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Proclaiming Jubilee Moments in Our World: The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, January 27, 2019:
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Luke 4:14-21

God of all mercy,
your Son proclaimed good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
and freedom to the oppressed:
anoint us with your Holy Spirit,
so that all people may be free
to praise you in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Common Worship: Additional Collects (2004)

There was a good news story this week. (That’s worth leaving hanging for a while.)

A good news story concerning social media. (Even harder to believe!)

You might have come across it toward the end of the week. It’s concerning the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt. He’s in all sorts of cartoons and movies, and he’s the narrator on the sitcom The Goldbergs. Basically, what happened is that the President made some comment about ‘the Wall’ and this comedian Oswalt took exception to it. So he goes on Twitter, one of those popular social media sites, and posts a mocking and condemnatory tweet, taking aim at the President. In response to that, some guy in I-don’t-know-where fires a couple insults back at Oswalt, ‘cause this guy’s an unwavering supporter of Trump.

(This is what happens, by the way, all the time in our world. And Twitter is that platform that only allows you a small number of words, so it’s basically designed to inhibit actual meaningful and nuanced dialogue from happening. So you just end up with these short bursts of anger and attitude launched from one wing to the other, and then back the other way. And then everyone’s friends and supporters get involved, and you have hundreds or thousands of people typing very short but rude messages at each other.)

But… but this story was different. It’s a good news one, I said. Apparently the comedian, Oswalt, went and looked up this guy he was fighting with. He sees on his profile page that this guy’d recently been in hospital, had been in a diabetes-related coma, and was dealing with sepsis. And being the States, the guy now has to pay for all this medical treatment. Oswalt sees, he had recently started a GoFundMe page — sort of a fundraising account that lets friends, or anyone else, support any sort of personal cause (in this case, medical bills; and he was hoping to raise $5000).

So instead of continuing with this back-and-forth argument, Oswalt posts a message on his Twitter feed: hey, this guy’s been dealing with some pretty crappy stuff. Let’s not add to it. I’m putting $2000 toward his medical bills.

Wow. That’s a modern day techy version of turning the other cheek, you might say.

But that’s not it. By the time I heard about the story on Thursday night, thanks to Oswalt, his friends and followers, and other people who were catching wind of this, people had donated $21 000 toward that angry internet guy’s medical care. And when I checked on Saturday afternoon, it was around $45 000.

And the Trump supporter, his name’s Michael Beatty, and he responded with this: “Patton. You have humbled me to the point where I can barely compose my words. You have caused me to take pause and reflect on how harmful words from my mouth could result in such an outpouring. Thank you for this and I will pass this on to my cousin who needs help. A cascade.”

So that’s a bit of good news from this week. And even though, in the grand scheme of things it might be not much more than a minor blip in the ongoing history of the world, it’s better than bad news; it’s still good news. And it might not contain the ‘fullness of the Gospel’ in it, but I don’t mind saying that it has something to do with the Gospel. It’s in line with the Gospel. Because it sure seems to reflect Gospel values. How we heard in our Gospel story today Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the Prophets, and says that Good News is about to come for: the poor, captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

And he proclaims “the year of the Lord’s favour.” He’s alluding to the Jubilee Year which has its origins in the Book of Leviticus. And we don’t know if it ever really played out back then as described, but the point of the Jubilee Year was that every 50 years people would take a break from really laborious farming. They’d just eat what was stored. And people returned to their ancestral lands. In other words, people got their land back. It means that if, in the past forty-nine years, 1% of the people accumulated 99% of the stuff, on the 50th year, things would get divided up evenly again, in that Jubilee Year. And Jesus in the synagogue implies that in the stuff he’s gonna get up to is Jubilee Year kinds of things. He’s going to make good news for people who need it.

I’m not — I repeat not — saying that Patton Oswalt is a Jesus figure, but I will say that what he did was proclaim a sort of ‘Jubilee moment’ on Twitter. He saw that the anger and polarity was happening, as it usually does, but he stopped, and thought for himself, and made a compassionate decision. And it looks like it made a difference for one person, and their cousin, and I suspect for the thousands of people who were watching.

And that unexpectedly kind Twitter interaction gives us today a sort of image of what the Church is called to be in our own world. A missionary outpost that continues this movement of Jesus that proclaims Good News for people that need it. And we represent and spread this Good News when we provide food for people that need it; when we give someone encouragement and support in difficult times; when we drive someone to an appointment, or bring them food while they’re recovering from a procedure; and when — in our everyday lives — we live up to our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. And I think that comedian Patton Oswalt set a good example for that.

So that’s Part One. Part Two is my Rector’s Report at our vestry meeting after the service. And let’s go into that meeting and into the coming year holding to this story of Jesus proclaiming Good News and the Year of the Lord’s Favour. And commit ourselves to being part of this. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter