Luke 4, 14-21
TITLE: The Mission Statement of Jesus SCRIPTURE: Luke 4:14-21
Today's Gospel presents us with Jesus' first act of public ministry described for us in Luke's Gospel. Following his river baptism and his long wilderness fast and temptation, Jesus returns to his home country, Galilee. Reports about him have been spreading through the population, probably the result of his healing miracles and his synagogue teaching.
So when he comes back home, it's quite a big day in the synagogue. Everybody's there, eager to hear the local boy who's making a name for himself.
Jesus enters the synagogue on that Sabbath morning. It seems smaller than it looked when he was a child, but otherwise nothing about this familiar place has changed.
Joseph and Mary prepared him well for life. They raised him faithfully in their ancestral religion. He regularly attended Sabbath school and youth group. They brought him to the synagogue every week--as a baby, a child, a teenager.
It wasn't always easy, especially when he was a baby. And so Joseph and Mary must be patron saints for all the parents now who bring their babies to worship, who make sure their children get to church school, who see that their sons and daughters belong to a youth group. It's not easy, but these parents know that the child who participates regularly in the community of God's people is likely to have a strong faith in adulthood and a firm foundation during the crises of life.
So Jesus returns to the Nazareth synagogue, thankful for the upbringing he received there. He is asked to read the lesson from the prophets. There's no lectionary to consult to determine this reading; the choice is up to him. Nor is there a book to flip through. Instead, a bulky scroll is brought to him, and placed on the lectern. Jesus, searching for a familiar text, unrolls it to a place near the end of the scroll. In a voice strong with anticipation, he reads aloud these words:
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.
Finished with these few verses, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat.
It is the custom for teachers to sit, rather than to stand, so when Jesus sits, everyone looks at him, expecting some commentary, some explication of this text, a text well known to many of them.
There are no professional clergy. The synagogue president can invite any appropriate person to comment on the text. Often these remarks are less than inspiring. While the people are biblically literate, commentary on scripture by local folks is often no more than rote recitation of lessons all of them learned at an early age. So the congregation usually knows what will be said before it is said, and the only question is whether it
will be said correctly or not.
Not so today when Jesus sits down. The people are all looking at him. He looks around at them, those familiar faces from his early years, older in appearance than before: his childhood friends, now present with their children; the parents of his friends, now senior citizens.
He begins with a zinger, and something much more than a zinger: a sentence that remains fresh and provocative down to our own time. Jesus sets free the scripture passage he has just read; he lets the lion out of its cage; he overthrows the ho-hum expectations of the people around him. Here is what he says: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Jesus does the unexpected, the unimaginable, on that memorable Sabbath morning in Nazareth. In today's jargon, he claims for himself the ancient prophetic words as his own mission statement. The reason God's Spirit came crashing down on him at his baptism was to empower him to do precisely this: bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, proclaim the
year of the Lord's favor, the sweet Jubilee Year, when the economy will be conformed anew to God's justice.
Jesus takes all this as his mission statement, and is not content to leave it as only a string of high-sounding words. Everything that follows in his life, as presented to us in the Gospel, amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that Sabbath morning in Nazareth.
He keeps doing these things every chance he gets, every time he turns around, until finally it kills him. For some welcome what Jesus does, but others do not, because it upsets their unfair advantage, questions their complacency, and pushes them to recognize their habitual infidelity to God. They find their discomfort increasingly intolerable, and think that his judicial murder will bring an end to the matter. They are wrong, of course. Jesus rises alive from the dead, and continues today to do what he talked about that Sabbath morning long ago.
It is all too easy to imagine that the poor and the captives have gotten exactly what they deserved -- that they are poor because they didn't work hard enough or smart enough -- or that they ended up in jail because they made bad choices. Indeed, that is often the case, but we should be slow to judge and quick to help. Only God knows the other person's heart.
Only God knows the burden that the other person carries.
Steven Covey, the author of the popular book, Seven Habits of Successful People, tells this story on himself. He was riding a subway in New York City. The subway car was crowded but quiet. People were reading newspapers, napping, or just sitting quietly. Then a man with several children got on and everything changed. The children fought, yelled, and threw things. One of them grabbed a newspaper out of a passenger's hands.
The father just sat there.
Finally Covey had as much as he could take, and he walked over to talk to the father. He said, "Sir, we need your help. Your children are very disturbing. They're bothering everyone. Could you do something about it?"
That awoke the man from his daze, and he said, "You're right. I guess I should do something about it. We've just left the hospital where their mother died less than an hour ago. I really don't know what to think, and I guess they're not handling it too well either."
We are often too quick to judge before we know all the facts and less eager to help.
Now the way Jesus works is through his mystical body, the Church. Through each of us, and all who are baptized into his body, Jesus strives still to live out his mission statement, bringing good news to those who don't have any, setting free those chained in captivity, opening blind eyes, helping the oppressed and exploited find a life, and unrolling the floor plan that sets out God's reign where justice and peace prevail.
Jesus still does these things, because his Church does them. The poor gain hope, whether it's their souls or their bodies that are starved. The captives experience freedom, whether they are prisoners in a jail or prisoners in a mansion. The blind receive sight, whether it's cataract surgery at a church hospital, or the scales of prejudice falling off the eyes of a bigot. The oppressed are set free, whether oppression is a political regime or a chemical dependence. When Jesus reads that passage in the Nazareth synagogue, he announces a mission statement for himself and for his body the Church.
We have not forgotten this here at (Fellowsville UMC, Bethel UMC, Newburg UMC) Here are some examples. I mention them not to leave us self-satisfied, but to make us thankful that the risen Christ is busy at work in this congregation. So let's get specific. Let's go local.
There are people in this town whose stomachs are full and whose gas bills are paid because of money you put in the basket every Sunday or in support of a local mission. Because of you, a few local mission programs like Raymond Wolfe and Community Action help free people from the shackles of desperation and despair.
There are mothers and children who find counseling, mentoring, respect, new hope, because of the many ways we participate in these ministries, where the love of Jesus touches the hearts of some who maybe thought nobody cared and they didn't matter.
And there are people in this church this morning because somebody here spoke to them a word of Good News, and walked with them to the well which is Christ. Without exception, all of us need that water, and once we find it, how much better could it be than to share this water with others who thirst?
These are only a few examples. There are many more, some that go unrecognized, but are no less important in the eyes of God. And who knows what new examples of living out the mission statement of Jesus will appear in the months and years ahead?
Today's reading from First Corinthians is another important passage about how the Body of Christ, the Church, is to live out the mission statement of Jesus. As we strive to keep faithful to those words he read and lived, we can pay attention to points that St. Paul insists upon in that passage. I will refer briefly to three of them.
1. All members of the Church have gifts for ministry.
2. The members of the Church have different gifts for ministry; we are not clones of each other.
3. The different gifts come to life in the context of the whole.
Jesus read the old words from Isaiah and claimed them for his own. We can do the same. Please stand and repeat after me, sentence by sentence.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed us to bring good news to the poor.
The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to proclaim release to the captives.
The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to help the blind recover their sight.
The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to set free the oppressed.
The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Today, today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.
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