That today will live on and on forever and ever until the ages of ages Amen. But I’ve got news for you. It won’t. Days like Monday’s Inauguration come, and they go. Though Monday looms large in our contemporary world, the memory of Monday will some day be forgotten. The pomp, the circumstance, the speeches, the oaths, the whole shebang, will one day be relegated the dust bin of history. Along with all the inaugurations of every president. Human leaders come and human leaders go.
So what will stand the test of time? What words, what inauguration will be remembered by generations to come? The words of Jesus, from the gospel of Luke. His inauguration in a synagogue in Nazareth have rung out for two thousand years and they will continue to ring out for generations to come.
The setting is just like what took place on Monday. Jesus arrives at the appointed time and the appointed day, and says the 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.” Those words from Isaiah are the oath of office for Jesus. These words spell out his ministry and his mission. With right hand raised, Jesus promises to fulfill these duties.
Then the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. Just as the eyes of the National Mall are fixed on whoever happens to be taking the presidential oath. And Jesus gives his Inaugural Address: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
See, it is that day, the day that Jesus took his oath of office that gives meaning to our lives; because on that day, God made a promise. The Presidents who are inaugurated on days like Monday, who will be inaugurated four, eight, twelve, sixteen years hence, all make promises. They all take the oath. They all give a speech. But every single one of them will break their promises. Democrats, Republicans, whoever, the promises made on the West steps of the Capitol to the throngs on the National mall will be broken. And they will be forgotten.
But not at the inauguration of Jesus. That solemn ceremony only took place once, two thousand years ago in a dingy synagogue in the backwater of the Roman Empire. There were no marching bands, no artillery salutes, no flyovers, no security. And yet, and yet that is the day that is remembered by the world.
Because that was the day God made a promise. “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.” This is a promise to me. A promise to you. A promise to all. The poor will hear good news. The captives will be released. The blind will see. The oppressed will be freed. Jesus will release you from your sins. Jesus will liberate you from whatever has captured you.
Be it addiction, depression, uncontrollable rage, a restless spirit, guilt and shame – Jesus will free you from whatever has captured you. This is a promise from God. A promise that will not be broken. And Jesus isn’t talking about the poor in spirit, but those who are actually, monetarily poor. If you’re poor, the good news is that God doesn’t regard wealth as a measure of our value. If you are oppressed, like the many thousands who are oppressed in our very city, like the oppressed in this world of broken and unfair systems, Jesus makes a promise that in the Kingdom of God, all will be equal. This oath of office, though it was uttered two thousand years ago, will be fulfilled. Jesus will not break the promises made to us. What was said in that dingy synagogue will not be forgotten.
This inaugural address is good news for many. The poor, the oppressed, the captive, the blind. But for many others, Jesus’ inaugural address isn’t good news. Jesus doesn’t promise riches or favor. Jesus doesn’t promise that your life will be easy. Jesus doesn’t promise that you’ll never die. If you are an oppressor, and make unfair demands of others, then this isn’t good news. If you blind others with your hate or manipulation, this isn’t good news. If you hold others captive to the sins they committed against you, this isn’t good news. Jesus won’t break his promises to the poor, the blind, the oppressed. And Jesus will keep his promise to break the deceitful, the contemptuous, and the callous. This is the radical nature of Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God.
Presidents come and go. Nations rise and fall. Empires wax and wane. Speeches, inaugurations, parades, balls, galas – they will go on with futile repetition. Every four years since our nation’s founding, promises were made, and promises were broken. Promises will continue to be made. And promises will continue to be broken. This is not because presidents are rotten people, but simply because they are not God.
As Christians, we cannot allow those broken promises to dictate our lives. We cannot permit the media or the political process to tell us how to live. No, as Christians, we are going to let those words that were said once, two thousand years ago, give meaning to our lives. Those promises of Jesus, those are the ones that matter. The poor are filled. The captives released. The blind are given sight. The oppressed are freed. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled. Today, Jesus gives us his promise.