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3rd Sunday OT ~ "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass" ~ Susan McGurgan

It’s 10 AM in a small town down the road--

the kind of town that can be found

half-way between "just about anywhere,"

and "no place in particular."


the air is heavy and close.

Heat rises in waves above the asphalt parking lot

and the sun angles through the stained-glass windows,

leaving a riot of color across the polished floor.

Ladies fan themselves with last week’s bulletin

and men mop their brows,

dreaming of tall glasses of sweet tea

sipped on a shady porch.

A ripple of anticipation breaks the stillness,

as one of their own,

a boy from the neighborhood

stands up

and walks slowly to the pulpit.

He had grown up among them,

an ordinary boy—

a bit precocious, perhaps,

but solid—

hard working,


apprenticed to the town mechanic.

And his parents?

Well… just like any of them, they supposed,

no better, no worse.


called to preach?


that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

A hush falls across the assembly—

the coughing and rustling pauses

as he lays his calloused hand upon the well-worn bible

and begins to speak in a clear, strong voice.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. He closes the Bible and stands for a moment in silence,

looking out at his neighbors,

his teachers,

his cousins,


familiar faces he has known his entire life.

People who remember

that time he lingered in the city after the field trip,

lost in conversation,

and causing panic at home.

People who hire his father for day jobs,

and gossip about his mother—

People who think they know


there is to know about him.

He gazes out at their faces,

so familiar and beloved,

and yet,


so strange,

and says quietly,


this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” His words are met with silence.

Polite at first,

as if the listeners don’t quite grasp his meaning.

Then a gasp,

as the enormity of what he implies sinks in.

A hissing,

crackling sound

arises from a dozen throats,



the noise electrifying the air

like an arcing wire from an overloaded circuit.

He steps from the pulpit

and walks down the aisle and out of the church

leaving them speechless,


afraid, somehow.

# # #

Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.


the poor hear Good News announced.


the oppressed go free.


the blind see,


begins the year acceptable to the Lord.

Not tomorrow,

or next week.

Not later,

when we all feel just a bit more ready.

Not when change is more convenient,

or when the powerful and the comfortable

are ready to move over and make some room.

But today.


Right here in our midst.

Center aisle,

10 AM Mass,

in a town halfway between just about anywhere

and no place in particular.

Exactly where the sun

angles through stained-glass windows

and splashes a riot of color across the polished floor.

If we’re being honest,

this doesn’t seem possible,

or realistic,

or even very welcome.

Most of us,

if we are being completely honest,

don’t really want the Gospel message

to unfold in front of us

without warning or time to prepare.

We aren’t entirely sure

that we want a front row seat

and unfettered access to


and lepers

and overturned money tables

and sketchy women

and zealous, rough men who reek—

just a little—

of yesterday’s catch.

Tomorrow or the next day or even the week after that

will do just fine,


I mean, after all,

there’s nothing wrong with a little buffer zone—

a safe perimeter—

due notice—

time to put our affairs in order—


on second thought,

maybe Scripture is actually best kept

safely inside a locked cabinet

in a museum of ancient curiosities—

perhaps in one of those

“In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” cases.

That way,

we know where God’s Word is

at all times,

and it’s right there

safe and sound

when we really,

really need it,

but, you know…



# #

Whether we are ready or not,

I suspect that this passage

is supposed to remind us that

each time

someone stands to proclaim Scripture;

Each time

someone preaches the Word;

Each time

we sing psalms of deliverance, and lament, and hope;

Each and every time—

we will discover Christ standing in our midst,

just as he did that day so long ago in his own hometown,

proclaiming that



this moment,

scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing.

The day of jubilee is now.

The time of liberation is upon us.

Captives are being freed.

Graves are opening up.

Stones are rolling away.

Burial cloths are unwinding.

The poor are hearing glad tidings

and the accepted order of things

is being overturned.


Maybe we should gasp out loud.

Maybe each reading of scripture should leave the air

heavy with electricity.

Maybe we should catch a whiff of ozone

and hear the crackle of live wires arcing from an overloaded circuit

at the end of every hymn

or the beginning of every psalm.

Maybe we should remember

that journeying through scripture

is like walking beside the third rail…



charged with dangerous power just waiting to be unleashed.

The author, Annie Dillard once said,

“It is madness

to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church;

we should all be wearing

crash helmets.

Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;

they should lash us to our pews.

For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense,

or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.”*


I don’t really know what to make of this.

I only know that my life feels a bit too tame

and my dreams suddenly seem too small.

Maybe I should lash myself to the pew

and strap on a crash helmet,

and prepare for signs of the kingdom,

emerging all around me.

Today this scripture is fulfilled in my hearing,

and I fear I am not ready—

Come, Lord Jesus.

(c) Susan Fleming McGurgan

*Annie Dillard “The Abundance”, p.173

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