January 17, 2016 – 2nd Sunday after the Pentecost
Last week we heard the story of Jesus and his baptism. The heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In his baptism, as in all of our baptisms, Jesus was given his identity: Beloved Child of God.
Between that story and this morning’s story, Jesus is led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he spends 40 days and is tempted by the devil. That’s the story we typically read on the first Sunday of Lent as begin our wilderness journey through Lent. But in the sequence in Luke’s gospel, it shows up between last Sunday’s and this Sunday’s readings.
This morning, I want to note that Luke says Jesus returns from his baptism, full of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended on Jesus in his baptism and now he is full of the Spirit.
Then when Jesus moves from the wilderness back to Galilee and heads to Nazareth, where our story this morning picks up, Luke comments again that Jesus is filled with the power of the Spirit.
READ: Luke 4.14-21
In his baptism, Jesus received his identity. In the synagogue, Jesus declares his mission and what his ministry will be about.
The gospels tell us little about Jesus between when he’s twelve and when he’s thirty, but we do know from this passage that Jesus is educated and can read (which would not necessarily be true for most people) and we know it’s his custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. For some period of time, we don’t know how long, he has been teaching in synagogues in the Galilee area. It sounds like he’s a sought after teacher: he was praised by everyone and now people are talking about him.
On this Sabbath, he’s back in a familiar place: his hometown. Nazareth. We could probably assume he’s in the synagogue where he grew up; where his parents and extended family worship. As he walks in it’s likely he sees people who have known since he was a baby, who taught him in Sabbath school, the people who celebrated his bar mitzvah, friends of his parents and the kids, now adults, who he grew up with.
All those people know him as Joseph and Mary’s son and they’re proud of him and eager to hear his teaching. Jesus stood up, asked for, or was assigned, the Isaiah scroll and began to read from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Holy God is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor
God 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 Holy God’s favor.
This is Jesus’ mission. Bringing good news to the poor, those who are marginalized and excluded, those who live their lives in the borderlands. In Luke’s gospel, this is not spiritualized. Jesus is talking about physical, material reality. In Matthew, we hear about blessed are the poor in spirit. In Luke, Jesus says blessed are the poor. “Jesus was announcing that he came to liberate [people] from real oppressive structures:” people who are in prison, people who are impoverished by poor health, those who are held back and held down by racism, by sexism, by classism. Jesus announces he has come to begin a new time of freedom from debt, of forgiveness and restoration. “Jesus announces his ministry will be like the year of jubilee. Every fifty years, the fields rested and reinvigorated for future harvest. In the jubilee year, debts were forgiven. People returned home. Slaves were set free.”
These are real, tangible, restorative reparations for people who are vulnerable, exploited, poor and powerless.
As we were talking about this passage in staff meeting the other week, one of my colleagues riffed: “The Spirit of the Holy God is upon me and has given me a completely leftist agenda, except it’s straight out of the bible.”
And for all of us who are followers of Jesus, this is our agenda as well, our mission, what our ministry is to be about.
And that reminds me of one of you who said years ago, “There are a lot of Christians who don’t really like Jesus all that much.” Many of us Christians don’t want to accept this mission of Jesus as our own mission, choosing instead a thinned down version that would be unrecognizable to the gospel writer; a mission that says something like, “Be nice to the people you like and take care of your own family and let other people take care of themselves because God will help them eventually.”
Professor Carol Lakey Hess reminds us, “Whatever we take to be the heart of the gospel will be the central shaping force in our life of faith; the author of Luke instructs [us] to place this text as the central concern and even plumb line of Jesus’ teaching. In [this] passage we learn what Jesus came to do; insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”
On this weekend, when we think particularly about the ministry of Dr. King, it is certainly his life and ministry were ordered by this mission of Jesus. In the cultural appropriation of Dr. King, we sometimes forget that he was a pastor and preacher; his life was shaped by being a follower of Jesus. In fact, a lot of times, these days, I think we forget how radical Dr. King’s message was—deeply rooted in the scripture and especially the prophets. He, too, was a prophet, calling us back, again and again, to be in right relationship with God and with one another.
Yesterday, Mark and others from Central joined Peace Presbyterian Church, a predominantly African American congregation, at their Men’s Breakfast which raises money for Peace Church’s mentoring program with neighborhood youth. This is the third year that Peace Church’s pastor, Wayne Steele, has asked Mark to be involved at the breakfast and that seems like a good connection we could build on between our two congregations.
Also yesterday, 42 of us from Central plus 8 folks from three other congregations spent the day deepening our analysis of systemic racism, understanding how racism is the combination of race prejudice plus the misuse of power by systems and institutions. We spent time identifying how racism has power to oppress people of color, to advantage people who are white and to socialize all of us into racialized rules and roles. All of which dehumanizes us all, destroys community, and ignores the mission of Jesus which calls us to compassion and justice.
Peace Education Program, whose mission we support at Central with money and space, launched a new partnership this month with KentuckyOne Health, Louisville Metro Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and the city’s Department of Health and Wellness as well as the Commonwealth Institute at the University of Louisville. This innovative collaboration is designed to build stronger, safer neighborhoods by linking 18-34 year old survivors of gun and knife violence to supportive community resources and people with the goal of helping them create changes in their life for success and health and life.
Our New Beginnings Next Steps are also part of this mission as the followers of Jesus. Honing our ability to see the suffering—and the causes of suffering—in our community. Learning to listen deeply to people in our neighborhood. Increasing our capacity to be uncomfortable. Building partnerships that are really partnerships. Sharing the gifts and strengths God has given us—and, I bet, in stretching ourselves in these ways, discovering God has given us more more gifts and strengths than we knew.
That’s all great work—and it’s hard work. We don’t get to say, “Whew! We’ve checked off that requirement. Everyone at ease.” The work continues. The call keeps sounding. Creation cries out.
And to find our grounding and hope to be about this mission as the followers of Jesus, we keep gathering, week after week, to listen to the witness of scripture, to celebrate where God is at work, to pray for ourselves and one another, to inspired by music, to open ourselves to the Spirit that we, too, like Jesus might be filled, to eat bread and drink juice that keep pointing us toward God’s great banquet feast where there is a welcome place for all God’s beloved daughters and sons.
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 Robert Parham quoted in Ernest Hess, “Luke 4.14-21: Homiletical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word, eds. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, Vol. 1, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 287.
 Linda McKinnish Bridges, “Luke 4.14-21: Exegetical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word, eds. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, Vol. 1, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 289.
 Carol Lakey Hess, “Luke 4.14-21: Theological Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word, eds. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, Vol. 1, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 286.
 Definition from the Crossroads Systemic Racism workshop.
 From the power of racism iceberg illustration in the Crossroads Systemic Racism workshop.
 http://insiderlouisville.com/metro/pivot-to-peace-trying-to-reduce-violent-crime-in-west-louisville/ accessed 16 January 2016.