“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.” These words of Jesus in today’s gospel were basically saying, “This is what God has called me to do.” We might call it Jesus’ mission statement.
Most of us would not be considered poor by the world’s standards, but if we don’t allow the good news of Jesus to guide and mold our lives, we can be extremely poor: poor in spirit. And living in the “land of the free,” we most likely wouldn’t consider ourselves captives or oppressed people.
Yet, at some level, our reliance on things we call necessities and need to dominate can create a prison without walls. We mistakenly think that abundant living relies on Wall Street, the best health care, a booming economy, or controlling our borders. As we have discovered, it does not. In Jesus’ day, people had much to complain about as well. Roman occupation of Palestine certainly inflicted oppression and loss of freedom, as well as economic stress. The times we are in are difficult, but they are not unique in human history. Ask any of our members who lived through the great Depression or Word War II.
It’s been said that “We are not revitalized or transformed as often by a change of circumstances as we are by a change of perspective.” Startling—even shocking—redirecting and illuminating minds, is what Jesus’ inaugural sermon does in its context in Luke 4. But for us, perhaps, some of the shock has worn off.
A New Yorker cartoon quite a few years ago captures our dilemma in seeking to live Jesus’ life in the midst of present-day challenges: Two yogis are shown sitting at the lip of a cave on top of a high mountain, presumably in the Himalayas. Pictured in the lotus position, looking skyward, they were obviously meditating, but were interrupted by a loud 747 passing overhead. One of them looks at the other and says, “Ah, they have know-how, but do they have know-why?”
The cartoon’s perspective could well be applied to the modern Christian era’s weakness in carrying out Jesus’ mission. In our time, the know-how-state-of-the-art buildings, programs, and consultants, versed in the latest discoveries of human dynamics is available—but, the know-why is often weak.
Jesus answers, then and now, with the know-why. He reads to the synagogue from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Of all the Hebrew Scriptures from which to choose, Jesus found and read this passage. It lays out his mission to release the world from the grip of its own undoing, its evil, its reliance on the wrong things, and its refusal to be seekers of trust. And here is the amazing point: The spiritual reality of his Gospel is to be manifested in a physical reality on earth. And that is where we come in. We are the physical Body of Christ in the world.
This passage was definitive for Jesus, and I think it is equally definitive for our Christian life and witness and mission. What was essential for Jesus must be essential for us as well: good news for the poor (of all varieties), release for the captives (of all forms of captivity), the proclamation of the year of God’s favor. Have we ever needed it more?
Mother Teresa wrote, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” And strangely enough, one depends on the other. Jesus was telling his listeners in this sermon to look for God where people hurt.
The Gospel happens most powerfully when the Spirit of the Lord, dwelling in the Lord’s people, is brought to bear on human suffering. And let’s not be naïve—suffering is inside these church doors as well as out in this community. But our hearts won’t be impassioned, or our minds convinced until we have allowed the Good News of the Living Christ to free us, open our eyes, and relieve our own self-inflicted or life-weary oppression.
We start right here, with each one of us individually, and then corporately as the Body of Christ at Christ Episcopal Church. This is the year of the Lord’s favor for us if we truly want it. It is ours for the asking. It is ours for envisioning and living into.
For well over 150 years, this parish has been a faith community and fellowship, and a witness to the community. Much good work has gone before us. Those who built this fine church clearly had a vision, a purpose, and a mission. They have given us a foundation on which to grow and thrive, not to just survive or get by, or be able to keep up the building, and pay the bills.
If that is all there is to being the Church, why bother? How is that any different from what the world has to offer? And, how does it fit into Jesus’ mission, which should be our mission? No, I think Jesus has something more vital, expansive, life-giving, and celebratory in store for us.
Friends, we are dipping our toes into the Jordan River, getting ready to pass over into the Promised Land where God is providing milk and honey, where we live into God’s call on our individual and corporate lives and mission. Can we hear God? Can we receive all God has to offer? Are we ready to move forward, letting go of the past that just might be holding us back?
Martin Luther King’s holiday reminded me how essential it is for people of vision to reach for the Promised Land. It is as true today in so many ways, just as it was in his day, striving for justice for people of color. We need to reach beyond the norm.
Let’s be honest. Not everything that happens in a church is good or is helpful to its mission. Just like the fact that not everything that happens in our personal lives is good or helpful to God’s purpose and call to each one of us. But, as Carl Jung wrote, “I am not what happened to me…I am what I choose to become.”
We have a tremendous opportunity to choose to be a church where the members of the Body of Christ love one another and respect and celebrate each other’s gifts.
We have a definitive moment at this time in our church’s history to choose to put behind us the hurts, disappointments, and conflicts of the past, and instead choose to operate in the colors we are called to be in God’s rainbow.
Then the Light of Christ will shine in such a way that people see our love for one another and our good works and know that we are his disciples, and give Glory to God! They just might want to come and see what is going on at the exciting, vibrant, joyful, generous, kind, loving, peaceful, good, spirit-filled church called Christ Church!
I shared this with you a few years ago. When I first came to Christ Church, I would come in here when it was quiet and no one was around. I walked up and down the aisles, looking at the windows and plaques, and all of the adornments. I sat and prayed in the quire, gazing on our beautiful Christus Victor behind the altar. And I sensed the Holy Spirit rumbling beneath the floor, waiting to
break out and turn this place upside down. What better time for a Holy Spirit immersion to take hold of us than at the beginning of a new church year?
When we get our eyes off ourselves—our personal agendas, hurts and grievances, distrust of one another, withholding rather than releasing, or getting hung up on a problem that doesn’t exist, or living in the past—then and only then will the Holy Spirit set us free to live into God’s best for us. Forgiveness, healing, and letting go are powerful forces for good and for invoking God’s blessing.
In the next hundred years beginning now, we can be more faithful to worship, prayer, study, and loving fellowship. God will be pleased and bless us, bless this church.
The next hundred years beginning now can find us taming the dragon that looms over us with our deferred maintenance issues, and our dwindling endowment.
In many ways, we have been seeing this happen the last few years. God has been blessing us. Do we have the faith to believe for more blessing? We can be freed from worry and put that energy and money into ministry in our own in the parish and mission to the community, as well as in the global community. And God will be pleased and bless us even more.
In the next hundred years beginning now I see a vision of a part-time assistant rector or deacon being called who will minister to our young people and our seniors, and help with teaching and preaching and growing the church. And God will be pleased and bless us.
In the next hundred years beginning now, we can begin to see God’s power unleashed in our midst as never before, beholding miracles and healings and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And God will be pleased and bless us.
We stand at the edge of the Jordan, dipping our toes into the water. Are we ready to cross over to the fullness and abundance that God has in store for those who love, obey, and trust him? Or are we afraid to get wet? Are we willing to use our gifts as described in the epistle reading today? Are we willing to honor each other’s gifts and not think that each one of us is the only one who has some kind of hold on what is necessary and good or proper in the church?
Are we ready for God to really bless us? God is always ready, willing and able. Are we? Do we have the faith to believe it? Do we have the commitment to Christ and Christ Church to faithfully, joyfully, pray for it? Are we ready to take a bold step into the Year of the Lord’s favor?
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, Almighty God, you call us to yourself because you love us. You teach us your ways so that we can live into your fullness. You ask for our faithfulness, obedience, and a generous spirit, so that you can bless us.
We thank you for the way you have been blessing us these last few years, with new people, with financial resources. You have been faithful to your promises, Oh God. But, I believe you want more from us and for us. Help us, Oh God, to seek first your kingdom and righteousness, knowing then, all these things shall be given to us. Bless us we pray, not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy, and because we want to follow him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.