Posted on Feb 03, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today, we got the rest of the story! When we ended our reading last week, all was well. Jesus had read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah on the Sabbath. In the reading we heard the words of the prophets say, "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" (Luke 4:18-19). 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. And then, when he had finished the reading, he rolled the scroll up, sat down, and everyone waited with great anticipation to hear how he would explain the text, and all he said was, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21), which is where we ended last week and where we restart today.
According to Jesus, Today, 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 would focus on the poor, the blind, and the oppressed, and not just those who are physically oppressed. And as I noted last week, this 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. And like I said when we ended last week, who could complain about this Good News?
In hearing how good God is, how could anyone be upset? I mean, we’ve just learned that God knows of our weariness, our oppressions, 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?
But, here is the kicker: the real question isn’t whether or not we can do this mission; the real question is whether or not we will accept this mission. Remember that TV show, and now movies, Mission Impossible? I used to watch that show every week. At the beginning of the show the theme song would play, the same one we listened to when we read the Gospel story, and then the team leader, Jim, would listen to a tape of what their new mission was. It went something like, “Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is …” then at the end a voice on the tape would say “if you or any of your team is caught, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” The team always had a choice as to whether or not to accept the mission, and the same is true for us. But, you might be asking, why wouldn’t we accept this noble and worthy mission?
I mean, caring for the poor is the right thing to do. But what if that means raising average wages to a livable wage? Then that means higher prices for all of us. We don’t want that, right?
What about better health care? Everyone wants that. Yeah, but not when it raises my costs or takes away something I have. Or what about lowering taxes? Now there is something we can all rally around, right? I mean, we can do without a lot of those programs, but make sure you don’t cut anything that would affect my benefits, or the things the government does that I want. Or what about treating everyone equally? Now there is a good venture that we can all support. But don’t change anything that will affect how I get treated or that would cause me more work or get me less benefits. Even here in our own community we struggle with this. Our decision to sell and lease back this facility has many of us excited about our future, but others are upset, mad, and feel as though we are giving up our heritage and maybe even our future.
Are you starting to get the picture? This mission isn’t easy; in fact, it seems downright impossible. You see, when we do things, even really good things, everyone isn’t going to be happy. Some will be angry because they don’t like how a decision will affect them personally, or what it will mean for the way things might change. I get that! I would much prefer to keep things the way they are if they are working for me; that makes my life much easier. But Jesus wasn’t talking about making life easy for his followers. No, he was talking about bringing justice, God’s justice to a world that desperately needs it, even those of us who seem to like things the way they are.
In our story today, the people liked what they had heard from Jesus about God caring for the poor and the oppressed, because most of them were poor and oppressed. But the kicker in this story is Jesus then goes on to point out people that weren’t part of their community, or part of the people of Israel. He reminds the people of the time when the Israelites had turned from God’s ways, how God had sent a famine, but when God’s prophet Elijah needed help, God sent that help through a gentile woman, a widow in Zarephath. And again, Jesus reminded them of how God healed Naaman, the General of the Syrian army, the enemy of the Israelites.
Now, we hear this today new think, “Wow, what an awesome God!”. But, let me ask you this — What if I came and began speaking about how God was caring for the son of a widow in Iran who hated this country? What if I told you that a horrific general in Iran was being cared for by God because God loved him? If you are going to be truthful, you’d probably get mad, and that is exactly what the people did that day. In fact, they got so mad, they decided to kill the messenger God had sent. They wanted to kill Jesus for telling them how God’s mercy and love and grace were for EVERYONE. But they didn’t like that. They wanted it for themselves, the good people of Israel. They didn’t want to accept the call to be a light to their enemies, that is to be the people God created them to be. NO, that would be an impossible mission.
But this isn’t an impossible mission! 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, and as I said last week, it isn’t creating laws and rules to judge people or to keep them out. 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.
I know oftentimes the mission set before us seems impossible, but it’s not. It is more than possible, and like Jesus walking through the crowd that wanted to kill him, we, too, can walk through the dangers and pitfalls of this world if we stay focused on God’s mission. Amen.