St. Philip Lutheran Church
23 January 2022 + Lect. 3c (Epiphany 3)
Luke 4.14-21; Neh. 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Rev. Josh Evans
There’s a saying: “Patience is a virtue.”
I’m sure whatever well-meaning person first thought that up had every good intention in mind, but I’m sorry to say, by that assertion, I am not very virtuous.
It’s no secret that I’m not exactly a patient person. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Whether I’m waiting for a red light to change green or obsessively checking the DoorDash delivery tracker, my inner – and sometimes outer – monologue is screaming: “Hurry up!”
I could blame – at least in part – our increasingly digitally connected world, where practicing patience isn’t always easy.
Amazon Prime has spoiled us with free delivery in 1-2 days and sometimes even within a few hours. Standard shipping of 3-5 business days might as well be an eternity!
Virtually any movie or TV show you want to watch is as easy as a couple taps away on your remote or iPad. Gone are the days of waiting for Netflix to actually send you a physical DVD in the mail – let alone going to the video rental store and hoping they had the latest blockbuster in stock.
For most of us, text messages and emails with instantaneous notifications are never further away than our own pockets. If someone doesn’t respond within a few hours – or even a few minutes – our imaginations rush to the worst possible scenario. Are they okay?!
Patience, it seems, is a lost virtue of a bygone era. Instead, our culture is programmed for instant gratification.
So what sage advice does Jesus have to offer about waiting and being patient?
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today. Right now. In this time and place.
Talk about instant gratification! Not even same-day shipping can beat that deal!
But the truth is, the people who heard Jesus’s instantaneously fulfilled words of promise had been waiting … for quite some time, in fact.
The people of Israel had been waiting all through the days of the exile – will it ever end? The people had waited ever since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when they returned from exile to a city and a temple in ruins – how will we ever rebuild? Now, they were waiting yet again under the occupation of the Roman empire.
It seems like anytime we have to wait for something or someone, our minds start racing and coming up with all sorts of scenarios and questions. In the waiting, the people had all sorts of ideas for the kind of messiah who would come and save them: What kind of messiah will this be? What will they look like? What will they say? What will they do?
So it probably took them a bit by surprise when they heard that Jesus – Mary and Joseph’s kid from down the block(?) – told them that he was that messiah. Today. Just like that.
Now, of course, a certain amount of skepticism is natural and even healthy. They had been waiting a long time – and well, what if this messiah never came? Their doubts and worries and fears bubbled to the surface. In the waiting, all the ideas they had for their messiah got moved to the back burner. Out of sight, out of mind.
We’ve been doing our own waiting – and a lot of it – lately. Think back to March 2020. We all thought that we’d only have to wait three, maybe four, weeks for the coronavirus to pass. We waited expectantly for a vaccine. We waited in lines and online for testing and vaccine appointments. We waited – perhaps not so patiently – for the chance to see loved ones in-person again, for the day we’d be back to church together in our sanctuary, for life to go “back to normal.”
Nearly two years later, we’re waiting again – for positivity rates to slow, for a return to in-person worship. We’re waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and frankly, we’re running low on patience, if we have any left at all.
Then, in the waiting, all of a sudden, when it’s least expected, comes the stunning declaration: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today is good news for the poor.
Today is release for the captives.
Today is liberation for the oppressed.
Today is the fulfillment of everything you’ve waited for for so long.
Maybe it looks a little different than they expected. Maybe it looks nothing like what they expected. Maybe it’s enough to make them want to push Jesus off a cliff. (But that’s a story for next week.)
God’s good news is always jarring and unpredictable like that. Even when it looks a little different or nothing at all like what we expected, that doesn’t make it any less good news.
Of course, the inbreaking of God’s good news also doesn’t necessarily mean that all the bad news suddenly goes away either.
Hearing the Torah read in their presence was a joyful reunion for a people returning from exile … but it didn’t make the reality of a city and temple in ruins, yet to be rebuilt, any less painful.
Hearing Jesus publicly and boldly claim his role as God’s messiah was a long-hoped-for promise coming true … but it didn’t make the reality of political occupation and oppression go away overnight.
Seeing case numbers go down and vaccine rates go up is indeed a breath of fresh air for us who are so, so weary from the weight of the last two years … but it doesn’t mean the pandemic is over and we can totally let down our guard and our masks just yet.
The inbreaking of God’s good news also doesn’t necessarily mean that all the bad news suddenly goes away.
But the opposite is just as true, too: The bad stuff doesn’t take away from the power and promise of God’s good news either.
Today this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. Today God’s good news is for us.
Today. Not tomorrow. Not some far off day in the future. But today. Starting now – and everyday.
Even as the pandemic continues.
Even as the forces of injustice and evil rage.
No matter where we worship today, or how we’re feeling, or what we’re going through.
Because this good news today doesn’t depend on us. It is God’s gift to us and God’s action for us.
It is liberation and freedom from all that oppresses us and weighs us down.
It is God’s promise that the bad stuff – whatever it is – does not and will not get the final word.
As a friend of mine wrote this week, “In the midst of all the reactions, protests, tears, joy, [and] wondering, the promise of God persists, as it always does.”
The promise of God persists.
The promise of God is today.
The promise of God is now.
Instant gratification. And more than that.
You don’t have to wait for it anymore.