Today (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

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Often in the Bible, it’s hard to figure out exactly when an event is happening.  Figuring out when God is doing something frequently requires knowing history, math and sometimes just a good guess.  Biblical writers often peg events with words like “in the year that King Uzziah died”; or “in the days of Elijah”.  Or even, as we’ve recently heard in Luke’s Gospel, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius.”  An exact time and date doesn’t just jump off the page.

But in this morning’s Gospel reading, Luke reports that Jesus very specifically noted the date and moment that God was acting.  Jesus begins his “sermon”, if you will, with the date: “Today.”  “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Today” – nobody had to guess when in the future God might act.  Nobody had to do math to figure out which year of the Emperor’s reign it was.  And “today” is not squishy like, “the days are surely coming.”  Jesus says today.  Right now.  Right here.

“Today” is such a simple and common word, that we often pass right over it.  And yet as I was looking at that word in the New Testament, it’s not used very often in the Gospels – in fact, the Gospel of John never uses it all.  But “today” is a word Luke uses a lot.  And in some respects, that’s kind of strange.

After all, the people in the synagogue of Nazareth obviously knew Jesus was speaking to them “today.”  So the word “today” could have easily be edited out in order to save space for other things Jesus had to say.

But over and over again, when Luke reports the use of the word “today”, he wants to make it clear that God’s power and activity in the lives of the listeners is happening right now.  Right here.  And among them.

And so the angels announce that “Today, is born in the city of David, a Savior”; Jesus announces that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down from the tree because “today, I must stay at your house.”  And one of Jesus’ final words from the cross is to tell one of the others dying with him that “today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Today” is actually an important word, because it calls people to recognize the immediacy of God’s power and presence in their lives.  And yet, sometimes we pass over this word – and maybe they did, too – because “today” doesn’t seem like:

  • The right place for God to be acting – OK, maybe God is acting today someplace else, but in the fields of Bethlehem?  In the backwater of Nazareth of all places? Or on the cross…?
  • The right context for God to be acting – things just seem like too much of a mess right now; there were distracting social and political issues for those folks as well as for us; and as they were back then on the cross, people today are literally dying.  How could this be a context in which God is acting “today”…?
  • The right people for God to be working among – for Luke’s first readers, it was sort of strange to think that God would act among shepherds on the outskirts of town in the middle of the night, or in a backwater place like Nazareth.  Maybe people might think God would act “today”, but among these folks…?

And yet, Jesus continually announces to folks long ago – and to us – that God is acting “today.”  Right here.  Right now.  And among us.

And that first word of Jesus’ sermon – “today” – is Jesus’ call in our lives to:

  • Expect God to be acting right now – this seems simple enough, but for many people, the idea that God will act at the end of time or maybe with my soul after I die is a concept they’re willing to entertain.  But to actually believe and expect God to be doing something right now can be a hard thing when I’m so distracted with so many other things, especially things that make me wonder why God isn’t cleaning up the mess!  Yet in spite of the messes that people found themselves in, Jesus appeared and acted in their lives.  Jesus brought life and healing and hope even though he didn’t make all of the other messes go away.  And so how would our lives be different – and how would we approach each new day – if we actually lived with the hope and expectation that God is acting in our lives today…?
  • Watch for what God is doing today – part of living in hope and expectation is watching for how God is acting today, even if it’s in small ways, and especially if it’s in ways that other people – or maybe even we ourselves – might simply dismiss as happenstance or coincidence.  Indeed, many people in the Gospel stories DIDN’T see what Jesus did “today” not because they weren’t there, but because they either weren’t paying attention or because they were unwilling to entertain even the possibility that this thing that happened was indeed God at work today in their lives.  And for us, “today” is Jesus’ call to pay more attention to what God may be doing around us and in us so that we don’t miss it…
  • Respond right now, in this moment – what God is doing today isn’t simply something for us to watch.  It’s also a call in our lives to respond – to live differently because of what God is doing right now.  “Today” meant that the shepherds needed to get up and go someplace in the middle of the night; it meant that the people of Nazareth had to apply the scriptures to themselves instead of just ancient people; and it meant that Zacchaeus actually had to climb down from his perch, and actively welcome Jesus into his life.  And for us, too, “today” means looking for what God is calling us to do right now and right here, even if we don’t know what tomorrow looks like, and even if we’re uncertain how it fits into the big picture.  Sometimes, I get stuck – and maybe you do, too – because today doesn’t seem all that important in the vast scheme of things.  But Jesus’ call to respond “today” means that what we do today matters because you and I matter to God…

God is always acting everywhere, in every place and in every time.  But Jesus calls us not to miss out on what God is doing today. 

No matter what our past, and no matter what the future holds, Jesus is calling us to trust that God is at work among us today.  Jesus is calling us to pay attention to how God is acting in us and among us right here and right now.  And Jesus is calling us to respond today, even if what we feel called to do seems small or ordinary, because by responding right now we live more fully into what God is doing today in our lives and in the life of the world around us.