The season of Epiphany, when the Church explicitly remembers how Jesus is revealed as God in the Gospels is now coming to a end. In this season we have followed the Magi, remembered Christ’s baptism, and witnessed the Kingdom of God. Yet before we look too far down the path of Epiphany, to the palms of Sunday and the ashes of Wednesday, let us consider Jesus’ revelation as God in Worship.
The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all mention the account of Jesus teaching at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. In the Luke account we find that during this Sabbath worship service it was Jesus’ turn to read the scroll, which happened to have been from the Prophet Isaiah. SO as was the custom, Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah, stands up and gives the reading:
“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, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This verse is drawn from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. What was Jesus’ interpretation of these verses from the Prophet for those in attendance? ”Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk4:21). There was amazement at the grace of his words and then the questions and challenges came, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus then begins to unpack his amplified interpretation of these verses from Isaiah in Luke 4:24-30 as the hearers with rage try to lay hands on him. To think that God would extend his grace and blessing outside of “clean & chosen” Israel to lepers, widows, the poor, and Gentiles!
The people of Nazareth missed Jesus as God in the reading and failed to glorify God, acknowledging him for who he is. Today I sometimes wonder if the church fails in this respect to acknowledge God for who he is in worship. Three benchmarks for worship as a response to God’s glory (that I have adapted from Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology) are:
- Worship is not something we do for God - “Praise” does not bring down the glory of God. “Waiting” does not bring down the glory of God. “Playing Louder Music” does not bring down the glory of God. The glory of God is a self-giving gift and thus, everything we are and have to offer is a gift from God.
- Worship is its own end. In the pragmatic context in which we find ourselves in history, everything including worship has to have and end or purpose (mostly for us). What do you mean Jesus this reading is fulfilled in our hearing? Aren’t you Joseph’s boy? What’s in it for us? As William Willimon writes, “Worship loses is integrity when it is regarded instrumentally as a means of something else-even as a means of achieving the most noble of human purposes”
- Worship is a response to God’s total character. True worship must reflect the reality of who the triune God is. I agree with John Wesley’s observation of the verse that Jesus reads above, “The Spirit of Lord is upon me” as a reference to the Holy Trinity. Do we worship a triune God today in American Christianity?