Posted on Jan 27, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today’s Gospel story is only half the story; we will get the other half next week, but it is critical that we focus just on this first half today, because from this story we get a clear understanding of what Jesus’ mission in this world was and what our mission is today. Since the Church began on Pentecost over 2,000 years ago, we have struggled and argued over many things: what to believe, what dogma to follow, where we should worship, how we should worship, and the list goes on; yet today, Jesus reminds us that none of that is our mission. The Church exists, not for itself, but for others. Let me repeat that; in the reading of these texts from Isaiah, Jesus makes it clear, the mission of the Church, that means our mission, is to care for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and to work to bring God’s shalom into this broken world.
Now before I go any farther, let me set the stage of where we are in Luke’s story. Remember, Luke began his story by telling us the birth narratives of both John and Jesus. He gives us the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the story of Mary. He shares with us the story of how Mary and Joseph ended up in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and how God announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields. He then provides us a couple of brief stories about Jesus’ childhood, and then abruptly Luke’s story jumps to Jesus the adult being baptized in the Jordan and then led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where he faced “the devil” for 40 days. This is all Luke has told us until this point, and then, without any other stories or background, we are told, “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” (4:14-15). What had he done? What was he teaching? Why were stories of him being told? We don’t know, Luke doesn’t tell us this, but what we do know is that whatever he was doing and teaching was pleasing everyone. Whatever he was teaching was somehow changing their lives, and those that had heard his teachings were sharing it with others, and everyone was praising him.
So, although we don’t know what Jesus has been teaching, we know the people liked what he is saying, so it should be no surprise that when Jesus goes to the synagogue on that Sabbath day that he would be one to read and teach. So, when it came time for a reading to be read, Jesus jumps up and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. "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" (4:18-19). What beautiful and hope-filled words! These were words from the prophet Isaiah, so I doubt it was the first time the people had heard these words. They were words of promise and hope that God had offered her people centuries before, and they were words of promise that God would not forget or abandon the needy and the oppressed.
Now, I know it seems a little strange for us that Jesus could just walk in and do this, but it wasn’t uncommon for a member of the community to read from the scrolls, and it wouldn’t have been uncommon for the one who read to have some thoughts to share, but what I find interesting here is what Luke tells us about those who were listening. “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” (4:20). The people were anticipating something good. They couldn’t wait to hear what he would teach. Their eyes were fixed on Jesus. I wonder why we don’t wait with anticipation to hear Jesus speak to us?
Jesus had read words of hope and promise from Isaiah, and now the people wanted to know what he would teach about these words of God. And as they watched and waited, all Jesus said was, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
In other words, these words of hope and promise that you have heard for centuries have already begun. Jesus proclaimed God’s liberating actions. Jesus’ proclamation was an invitation to see God at work among God’s people. Today, Jesus says, God is already at work liberating the oppressed, providing for the poor, and releasing the captives. Wow, this is great news! But that is not all; in these words Jesus was proclaiming that God was at work in and through Jesus, and Jesus’ mission from this moment forward would be to continue this work God has already started. Jesus’ ministry will focus on the poor (not just the economically poor), the blind (not just those who are literally blind), and the oppressed (and not just those who are physically oppressed). That was, is, and always will be the mission. Today, in Jesus’ words, we are reminded that the promises of the Spirit, the Good News, release and healing, come from God before we ever respond. God’s offer does not depend on our correct response, but in response we are called to do the same.
This is great news, isn’t it? I mean, Jesus came to bring justice for everyone, and who can complain about that? Well, we will wait until next week to answer that question. For today, it is good enough to hear that before we respond, before we filter God’s grace through our selfishness, God makes the offer anyway.
In the words "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" we learn that God knows of our weariness, our entrapment, and our pain. Today we learn how good God is, and how much God loves us. But we do have one problem. This all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? If our mission is to continue this mission, the question is how can we do it?
It is an impossible mission! How can you and I set the oppressed free? How can you and I offer good news to those who are poor? I mean, we have our own problems, don’t we? We can’t focus on others’ issues when we have so many of our own. I mean, yeah, Jesus could do that, but Jesus was God; we are just human. How can we carry on this mission?
Well, let me end today by saying the mission isn’t easy; in fact, it is downright hard, but it is not impossible. In fact, it is very possible! If the Church is going to continue to be the fulfillment of God’s promise and hope to the poor, the oppressed, blind, and all in need, then the Church needs to remember its mission is to serve and not to be served.
Our mission is not to care for ourselves, regardless of how much we think we need. No, our mission, given to us by Christ, is to serve. The mission of the Church is clear. It isn’t creating laws and rules to judge people or to determine if their lifestyles are good or bad. The mission of the Church isn’t about gathering people on Sunday morning in buildings. The mission of the Church isn’t about determining what is and isn’t moral in this world. The mission of the Church is to get to work now whether we think we are ready or not, working for justice. Our mission is to put the Word of God into action. Our mission isn’t to talk about Jesus, but to be the hands and feet of Christ. Our mission is to serve the poor, stand with and walk with the oppressed, and to bring the light of Christ into this world so the world can see and experience justice.
That is the good news today! We don’t have to figure out all the worldly problems we have said are so important. Our mission is to find ways to walk with and bring justice to those in need in this world. Our mission is outside this place, and when we finally can see that and believe that, then this impossible mission becomes very possible. I hope you will join me next week to hear the rest of the story. Amen.