Sermon transcript for January 27, 2013
Jesus’ Mission Statement
Belmont UMC—January 27, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
Preaching is very much a part of the rhythm of my life. I preach a sermon on Sunday and walk to the narthex at the end of the service to greet worshippers and I’m often thinking, “What am I preaching next week?” I plan sermons ahead of time and they are often being written in my thoughts before they make it into the computer and into a manuscript. I’ve made some people happy with my preaching and I’ve made some people less than happy with my preaching. One never knows how a sermon will be received. Be patient with me; I’m still learning to do this work.
I recall a powerful sermon by our friend, Bishop Ken Carder. It was at the ordination service at Annual Conference. He spoke the truth in love to all of us who are clergy and some of what he said was difficult to hear. But I respected him for telling the truth and being courageous. I went to him after the service to thank him for his prophetic words and he said, “Oh Ken, I fear that I was too harsh. I’m already regretting that sermon.” I tried to reassure him but he was not convinced.
Some of you have heard me say that preaching seems unfair at times because the listener is at a disadvantage. In a teaching session there is opportunity for feedback but in the context of worship that does not happen. I recall a sermon I preached at my last church at the beginning of the Iraq War, a sermon that I anticipated would create some tension. I prepared them for that by inviting their feedback via email and sure enough, I received some interesting and helpful feedback on Sunday afternoon.
In our Gospel text today Jesus returned to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth was a town that suffered from low self-esteem, hence the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus was the hometown boy, son of Joseph and Mary. They knew him and they had watched him grow up, playing with other kids in the neighborhood, and it’s likely that they have heard of his miracles in Capernaum. They needed him to do something spectacular and put them on the map.
In the synagogue he read a familiar passage from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” So far so good—other rabbis read this passage. Then he said a peculiar thing, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The story is divided into two weeks of lectionary readings but we aren’t sure why. But if we read on we hear Jesus remind them of Bible stories, stories from familiar Hebrew texts, but the stories are about God’s blessing and favor shown toward Gentiles—a widow in Zarephath and the Syrian leader, Naaman. These were outsider stories and this was not the sermon the people of Nazareth wanted to hear. “Who does he think he is?” they asked. Things got a little out of hand and violent and they took him to the edge of town and threatened to throw him off a cliff, but he escaped.
In this text from Luke Jesus describes his mission and his purpose. Fred Craddock notes, “Luke places the Nazareth visit first because it is first, not chronologically but programmatically. That is to say that this event is to announce who Jesus is, of what his ministry consists, what his church will be and do, and what will be the response to both Jesus and the church.” (Luke, p. 61)
Jesus’ mission is clear. Jesus, with the anointing of God’s Spirit, announces his mission is to bring good news to the poor, like a widow whose only son has died or a woman who spent all her money on trying to get well. Jesus’ ministry is to bring release to the captives, like a man held prisoner by a demon or the man who has been paralyzed for years. Jesus seeks to set free those who are captive to tragedy and difficult life circumstances. Jesus’ mission involves helping those who are blind, like Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho, crying out to Jesus for deliverance and like those who are spiritually unable to see God’s will. Jesus’ mission is to bring freedom to the oppressed like a woman about to be stoned to death by a group of self-righteous men.
I suspect that Jesus’ words in Nazareth were troubling to the people because he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” We like the text because it contains good thoughts but we like to think of it as something distant from us, something that will happen in the future. We are not comfortable with it being the present reality. Here it is upon us now! That can seem threatening to our status quo.
But dear friends in faith, if this was Jesus’ mission, then it’s our mission as well and we must embrace it. Luke tells us that the Spirit was upon Jesus, giving him this mission. And later in Acts Luke will tell us that the Spirit is upon us, the church, empowering us to be witnesses in every part of the world. And this is our witness: we will be the people who bring good news to the poor like the homeless neighbor or the working poor who run out of money before the end of each month; release to the captives like those who are fearful, addicted or trapped in abusive relationships, sight to those who are blind like those who cannot see God or God’s grace at work in their lives because of dark circumstances, and freedom to the oppressed like those who are bullied or our immigrant friends who live in fear.
We would do well to reread this mission statement every three days, not every three years in Year C of the Lectionary cycle. We will find ways that are unique to Belmont to fulfill this mission, but if our mission is something other than this it is not the mission of Jesus Christ.
Does that make us uncomfortable? They say that preaching can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. These words of Jesus must stir something in us one way or another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that preaching, “allows the risen Christ to walk among his people.” (source unknown) But I’m not sure how comfortable we feel about Jesus walking among us this morning.
Let me share some words with you that I wrote for us together several years ago. Think of these words as “gently used” words that still resonate with us as we hear this text again this morning.
The problem with Jesus is that he does not live up to our expectations. Jesus lives up to God’s expectations. And yet it is Jesus who defines our faith. There are lots of voices out there trying to tell us what defines our faith and purpose and many of them seem completely divorced from the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
Jesus is truthful and challenges our tendencies toward a narrow world view, but we want him to care about me and mine and no one else.
Jesus is telling stories about people outside the circle of our race and our class and our religion and we want him to talk more about us.
Jesus is telling us to refrain from retaliation and we feel stung by his words because we have cheered the battle “to fight evil” and have called for revenge.
Jesus is blessing peacemakers and we have blessed those who have been too quick to make war and called peacemakers “unpatriotic.”
Jesus is telling us to love our enemies and we’re still trying to learn to love the people with whom we hang out.
Jesus is telling us to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned and we would rather talk about charity that begins at home.
Jesus is defining his identity and his mission to the captives, the blind, the oppressed and we suspect that he is telling us that this is to be the church’s identity and mission. We would argue for a feel-good mission and one that is more comfortable and more marketable.
Jesus is telling us that we are not to get attention for the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting and we were thinking of making those into a media event.
Jesus is telling us to forgive those who have wronged us and we like to hold on to our grudges and cling to the past.
Jesus is reaching out to the least and the last but we are drawn to people with power and prestige.
We are in the season of Epiphany which has these bookend stories of the baptism of Jesus and the story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. These stories are similar because in the stories a voice is heard from God, “This is my Son, listen to him.” Epiphany invites us to listen to Jesus! Listen to Jesus who defines our faith, our identity and our mission. Thanks be to God!
Sermon transcript for December 30, 2012
Pam Hawkins, preaching
Audio - MP3