St Luke 4: 16 – 21 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘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 favour.’
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.’
Reflection Martin Luther King once noted that any religion which professes to be concerned about salvation but not about the economic realities of those it wishes to save is spiritually moribund and “awaiting burial.” * Jesus’ first sermon at Nazareth Synagogue, drawing on the rich theology of Isaiah, should have put paid to this type of cheap grace – good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight, and freedom for the oppressed are themes which echo down the years into our politics today. Of course these are themes which make us profoundly uncomfortable; we want to spiritualise them to make them safe. We want to avoid the economic realities of our world so we can create nice safe comfortable mental spaces.
The World Cup is a huge business and, like all huge businesses, comes at a cost. Air conditioning stadiums in deserts worsens the environmental crisis. Building such stadiums in a country with a shambolic human rights record meant workers were paid a pittance and had virtually no health and safety protection. The colossal amounts charged for viewing rights show that football, regardless of its working class origins, can become yet another expression of the economic system that rules our world.
Of course knowing this is only the first step. Empire’s vast machines cannot easily be changed or challenged. We may decry the economic systems but they feed us. And yet…. As a student I took part in protests in supermarkets about South African foodstuffs being stocked. The URC has a long and honourable tradition of boycotting Nestle products until it changed its ways. We are, to quote another 20th Century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, capable of putting spokes into the wheels of the engines of evil. How might we challenge the economic realities of our age in ways which show our commitment to Nazareth’s radical preacher?
Prayer Long ago, O God, you dreamed of a world of freedom, where there’d be no oppression, no injustice, no hunger, and no poverty. Time and time again you called your people, to work for such a world, yet we turned away, preferring riches and inequality to sufficiency and fairness. Help us, now, Eternal One, to dream your dreams, to change our world to spoke the wheels of injustice that your people might be free. Amen.
* Martin Luther King Jr., The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” and Other Great Writings
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the Minister for Digital Worship and member of the Peedie Kirk in Orkney