24 January 2010/Epiphany 3 – Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10/Luke 4:14-21
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
It is perhaps every person’s dream come true. After the reading of scripture the time for comment arrives. The preacher utters one slightly enigmatic phrase. Sermon over.
In the religion of Jesus, Judaism, this is in fact not unheard of. In eighteenth century Eastern Europe a movement promoting spirituality and joy known as Hasidism was sweeping through Jewish communities. It was a Jewish mystic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word.
Disciples of the Baal Shem Tov proliferated, and stories of their teaching and good deeds have been preserved. One such story tells of a town waiting to hear one particular Hasidic Master preach. The village synagogue was filled with people from all over. It was crowded. The Master was in his study preparing himself. His disciples urged him to head into the synagogue as the people were getting restless, so anxious were they to hear the Master preach. He was not ready. The longer he delayed, more people arrived. Word was spreading throughout the village that there was still time to get there to hear the great Master speak. Finally, as it was nearing midnight, the people expecting a brilliant and fiery rhetorical event, the Master slowly made his way through the crowd, up to the reading table, where he paused and silently gazed upon the standing-room only crowd.
Then he spoke. “Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” After which he slowly stepped down from the reading table and made his way through the crowd, out the door and back home.
It must have been something like that in Nazareth that Sabbath day long ago. Jesus returns from forty days and forty nights in the wilderness contemplating just what it means to be God’s Beloved. Jesus goes to the synagogue, “as was his custom.” Then Jesus reads what are perhaps the most pivotal two or three verses from the Prophet Isaiah, then sits down, the people looking to him with fervent expectation for what he would make of Isaiah’s ancient declaration for a Jubilee year – a year to free captives, a year to release persons from debt, a year in which those who have lost their property and their homes due to foreclosures and credit arrangements would have their property and homes restored to them. It was a time much like our own – whether you are looking at the economic damage sweeping across the landscape of our country, or the devastation that continues to unfold in Haiti.
Make no mistake about it, everyone in that synagogue knew what Isaiah was talking about – Isaiah, the great Op-Ed Poet and Social Critic in Israel some seven hundred years before Jesus. Isaiah, who recalls the instructions from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the commandments, of the Lord God of Israel, that it is necessary to periodically, every seven years and in a more thorough manner every fifty years, restructure and redistribute the wealth and the land of the people of God.
So try to imagine the response in your own heart, mind and soul as you sit before Jesus and he utters his one sentence commentary and response: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s it – that’s his whole sermon.
It is almost a sort of Zen Koan!
Next week we will be allowed to delve deeper into the people’s response. For now we might do well to consider three words: today, fulfilled, hearing.
We gather week by week for corporate worship. We sit here as the scriptures are read. But do we “hear” them? Hearing depends on listening, and listening depends on suspending all thought, all that crowds our busy minds, hearts and souls. Without listening there can be no hearing.
There is a word I have learned, shoshin, that means “beginner’s mind.” It means listening with an open, eager mind, with no preconceptions, and resisting all temptations to formulate a response. Beginner’s Mind is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”- Shunryu Suzuki
Unless we listen with “beginner’s mind,” there can be no fulfillment of the scripture. Fulfillment carries with it connotations of completion, implementation, satisfaction, joy, pleasure and gratification. A kind of Hasid’s dream come true – the spark is set, the flames of fulfillment begin to roar, God’s dream for human kind begins to actually take shape – God’s dream for God’s Beloved, that we love God and love neighbor, actively comes alive as more than an idea, a philosophy or religious ideal – which on that day was to be the beginning of the Jubilee year as Isaiah, Deuteronomy and Leviticus understood it to be.
And when we listen with Beginner’s Mind, this fulfillment of God’s word enters the realm of Now, Today, this very Moment in Time. It is no longer a lesson from the past, it is no longer a goal – it is. It just is.
As it happens, Jesus’ expectations are far greater than our own, far greater than those in that crowded synagogue 2000 years ago. We are meant to see that “Today” means that he is here, now, in this place, where two or three are gathered in His Name. So that when he says “Today” it really really means today. He is here. His “today” is now. Are we here? Are we listening? Are we allowing God’s word to become fulfilled in our hearing today?
Will we ever become like the people gathered before the Water Gate in Nehemiah – whose ears were attentive to the book of God’s law? When the book is opened do we stand up, bow our heads and worship the Lord? Do we weep like they do as they hear the words of the law? Do we allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength? Now. Today.
No doubt I have said too much when all that needs to be said has been said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”