“Liberation” Colchester Federated Church, January 23, 2022, (Luke 4:14-21) Third Sunday after Epiphany

The great preacher Fred Craddock once shared that he was traveling through the airport in Atlanta and stopped at a large food court to grab some breakfast.  He got something to eat and sat down to enjoy his rather rushed airport meal only to hear singing.  Stopping to pay attention, he heard this amazing male voice—deep and resonant, obviously well-trained, singing “Laura’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago and then “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  That beautiful hymn we sang just last Sunday here at CFC. 

Craddock was amazed and went up to the counter and said to the girl working, “Is that singing coming from over here?”  She responded that it’s just Albert in the kitchen.  Craddock asked to speak to Albert and out comes this large, smiling man who just says, “Yes, sir?”  Amazed, Craddock introduced himself and Albert did likewise.  Craddock said, “Albert, I want to thank you for the singing. It’s marvelous.”

“He said, ‘You know what I’m doing, don’t you?’

And Craddock said, ‘No.  What are you doing?’

He said, ‘I’m auditioning.’

‘You’re auditioning?’

He said, ‘Yeah, as many folks go through here all the time, there’s bound to be one that’s going to come along and going to take me out of this kitchen.’”[1]

It’s a great story Fred Craddock told of making the best of the situation that one may find one’s self in.  It seems that Albert wasn’t planning on spending the rest of his working life in that kitchen.  Not that there’s anything wrong if he had wanted to, but Albert sang to put himself out there.  To use the gift of his voice.  To, in his words “audition” because there was bound to be somebody who came along and would give him an opportunity.  In some ways, it’s a story about freedom.  Freedom to be one’s self.  To have a dream.  To keep your spirit alive in the midst of what might be a more mundane moment.  It can remind us of the Christian song “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  “I sing because I’m happy.  I sing because I’m free.  His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”  Who knows, maybe that too was part of Albert’s song list that he sang to keep his spirit alive in that airport kitchen in Atlanta.

Now today in our Gospel text from Luke Chapter 4 we encounter Jesus having returned from the temptation in the wilderness to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”.[2]  God was with him out there as Jesus was facing his own trials.  God was with Jesus as he had been baptized and declared beloved in the waters of the Jordan River.  As we contemplated on Baptism of Christ Sunday it might have been that the words Jesus heard as he came up out of those waters “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness” kept him going and lifted up his own spirit.[3]  And God was with Jesus as he was about to begin his ministry of teaching and healing. 

News about Jesus began to spread throughout the whole countryside as Jesus began to teach in synagogues.  Everyone was praising him.  Jesus traveled on to his hometown of Nazareth.  On the Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read.  The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll and it was opened to words from the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus read aloud, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[4]  With all eyes fixed on him, Jesus rolled up the scroll, sat down, and told those gathered that today—this day—this scripture has been fulfilled just as you’ve heard it.

Sometimes there’s this joke that ministers only have one sermon in us that we basically preach over and over again in different ways.  We know that Jesus’ most famous teaching was to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus emphasized that these are the greatest commandments and must be joined together.  Because love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self were all connected in Jesus’ mind.  Though in some ways, we could think of this Gospel story today as Jesus’ main sermon.  This is the crux of the matter.  This is the heart of it all.  This is what his life, ministry, death, and resurrection all come down to—embodying words from the prophet Isaiah who came before him.  God has anointed Jesus.  God has sent Jesus to preach good news to the poor.  Proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to those who are blind.  God has sent Jesus to liberate the oppressed and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.  In some ways, Jesus is telling those gathered that these words right here are what he came to do.  Jesus’ life was about liberation.

To liberate means to set free.  To free someone from a situation in which one’s liberty is restricted.  Sometimes we associate liberation with slavery or imprisonment.  Though when Jesus read these words from Isaiah—the liberation of the oppressed could have an expansiveness.  How does our faith in Christ free us to be the people that God is calling us to be?  Think of the verbs used here: preach, release, liberate, and proclaim.  As we considered last Sunday, Christ came that we might have life and have life abundantly.  The Gospel message we hear from Jesus over and again is a message of liberation.  All those stories of healing people who were afflicted from diseases are stories of liberation.  Helping people on the margins.  Seeing people that others didn’t see.

How does this message of liberation look in our lives?  What does having freedom in Christ Jesus actually mean?  In some ways, figuring this out is up to each and every one of us and I hesitate to even attempt to define it.  But here’s the thing—if our faith feels more like a weight or an obligation or something that is provoking guilt or fear inside of us, we need to question if we are living into Jesus’ message of liberation.  Our faith must not feel like it weighs us down, but rather like an anchor that grounds us into something deeper.  Or lifts us up when we are down.  Our faith must help us open our eyes to see “the other” as people who are also named and claimed by God.  Our faith can be a source of healing and wholeness, not because having faith means that bad things won’t happen.  But because our faith is good news of great joy and helps us to make meaning in our lives.  Jesus preached liberation.  Jesus embodied liberation.  Jesus offers liberation to all of us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

[1] Fred B. Craddock, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, Craddock Stories, 122-123.
[2] Luke 4:14, CEB.
[3] Luke 3:22.
[4] Luke 4:18-19.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash