Rev. George Miller
Jan 17, 2021
One of the heart-hurting aspects of COVID is not having Bible Study.
It’s difficult not seeing your eyes and faces when you have an “aha!” moment, wrestle with a scripture, or teach me something.
One common perception people have when beginning Bible Study is that in the Old Testament God is pure wrath.
But weeks in, they start formulating another view- God as Creator, merciful, and just.
Old Testament readings make it clear that God cares about the ancestors, the ecology, the marginalized. God cares about justice, kindness, humility, rest.
If we come across scriptures in which it sounds like God is about the grab the belt for a good butt-whooping, it’s often because either we, our leaders, or those who should know better, have chosen not to follow the path of God.
What we see as God’s wrath is often a consequence to when we pollute the earth, when we don’t care for the least of these, when we don’t do justice, or embrace the Commandments.
To be honest- how hard are they really?
-don’t lie about others
-be content with what you have
-Don’t steal or kill
-for God’s sake, take a day off to rest.
Why do we fail to do these things?
We forget that we are the children of Sarah, of Zilpah, of Hannah, of Esther, of Elizabeth and Anna.
We forget what God has done- freed us from bondage, walked beside us in the wilderness, granted us nahalah.
We forget that God is merciful, with a womb full of love.
We forget that each day we are we given another chance to choose God, to choose life.
What we really forget is that WE are NOT God.
By forgetting we’re not God we fall victim to our own ego, we disrespect the land, we disrespect our neighbors, and we put misplaced trust in human leaders who we think will save us.
When we forget all these things we end up sinning, we make mistakes, we hurt others, and we hurt ourselves.
That’s one lens Luke is looking through as he writes his Gospel.
Luke is concerned about how we have failed to see who Jesus really is.
Luke is doing everything he can to say “Look! Look right here! Jesus is the embodiment of the very things the prophets, the scriptures, the covenants of God were all about.”
An example is today’s reading.
Like a good Sabbath- observing Jew, Jesus is in the local house of worship. He reads from the prophet Isaiah.
What is Jubilee?
Jubilee is a Year of Liberty.
According to Leviticus 25, God wants us to experience a full year of Sabbath every 50 years.
God instructed the people that every 50 years they are to
-let the ground rest
-not plant, sow, or prune
-rely only on what the earth produces
-Return to your family and roots
-Return land you purchased from someone who only sold it out of duress
-Release indentured servants.
-Be extra mindful in following the commandments and choosing God.
The Year of Jubilee did a few things-
Reset the economy so that those who had fallen onto hard times get a do over. It redistributed the wealth so that once again everyone had “enough.”
Refocused their attention on God, reminding them how God is merciful, and that the land belongs to God.
Jubilee is about rest and release.
The lands rests. Debts released.
Indentured servants released.
Ancestral land released.
Jubilee was created as a time of joy, rest, family reunions and fresh starts, in which God was praised…sadly, there is no evidence that Jubilee was ever observed.
There is not one time we know of in which God’s people were willing to take a year out of their life to collectively show respect to their family, their neighbors, their God, or to God’s land.
Do we now get a better understanding of why sometimes in the Old Testament God seems to get a little testy?
All God wants is for everyday to be like Christmas, but instead we’re too busy littering the living room floor, arguing over our gifts, jealous of what someone else got.
But Jesus- Jesus has not forgotten.
Jesus uses his moment in the synagogue to remind the people that he is there to bring Good News, new vision, liberty, rest, and release.
In other words- Freedom.
That’s what Jesus is offering today. That’s what his message of Jubilee comes down to- Freedom.
Freedom from the shackles of the world; freedom to choose the life-giving ways of God.
Freedom is so fitting today as we celebrate the 31st Anniversary of our church. Emmanuel UCC was first established to be a progressive witness in the community, where justice, kindness, compassion and passion exist.
It’s also a fitting theme for a New Year.
By now most people have already forgotten the resolutions they made to themselves, but Jesus is offering something much better than a resolution.
Jesus is offering us a chance to claim and proclaim freedom.
Today is a day in which Jesus stands before us, reading the words of Isaiah, and Jesus is asking us this-
What is it you want to be released from? What is it you no longer wish to be chained too?
What is holding you back from being a better neighbor, a better family member, a better guardian of God’s nahalah?
Jesus is not asking for a thousand answers. Just 1.
What is 1 thing that you would love rest from? What is 1 thing you would like to have released?
It could be a negative thought you keep going back to.
It could be a regret that you shoulda-coulda-woulda.
It could be something someone did, and you’ve allowed their chain to choke your neck.
All those things can be so exhausting. All those things can keep you stuck.
Give it up to Jesus. Set yourself free. Allow yourself the right to rest.
It may not be the Year of Jubilee, but this is a new year, a new chance.
To see what happens. To choose God, to choose life.
To see Jesus as he is, to say “Release my chains. Give me rest.”
And watch what Jesus can do.
Watch as God’s womb-like mercy enfolds you.
Watch as the Holy Spirit continue to guide you.
Watch as the love of Jesus sets you free, and gives you peace.
So that we can all say “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Amen and amen.