January 27, 2019 – 3 Epiphany C
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Rabbi Akiva was born shortly after the time of Jesus. He was wise and learned, and he was greatly respected.
One night Rabbi Akiva was walking home as he did every night. But this particular night was incredibly foggy and he could barely see the path he was walking on.
So he gets to the point in the road where he usually turns, but, he misses his turn and keeps wandering further in the wrong direction, until he comes to a Roman fortress.
As he approaches the fortress, he hears the voice of a guard who yells down to him from the fortress wall, “Who are you and why are you here?”
Rabbi Akiva, upon hearing those words asks the guard a question: “How much do they pay you to do this?”
The guard was a little taken back by the question and quickly uttered, “What do you mean? Why are you asking me this?”
The rabbi went on — “I’m sure you get paid something to be a guard here, how much do they pay you?”
“Two shekels a day,” the guard responded.
Rabbi Akiva listened to the guard and then said this: I will pay you double that amount if you follow me home and ask me those same questions every day.”
Who are you? Why are you here?
Rabbi Akiva was wise, and in his great wisdom he saw the power in those two questions to shape our lives. But so often we lose track of our identity and purpose in this world, and we can find ourselves ending up in places we don’t wish to be. We want to follow Jesus and grow in our relationship with him, but we can so easily get distracted with temporary pleasures and cares. We can end up gaining the whole world, while losing our own soul. We want to be faithful spouses, friends, or parents, but we can easily discover that we’ve neglected the most important relationships in our lives for temporary things: deadlines, commitments, and busy schedules crowd out our loved ones.
For all the things that you and I care about most, those two questions can help us live lives faithful to our deepest and most important values. Who are you? Why are you here?
Before the wise and learned Rabbi Akiva, there was another rabbi who had a very clear answer to those two questions. It was the custom of this rabbi to go to the synagogue every Sabbath. And on this particular day, as his reputation begins to grow as a renowned teacher and healer, as news spreads about him and his newly begun ministry, his inaugural public address answers both of those critical and fundamental questions about his identity.
He reads the words of the prophet Isaiah from the scroll. He then rolls up the scroll, assumes the posture of a teacher in his day, and sits down so that he might teach the assembly. And this is what the up and coming rabbi chooses to say about his identity and purpose.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring 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.”
This is the first time in the Gospel of Luke that we hear Jesus speak about his ministry and this is what he chooses to say about who he is and why he is here. Who are you Jesus? I’m anointed by God. Why are you here? To share the good news of God’s love.
I’d like for you to take just a moment and think of your answer to those two questions. Who are you? Why are you here?
I know that we may have many different answers, but at the heart of it, you and I share the same answers to both of those questions. And beyond that, the answers we share to those questions are the same ones Jesus gives.
You and I share the same answers with each other, and we share the same answers that Jesus gives because we have been baptized.
Jesus rose from the baptismal waters and was anointed by the Holy Spirit who descended upon him as a dove. You and I share in the same baptism and we were anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.
And each of us who were baptized and who have made a lifelong vow to God in our baptismal covenant, have committed ourselves to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
We are the children of God, anointed by the Holy Spirt and marked as Christ’s own forever to proclaim the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
So that’s who we are and why we are here as the baptized, but as we know, it can be easy to lose track of our identity and purpose in this world. And one especially damaging distraction for us is to discount God’s good news for the current generations.
Despair and sometimes even contempt for today’s younger generations is common. The general feeling for many of the older generations is that former times were simpler than they are now, and that our culture is crumbling due to entitled, weak, foolish, and corrupt younger generations.
But this contempt for younger generations by older generations has been a constant throughout human history.
I’d like to share some examples with you.
Horace, the Roman poet wrote the following in 20 BC : “The age of our fathers was worse than the age of our grandfathers. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world children yet more corrupt.”
Yoshida Kenkō writing in 1330 AD had this to say about the younger generations in his time and context: “Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased … The ordinary spoken language has also steadily coarsened.
In 1695, Robert Russell wrote a book about instructing children and this is what he had to say: “… I find by sad Experience how the Towns and Streets are filled with lewd wicked Children, and many Children as they have played about the Streets have been heard to curse and swear and call one another Nick-names, and it would grieve ones Heart to hear what bawdy and filthy Communications proceeds from the Mouths of such…”
In a speech to the House of Commons in 1843, Anthony Ashley Cooper, characterized the youth of his day as “…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”
Listen to this from a newspaper in England, the Hull Daily Mail in 1925: ““We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.”
As we can see, contempt and even despair of the younger generation by older generations has been a constant throughout human history. And oftentimes, what this does is distract us from our identity and purpose as the baptized in our current times. Things may be different and the current generations may be facing unique problems and challenges, but the truth is that every generation has had their own challenges. We must be careful that we don’t become so wrapped up in negativity towards our present day that we miss the fact that today is the day of salvation. This is the year of the Lord’s favor. No matter how things may be different today than they were in the past, what remains constant is God’s love and saving action in our world.
Today is the day when we must live out our identity and purpose. Who are you? You are a child of God, anointed by the Holy Spirt and marked as Christ’s own forever. Why are you here? To proclaim the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. This has been true in former generations, but it is also what is true today, in this year, and in this generation.
Today the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”