The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
These words of Isaiah were written as the Jewish people began to return from exile, return to their beloved Jerusalem, a return which had so long been dreamed of. Yet the return wasn’t quite the salvation that people had hoped. The nation was divided, leaders played to privilege, justice was for sale and iniquity persisted. And in to this, Isaiah speaks powerful words of hope, of the Lord’s favour and an overturning of the established social order.
I don’t know about you, but I am in need of some good news and a sense of the Lord’s favour at the moment.
Over these last few months, so many of us have felt captive, prisoners in our own homes, wanting an end to this virus so that we can be released.
Over these last few months, we have longed to return to our worship in church and transform our faint spirit into a mantle of praise.
Over these last few months so many of us have been broken hearted, have had cause to mourn. Mourn for the loss of loved ones, mourn for the loss of livelihoods. Broken hearted that much of what gave our life shape and colour and joy has had to change beyond recognition. We long for God’s comfort, for the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
We are called to believe that through Christ, we will receive this salvation, through his death and resurrection, this vision will come true in time, but these prophetic words also challenge us to work for this salvation in the here and now.
On Sunday at Pentecost we were reminded that we too have been given the gift of the Spirit of the Lord God upon us. And whilst we might identify with the need to bind up the broken hearted, to comfort those who mourn and to be released from our own captivity of house arrest at this time, are we really brave enough, like Isaiah, to challenge the structures of power in our own society and bring good news to the oppressed?
Last week I quoted Martin Luther King and events in America since then, the death in police custody of African-American George Floyd and the subsequent protests, indicate that black Americans don’t yet feel that freedom which Dr King dreamed of.
It is perhaps too easy for us here to point to the US and say that we are not like that, we do not oppress our black brothers and sisters in the UK. But:
In the UK, people from Ethnic minorities are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people, are half as likely to go to a good university and more than twice as likely to live in poverty.
In London, Metropolitan Police officers are four times more likely to use force against black people compared with the white population.
Black people are three times more likely to be murdered and three times more likely to be found guilty of a crime.
What is more, perhaps partly due to their position in society, BAME people are 2.5 times more likely to die of this terrible virus than white people.
Race is certainly not the only axis of oppression in our society, but if we are called to bring good news to the oppressed, we are challenged to bring that good news to those oppressed who don’t look like us as well as those that do. We are a predominantly white congregation in a predominantly white area: how can we work to end racism in all its forms? Do we have the courage to call out racist comments when we hear them from our friends, our parents, our children? Can we see structures in our society that we, in positions of power and privilege, can work to overturn? Are we prepared to give up some of our privilege for the benefit of releasing those imprisoned in a cycle of discrimination?
I believe that with the help of the Holy Spirit of God, we can be part of proclaiming a year of God’s favour to all.