A Sermon for 31 January 2016
A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:14-21. Listen for God’s word to us. And remember that each gospel tells the story of Jesus a bit differently. In a nutshell, this one has Jesus being born, John the Baptist showing up on the scene, Jesus being baptized by him, then being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness as a testing ground for his mission ahead. As he comes forth to begin the work of Christ among us, we hear this gospel tell of that beginning like this. Listen:
“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. 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.””
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Do you remember this: “A man on the moon and back by the end of the decade?” The words of President Kennedy before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. (history1900s.about.com/od/1960s/a/jfkmoon.htm). . . . Or maybe you’ve heard this one: “We exist to create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” That one’s by Disney. (www.samples_help.org.uk/mission-statements/disney_mission_statement.htm). . . . Or this one: “. . . to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” And indeed they have. Can you guess it? Facebook. (www.samples_help.org.uk/mission-statements/facebook_mission_statement.htm). . . . Maybe you’ve even heard this one a time or two: “The Great Ends of the Church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world” (PCUSA Book of Order, 2015-2017, F-1.0304).
Mission statements. Marching Orders. Fundamental purposes. Clear, succinct goals – at least the best ones out there are – that clearly tell all what we’re about. That to which we aspire. What we’re trying to achieve. . . . We can debate all day – and trust me, in my twenty years of ministry as a pastor, I’ve been in my fair share of church meetings that have done so. We can debate all day the differences between a mission statement, which is a unique description of an organization; and a vision statement that spells out the aspirations an organization has for its future; and core values, which form the constant foundation on which work is performed and by which people interact. You know, “the practices we use, or should be using, every day in everything we do” (www.nps.gov/training/uc/whcv.htm). . . . Whichever one we want to talk about; without a clear statement of purpose, which all together seek to fulfill, an organization will not succeed.
According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus had a mission statement. A very clear one. Marching orders which were not new to him. . . . To know his unique purpose in the world, to tell everyone clearly what he was about and what he aspired to achieve; Jesus looked to his Holy Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah in particular. . . . He was at the beginning of his ministry, as the gospel of Luke tells it. Straight out from the waters of baptism and temptation in the wilderness. When, filled with the power of the Spirit, he set off to head back to Galilee (Luke 4:14). He had been teaching in local synagogues. And things were going really well. Everyone seemed to be very impressed with what he had to say. Whether it was his charisma or his content, the start of the gospel of Luke records that he “was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15). . . . And then he went home. Back to Nazareth where he had been raised.
Now, Nazareth wasn’t that big. And the text claims it was his custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. So I’m guessing pretty much everyone present knew him already. They knew him as Joseph’s son: a good carpenter, just like his father. Maybe after thirty years, the question about whether his mother and father already were married — or just engaged – at the time of his birth. Maybe the talk of the town over that whole mess already had faded. Of course, if it had, he’s about to stir things all up again. . . . It’s possible Isaiah was a favorite of the people. The prophet who gave such hope, such comfort to their ancestors during their long trek from the fall from grace, into exile in Babylon, and back again. Quite possibly Jesus’ friends and neighbors in Nazareth resonated deeply with a people longing to hear God’s blessing on them again. To know, despite all appearances to the contrary as people living under the crushing yoke of Roman rule, that indeed in the eyes of God; they were precious. Beloved. Bound for freedom from all that would keep them captive.
Jesus is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and it seems this is the moment he decides to make his big statement. Great timing. It’s his proclamation to the world. To declare to those who know him best what he really is about. . . . Jesus intends to be clear about who he is. Why he exists, and what he aspires to do. It is time for his mission statement. His vision for the future. That which he values above all else.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” Jesus says. . . . “I’m anointed to bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to those blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim it is the time of God’s great favor” (Luke 4:18-19). It’s Jesus public statement of his mission. . . . And as the gospel of Luke tells it, he goes on from that moment focused. Centered. Clear. Every step thereafter he’s about fulfilling his mission. In fact, he’s so committed to what he’s about, he never wavers. Even if his mission doesn’t go over so well with others. Even if it’s gonna get him killed, Jesus accepts that not everyone is going to embrace the work to which he aspires. No matter. . . . Like the U.S. single-mindedly putting together all our best energies to fulfill President Kennedy’s 1961 order. Or Disney and Facebook doing everything they can to assure they successfully bring to life their missions. Jesus never wavers from what he’s declared his purpose to be.
We’d do well to pay attention to our Lord’s way. . . . Look on the fifth page of the bulletin – right under the final details of our order for worship today. Since June, the reason this church exists and the vision this church has for ministry has been right there each week – followed by your core values which flow in and out of this church’s purpose. You all have worked hard these past several years since you undertook New Beginnings in 2010. You’ve listened and dreamed and discerned well in order to clarify who you are as a church and what God has created and is calling you to be about! Find page 5 of the bulletin so we can read your purpose out-loud together. . . . Join me: Welcome to worship among this church which exists to be a community growing in Christ through worship, study, and service in order to support each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges so that the gracious love of God will be experienced! We value: participating in liturgically-based worship and music, learning and growing in faith, caring for one another, helping those in need, and coming together in fellowship. . . . Beautiful! And it’s refreshing to see that we’re not that far off from the mission statement of our Lord. Growing in Christ through worship, study, and service that we might be a little bit more like him each day in supporting one another and those beyond this membership through the challenges we face in life so that God’s gracious love will be experienced. Though it’s not quite as specific as Jesus’ quotation of the prophet Isaiah, this church’s mission and vision for future ministry is similar to the purpose of Christ. If not, we need a task force to change it immediately. For an organization that is the living presence of Christ in and for the world today should look a whole lot like him if it dares to claim his name.
In all that we do. In all that we are. We’ve got our marching orders. Our clear purpose. That to which we aspire. Our statement of mission which clearly tells all what we’re about. What difference in the lives of people we seek together to achieve. . . . The question is: how do you think we – this church – you are doing at growing in Christ through worship, study, and service so that you will better support each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges for the gracious love of God to be experienced?
You alone can determine how much you’ve grown in Christ over the past months and years of being a part of this congregation. Like: do you see yourself more ready to give to one in need who crosses your path? Do you find yourself drawn to the company of others of this congregation not just because you have a need you hope they can fill, but also because they have a need you know you can fill? In the past few months, I hope you’ve seen the statistics and heard the stories of how many, who have been struggling, have been helped through your food bank and Thanksgiving baskets and financial assistance to those in need coming right up to the church’s office door and more! . . . I certainly hope you’ve been a part of the outpouring of love to members of this church who have been thrown into the storms that sometimes rage in this life. Like how beautiful to see you all come together to be God’s presence for the families these past weeks who have lost loved ones and others who have been going through significant difficulties. It was wonderful to see you take the gracious love of God to our homebound members over the holidays and to witness you living the love of God among the children being brought to us on Wednesday nights who need a safe, loving community just to let them be the precious children that they are. We are to live this church’s mission – aspiring to this vision of supporting each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges so that the gracious love of God will be experienced each day as we walk through the regular days of our lives. . . . One of my favorite stories from a church member comes from a grocery store experience. A young, struggling momma, her hands literally full with her child; when some stranger approached. She said she was expecting the other person to come tell her to get it together and snap her child into line or something like that – she could feel that a whole lot of people were glaring at her and her melted-down child. Imagine her surprise and absolute relief when the older woman approaching stepped up to ask if she could push the grocery cart for her while she tried to complete her shopping list and tend to her child. The unexpected expression of kindness felt like literal salvation to that overly-stressed, completely frazzled young mother. . . . I love that story because it just goes to show that it doesn’t take an organized mission project by a church committee to support someone who is hanging on to life by one, last, fraying thread – kinda like Jesus did everywhere he went.
It’s what we are about. That to which we aspire. All we’re here to achieve. Our purpose is clear. . . . So, filled with the power of the Spirit, like our Lord, may we get out there to live our mission each day!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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