March 27, 2022

Fourth Sunday in Lent

READINGS FOR THE WEEK
  • First reading
    • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 32
  • Second reading
    • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Gospel
    • Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The gospel from Luke:
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘

Return of the Prodigal Son 1907
Feddersen, Hans Peter, 1848-1941
Kunsthalle Kiel
Kiel, Germany
diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

March 20, 2022

Third Sunday in Lent

READINGS FOR THE WEEK
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 55:1-9
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 63:1-8
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
  • Gospel
    • Luke 13:1-9

The First Reading from Isaiah:
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The gospel from Luke:
At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

The Gardener and the Fig Tree
Dungarvan, Waterford, Ireland
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/

Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’

He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Sermon:
This morning Pastor Stevensen poses the question Why does God accept repentance? For an answer we can turn to our first reading. In Isaiah 55 we read Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In Luke Jesus’ words are more urgent. For unless you repent his words are more shocking and direct. But then he speaks His parable of the fig tree. The fig tree can stand for those listening to Him. The tree owner is God. The garden can be taken as the offer to repent. Older people often ask about family or others they have known. They are told to act on only those things they can control. Pastor continues by talking about spiritual pride and a feeling that God cannot forgive our sins and to conclude that God’s Son has made us free.

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March 13, 2022

Second Sunday in Lent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 27
  • Second reading
    • Philippians 3:17-4:1
  • Gospel
    • Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Christ and the Pharisees
Hand-colored woodcut
1517 Schäufelein, Hans,
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY
Art in the Christian Tradition
Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville,TN.
https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

The gospel from Luke:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Sermon, by Pastor Stevensen
The gospel reading is a portion of Luke 13. Simply a great reading for Lent. Why would I say that? What does it have to say when placed alongside the other lectionary readings? In the 1990’s I took a class on Luke at LSTC and then came back to my congregation and taught a year-long course on Luke’s Acts, using the insights that I had gained from a week in Chicago.

Remember what happened when we discussed Luke 13:
13:33 “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible
for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to
it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood
under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Professor Krentz, a highly regarded NT scholar who taught the LSTC course, said that these
passages mean that Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die, knowingly. I simply repeated his comments. One of the people in the course announced, “That is horrible,” and left, never to return.
Where do we – I – go from there? I was a difficult experience, to have someone stand up like that and walk out, never to return. But, it seems to failed to dissuade me, as I keep offering that
interpretation of these passages.

I would like to place these passages in the broader context of human behavior by referring to our current situation. Anyone who is awake is aware of the current level of conflict in American politics and culture. People are attacking each other like they haven’t since the Vietnam war. But is this behavior unique to our times?

I clearly don’t think so, with my reference to the Vietnam era. Students of American history may recall that on May 22, 1856, in the United States Senate chamber, Representative Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, used a walking cane to attack Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts. Interestingly, those in the north sympathized with Summer, and southern newspapers defended Brooks. Fortunately, we are not there, at least not yet.

My point is that people often respond quite aggressively when their values or behavior are
challenged. Imagine then what it would have been like to be a prophet of Israel. Prophets
challenged the king and sometimes the people, calling both back to God’s covenant with Israel.
The covenant required them to keep the commandments. No idolatry. No stealing. No, well, you
have the idea. Given human behavior, is it any surprise that the prophets suffered when they were active in Jerusalem?

But is there more to it than just the human desire to silence those with whom we disagree? In
these seemingly all too human events, the eyes of faith can see the hand of God at work. For
those that miss it, Jesus tells them. God’s hand is at work in these seemingly ordinary events.
Why is it so important to see the the God’s plan unfolding in the events long ago in Jerusalem?
Because Jesus’ comments point to the climactic events to come. Specifically, the death and
resurrection of the messiah, that is to say, Jesus himself.

We say it every Sunday, but Lent is a time for especially saying it. The central point of
Christianity is the cross, by which I mean both the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is more than just a reflection of people’s bad behavior, it is an assertion that
Jesus goes to Jerusalem because that is God’s plan for him to do.

The events in Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets sent by God, is central to every book in the
New Testament. Why is this the case? Why is it necessary for the Son of God to journey to the
city that kills prophets? Because human sin and death, and evil in the world are very serious problems, indeed. That is why the person in my class exclaimed that I said something horrible, I was horrible, and left. By repeating the comment that I was taught at the Chicago seminary, I was forcing everyone to confront these serious problems. Who wants to do that?

That’s why Charles Summer got canned by Preston Brooks; Summer pointed out the evil of slavery. That is why Jerusalem kills prophets, they pointed out that their listeners had really gone astray. God’s answer to all of these problems is the cross. A completely unexpected answer, too, I think. The cross tells us the seriousness of sin, death, and the devil.

The solution had to be that God himself came and died. That tells us how serious are sin, death, and the power of the devil. Second, he did it his way. We were not involved, and it was not our way. At first blush, it looks like we were very involved, after all, Jerusalem is the city that kills prophets. And this is why Luther writes, quoting Paul, that the cross alone is our theology. That is the basis of our hope and assurance. Thank the Lord. Amen

March 6, 2022

First Sunday in Lent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
  • Second reading
    • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Gospel
    • Luke 4:1-13

The gospel from Luke:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

Temptation in the Desert ca. 1886-1894
Tissot, James 1836-1902
Brooklyn Museum Watercolor
New York NY*
Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Sermon:
Pastor Stevensen today points out that our three scripture readings interact. In Deuteronomy, we read of Moses’ telling the Israelites that “The Lord brought us out of Egypt …..and brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land filled with milk and honey.” Only God could have done this. They were told to only trust God. In Luke we read that the devil said to Jesus after showing him all the kingdoms of the world “If you will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” Only God can give life on Earth. In Romans, Paul has written “……if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.” Pastor continues toward a concluding reminder of “God’s glorius Resurrection of His Son.”

*Notes:
“…when his (Tissot) carefully researched collection of 350 watercolors depicting the life of Jesus was first published as a book in 1896, it found a large and enthusiastic audience. No one who had followed his previous career could have anticipated that this painter of urban life in Paris and London would undertake the project of painting virtually every event in the Gospels.

The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ project took nearly ten years to complete. When it was done, it chronicled the entire life of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament in a series of 350 watercolors. To research the project Tissot traveled to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in 1886–87, and again in 1890.

While in the Holy Land he closely observed the landscape, the vegetation, the architecture, and the manner of dress, and filled sketchbooks with what he saw. He talked with rabbis and studied Talmudic literature as well as theological and historical volumes. He believed that there was still a remaining “aura” in the places where the Gospel events took place, and he spoke of having mystical experiences that added to his careful research. What he wanted to create was something as close as possible to an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus.” [from Terry Glaspey’s “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know”]

February 27, 2022

Transfiguration Sunday

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Exodus 34:29-35
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 99
  • Second reading
    • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
  • Gospel
    • Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

The gospel from Luke:
Now Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

The Macklin Bible — The Transfiguration*
1791:
Smirke, Robert, 1752-1845
Delattre, Jean Marie, 1745
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Print
Nashville, TN

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

*Notes:
The Macklin Bible is an enormous physical specimen of book art, comprising seven volumes two feet in height and over 130 pounds in weight. It is the apogee of the art of British copper-plate engraving, involving both painters and engravers. These renowned artists often selected scripture texts that featured women, who were the nurturers of religious education for the family in late 18th century England.

Sermon
Church pastors have struggled to make the content of this week’s gospel lesson relevant. It is about a physical event that involves a cloud. This cloud protects the witnesses – the three disciples of Jesus. The event is important to Peter, as he writes about it in his letters in the Bible. Jesus is transfigured, his clothing turns white, and God declares to the witnesses that Jesus is God’s Son. Pastor Stevensen spoke also on a second theme concerning the taking communion. He concludes his sermon saying it is not after doing good or being known we wish to share communion, but rather having a believing heart.

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February 20, 2022

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Genesis 45:3-11, 15
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
  • Gospel
    • Luke 6:27-38

The first reading from Genesis:
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Joseph recognized by his brothers
1863 Bourgeois, Leon Pierre Urbain
Musee Municipal Frederic Blandin
Nevers, France
Art in the Christian Tradition
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN
https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.

I will provide for you there–since there are five more years of famine to come–so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The gospel from Luke:
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

February 13, 2022

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Jeremiah 17:5-10
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 1
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
  • Gospel
    • Luke 6:17-26

The gospel from Luke:
Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

February 6, 2022

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)Psalm 1381 Corinthians 15:1-11Luke 5:1-11

The gospel from Luke:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

5:4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.

So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

January 30, 2022

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Jeremiah 1:4-10
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 71:1-6
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
  • Gospel
    • Luke 4:21-30

The gospel from Luke:
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.

But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

January 23, 2022

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 19
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Gospel
    • Luke 4:14-21

The gospel from Luke:
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue .
Tissot, James, 1836-1902
Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries, Vanderbilt University

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 favor.” 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.”