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Sermon Share: Be the Good News

Good news! The Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl this year. In this sermon from January 23, Rev. Jane invites us to become good news ourselves, following examples of prophetic leadership from the Bible...and even Bengals QB Joe Burrow!

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

There are those moments in life, where it seems like everything goes in slow motion and each and every moment counts. Everyone sits up and holds their breath, before there is an explosion of emotion.

Watching the Bengals win the Divisional round last night for the first time in 31 years was such a moment. Some had said their coach was unproven, their key players too young and inexperienced, their defense too weak to be considered possible Super Bowl contenders. And when those arguments failed to gain traction, there was the lazy and ill-informed mantra of, “Well, they’re the Bengals!” And yet, despite all the history and nay-sayers, the Bengals grit and resolve claimed victory winning the division (and now the AFC Championship).

A Hometown Hero

It’s a little bit of a strange feeling for Cincinnatians, to be the bearers of good news, cheering not just for a winning team, but for a hometown hero.

Joe Burrow, born and raised in Ohio, is a unique kind of leader. I was reading a story that interviewed his high school physics teacher: “There were things about him you would want in any kid,” his teacher said. “Not just that leadership quality but he would walk some of our students with disabilities to class, make them feel a part of the group. Or if you’ve got a kid who’s kind of on their own, he would pick them to be on his basketball team. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

One of the best examples of Burrow’s selflessness came during his Heisman acceptance speech.

Burrow won the Heisman by a record margin and the spotlight was shining brightly on him. He could have used his time to talk about what he accomplished. Instead, he thanked his teammates, his coaches, for taking a chance on him, and put the spotlight on Athens County and the food insecurity crisis affecting the poorest county in Ohio.

“Coming from southeast Ohio it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said. “There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”

The fundraiser for the Athens County Food Pantry brought in more than $500,000 in the weeks that followed.

“It was surreal,” his physics teacher said of Burrow’s Heisman speech. “You watch a student, a person, who achieved something almost unfathomable to everybody. I’ve taught a lot of athletes who played for D1 schools, and this is above and beyond even that. You never think you’re gonna see somebody achieve that great dream like that. He never thought he was better than anyone else and when he achieved this great success, it was almost as if you know the whole community was able to succeed because of him.”[1]

This is what prophetic leadership looks like. It is seen in those who point away from themselves and lift up others.

Jesus' Prophetic Leadership

Today we hear that Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The story zooms in closer and the tempo slows when Jesus comes to his home synagogue in Nazareth, the village in which he was raised. Here everyone watched him grow up and knows his family well. As an honored guest who is already gathering a reputation as a great teacher, Jesus is invited to read the Scriptures and to offer an interpretation.[2]

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor."

This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is where he reveals the heart of his message and mission. To bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, let the oppressed go free…All eyes are fixed on him.

And then he gives a one-sentence interpretation: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” God has anointed him, sent him, compelled him to bring good news to every one of God’s children who is bound up, pressed down, broken in spirit, impoverished, and hungry for hope.

The word translated “poor” (ptochos in Greek) has to do with economic status as well as other factors that lowered one’s status in the first-century world – gender, education, occupation, sickness, disability, ethnicity. His mission to the poor was to anyone who was relegated to the margins of society. He insisted that these outsiders are the very special recipients of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus makes these ancient words of Isaiah come to life. His mission is to proclaim good news – to show how the world could be different if we are different.

“Why is everyone so happy?” our daughter Emma asked yesterday after the Bengals win.

This is what happens when you stopped dreaming something was possible and then suddenly you begin to believe again.

The dream that Jesus offers is that in our time this could be possible. Everyone benefits when liberty and wellbeing extend to all people. Following Jesus is about helping to build a world worthy of proclamation.

Becoming the Good News in Community

Today’s lessons, from Nehemiah and from the Gospel of Luke, show us what happens when a community comes together to hear the word of God proclaimed and interpreted.

When the prophet Ezra lifts up the scroll and opens it for all the people they stand in reverence before this sacred text. But it is not the scroll they revere, they honor and bless the God whose saving actions and presence the words of the scroll reveal. God gave these words to Moses, and Ezra reads them to the people, but he reminds them that in every generation, the people of God must listen to the story, must interpret what the words mean, must discover how to live in God’s way in their time.

In the same way, when Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah, they are not just the old words of the prophet, they are the living breathing presence of God alive in the world. On that day in the synagogue, Jesus comes among them as the sacred story of God embodied in fullness for all to read; the ancient, sacred texts cohering and taking form and coming to life in him, for the life of the world. God’s story being told anew, being understood in a new way, interpreted in a new time, for another generation.

This good news, is as real now as it was when Ezra spoke and when Jesus quoted Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. But proclaiming this good news is not just the vocation of Jesus or Ezra, or even Joe Burrow, it is also the vocation of the Church.

St. Paul says we are the Body of Christ, the living breathing reflection of God in the world today.

And so we who are the body of Christ and followers of the Word: What will we do with these words about good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of God’s favor? How do we let these ancient words show through in our lives? How do we, like the Christ whom we follow, give flesh to these words? Jesus challenges us to reflect God’s story not only in our words but in our lives.[3]

We are called to stand up and help bring God’s dream to life. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, if you will let these words come alive in you!

May you be the good news - boldly proclaiming hope to the poor and release to the captives.

May we be the Body of Christ so that the whole world may continue to rejoice in God’s story told anew in our day. Amen.

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