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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Down to the Jubilee


A Sermon preached at
St. Paul's, Georgetown, DE
Epiphany III - The Annual Meeting
January 23, 2022

Well, scripture says that Jesus has been preaching "all around the country". When we catch up to him today, Jesus is in Nazareth, in his hometown synagogue. 


He has just read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah wherein the year of the Lord’s favor – the Year of the Jubilee – has just been proclaimed. And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.


Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."


What an audacious, bold thing to say. Reading that, it’s no wonder that writer C.S. Lewis declares that “Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord.”


It’s a pretty outrageous thing for him to say. Everyone in that synagogue would know and understand that in proclaiming ‘the year of the Lord’s favor’, Jesus was talking about Jubilee. But, this was not that year. What the heck was he talking about?


The Jubilee (Hebrew: יובל yōḇel; Yiddish: yoyvl) is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita (Sabbatical years) – seven times seven is 49, or, approximately every 50 years. According to biblical regulations, the Jubilee had a special impact on the ownership and management of land in the Land of Israel. (Lev 25:8-55).

Every fiftieth year Israel was to take the whole year off, cancel all debts, return to its original owners all family property that had been sold and generally be kind and generous to everyone. “Proclaim liberty throughout the land” (Lev 25:10) – that was everyone’s job for a whole year. Quite an incentive to live a long life!


Now, we can assume that when Jesus said this, it came as a surprise to all those who heard it because it was not, in fact, the end of seven cycles of Sabbatical years. We’ll find out next week what happens to Jesus for making this bold assertion but the thing of it is, Jesus was making a much bolder claim than just what appears on the calendar.


The original hearers of this first public proclamation of scripture couldn’t know it at the time, but Jesus was saying that you don’t have to wait 50 years to be set free. Jesus knew what they couldn’t know just yet; that the Scriptural Jubilee is a foreshadowing of the liberation of Christ (Galatians 5:1). They don’t know it yet, but the cross cancels whatever debts we have incurred through our sins.


The cross is the vehicle of our liberation, not the calendar.


I want to linger on this point for a moment and let that sink in. We no longer have to count seven cycles of Sabbatical years in order to have a Jubilee Year. No one has to wait 50 years before you are completely forgiven and set free from any debts owed to God. Every year is a Jubilee year because Christ as liberated us from sin.


Just this past week, I spoke with a man who had just turned 85. He was formerly Roman Catholic and, years after his divorce, he spoke with a priest about the woman he had met and intended to marry.


Now, I’m quite certain that he misunderstood what the priest said. Or, maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine a priest in any one of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic churches saying this to anyone. What this man heard is that, if he remarried without the permission of the marriage tribunal who would dissolve his first marriage vows, it would be considered a sin of adultery. As a consequence of that, he understood that he couldn’t be buried in a cemetery or even “be allowed” to have a funeral.


I suspect that the priest may have said, “buried in a Catholic cemetery” and “have a funeral in a Catholic Church.” The man was so upset, however, that what he heard was no funeral and no burial in a cemetery.


So, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’ve waited a long time to ask this but, is that true? Because I love my wife of 50 years, am I not allowed to have a funeral? Do my ashes just get scattered in the wind without a place to rest?”


After I assured him that the Roman Catholic Church of 50 years ago is very different from the church of today – at least in America – I told him that of course he could have a funeral and a burial.


Well, the man sobbed as if he had been freed from an anvil tied round his soul for 50 years. After he and his wife had had a good cry, we began talking about what his funeral would look like and where he wanted his ashes to be interred.


And, I tell you, it was like talking to a whole new person. His shoulders were squarer, his chin was higher, his eyes were brighter and he was smiling. He said, “This really is a Jubilee year for me. I feel whole. I feel at home in my own body, which probably won’t last this whole year, but oddly enough, that’s alright with me now.”


This is the week of Jubilees. I spoke with someone this week about membership in this church. He had been away for a bit and then came back. And he said to me with a tone in his voice I can’t really describe but it was enough to move me to tears, “I’m home. St. Paul’s is my home. It will always be my home. I’m home.”


At the end of this service, we will move directly into the Annual Meeting. I hope, as you listen to the summaries of each leader and later, when you are home and you read over the reports at your leisure, that you get that sense of Jubilee.


I hope you begin to sense, if you haven’t already, that there is a place for you in this church. It may be in a particular activity or it may be in knowing that you don’t have to be in a particular activity to belong if you haven’t yet figured out what God is calling you to do.Yet.


I hope that you take to heart all of what St. Paul has to say about all the parts of the body working together for the good of the whole. And that all the parts are needed – the eye, the foot, the hand – all have different functions but all are part of the whole and work for the good of the whole.


I hope that, whatever you have in your past that has made you feel weighed down and burdened is lifted. That you come to know that there is always a place at this table for you. That no matter who you are or who you think you are; where you’ve been or where you think you’re going; no matter how much or how little faith you have; this is a sanctuary. 


You are safe here. This is your spiritual home. Because you are part of the Body of Christ, we have been set free. Every day in Christ is a Jubilee.


There’s a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter called Jubilee that sums up what I’m trying to say. I’ll close with her words:


And I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
There's only so long you can take it all on
And then the wrong's gotta be on its own
And when you're ready to leave it behind you
You'll look back and all that you'll see
Is the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee


And I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
Your name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears
They can't add up too much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee


I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came
And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee


And I can tell by the way you're standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That its habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here
Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
May we all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee

'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee



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