Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Mission of Christ Luke 4:14-21

This sermon is offered to FBC OKC as a way to cast a vision for a new year in ministry.

This morning I want to begin with a word of appreciation. Last Sunday you touched me deeply with your gift and your reception in celebration of my five years of ministry amongst you. I was honestly surprised and am deeply appreciative. You are a remarkable church family and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in ministry together with you.

On January 9, 2005 I stood in the pulpit for the first time as your pastor. It was a grand day, full of pomp and personalities. After the each of the guest speakers had shared their words of encouragement, I took the pulpit to bring words my first words of hope and vision. Each year I have claimed the second week in January to look back and to look forward and to consider a word from scripture that might call us into the next year of ministry. This week I took a bit of time to reread each of these earlier messages. They were an interesting read. The messages for the first two years were filled with anticipation and dream. Our story together was young and the gap between who we were and who we hoped to be was still very wide. The messages over the past three years were significantly different in tone. We began to celebrate some of how we had begun to see how God was moving in our midst. We also heard and responded to the challenge to become family for the Chin community and to begin to find ways to reach with care into the brokenness of the Classen-Ten-Penn area. It was encouraging to look back and see how God has shaped us and remade us. When we look back and can see the God’s movement and faithfulness in our yesterdays, it should give us the confidence to move forward with God into our tomorrows.

The passage that calls us this morning depicts the moment that Jesus announces the beginning of his ministry. Luke tells us that Jesus has been baptized by John and has heard the incredible pronouncement of the Father, “You are my Son, whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). Jesus has also faced the testing and temptation by the face of evil. He has been blessed and confronted and now he comes home. 14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. I can imagine the stilled silence as Jesus came into the room and took his place among them. They had heard that he had been teaching in other synagogues and that he has spoken with a remarkable power and authority. But this was different. He was not a visiting teacher, he was one of them. They has seen him grow up in their midst. Some of them had probably even played with Jesus when they were all kids. But this was not the kid of their childhood. This grown Jesus was the buzz of the region. He stood up and took the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Everyone froze waiting to hear what would come next.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus claims this passage to announce what his life and ministry was all about. There are two very different ways to come to this passage. One invites us to see this passage through the eyes of a call to radical justice. It is worthy and I will come back to this passage in the future and we will take a look at the passage from that perspective. But for our purposes today, I claim the second track, the call to hear Jesus’ call to radical redemption.

Dr. William Loader states; “What were originally were the words of a prophet announcing Israel’s liberation from exile in Babylon in the late 6th century become a self description of Jesus’ role and calling, and, by extension a role description, a ‘mission statement’, for the Church.”
[i] I think he is on to something. I believe that as the church of Jesus Christ we are called to live as the people who live and minister between this mission statement claimed by Jesus on one hand and the Great Commission he gives his disciples on the other. For much of the past five years you have heard me proclaim our call to fulfill the Great Commission, and it is vital that we continue to keep missions at the very center of the life of our church. But, this morning I want us to consider what it might mean for our next season of ministry to also be defined by the mission of Christ.

This mission statement Jesus claims is strikingly brief but remarkably powerful. It begins; He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. We have to see this through the eyes of the overall ministry of Jesus. He does not spend energy addressing the political issue of those held unjustly in the jails and prisons of the era. When you look at his ministry you see that he focused on those who were held captive by evil. I do not think it is too much to take the spiritual leap and to focus on those who are held hostage by sin, those who are prisoners to brokenness and addiction. The ministry of Jesus is filled will stories of him freeing those who have been held prisoners to evil by casting out demons. The demons of our culture and era look different. If we look around us we see those who are held prisoner to evil, who are held captive by addiction. We see those who are addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or sex, or pornography, or the countless other things that hold people’s heart and consume their mind. We see the horrific impact it has on them and their families. Jesus came that those who are held hostage by evil might find freedom; the redemption of their lives by Jesus the Christ. I believe that in our next season of ministry we must discover ways to reach out and be an instrument of Christ for those held in captivity. I want to challenge us to discover how we might partner with those who are dealing with those living lives of addiction and to learn how we might work together to help them find freedom. God has placed people in our congregation who can help us find the right partners and teach us to be the presence of Christ in the midst of these soul prisons. This will not be an easy task, and we will see many we touch continue to stumble and fall, but we can longer stand by and see these broken families and these broken lives and do nothing.

The mission statement of Christ continues; recovery of sight for the blind. One of my favorite New Testament stories is when Jesus heals the sight of Bartimaeus. In the story Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus from his place in the dirt of the roadside. Bartimaeus had been their begging for money, begging for survival so long that most of the crowd simply ignored him. Others called for him to be quiet. But Jesus heard is cry for healing and restored his sight. Then Jesus looked at him and told him, now go and do as you will. What he chose to do was to immediately follow Jesus. Ultimately, the sight that was restored was not eyes just to see the flowers, but instead were eyes to see Jesus. Most that have joined this church over the past five years have come as Christians, coming to find a new family of faith. Hear me clearly; I am thankful for each person who has come to be a part of this family. You have made us a better church and a better expression of God’s presence in our community. But, this morning I want to challenge us to be more intentionally about reaching out to those who are blind to a relationship with Jesus. I want us to be a church that is so moved by the way God touches and changes us that we become people who invite other people to Jesus. We will not embrace the manipulative evangelistic methods of the ultra right, but it is vital that we choose to become people who share Jesus – who are tools for God to us to offer recovery of sight for the spiritually blind. It is my prayer that we more frequently stir the baptismal waters with those whose eyes were opened and whose lives have been transformed when they got to know Jesus face to face.

The words that Jesus claimed continue; to release the oppressed. The poor, the blind, and the oppressed each find themselves on the outside looking in. Jesus wants it clear that he comes to bring redemption – freedom for everyone, including those that the community pushes down or pushes away. One of my grave concerns is that too many churches are filled with people who look just like each other. They become exclusive religious communities where you seem to have to pass the “like us” test before you are welcomed in. I am thankful that our church progressively looks like the diversity of our community and our ministry now more intentionally reaches out to those who our community drives to its margins. I know that this is not always comfortable, but it is important. We have the rare opportunity to be a model for our city for what a people of faith can be if they look beyond the bounds of race and culture and claim each first and only because of who we are together in Christ. It means that there is no one looking in from the outside; that there is a place for those who struggle and those of means; and for those who walk the hallways of leadership and those who walk the sidewalks of despair. We have much to learn from each other and with each other. In being Jesus for one another we will better see and understand the depths of God’s love.

The final words from the scroll read; 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This was great news to hear. The year of the Lord’s favor was a year of new starts. It was the year of jubilee when debts were forgiven, when hope flourished, when people could begin again. There are many in our community – many in our midst – many of us – who need a new beginning – a redeemed life and a renewed faith. It is my prayer that we will claim this next season of ministry as a time to renew to grow in our faith by seizing new opportunities for discipleship. It is my hope that we will choose to renew the place that prayer plays in our life and the life of our church. It is a time for new beginnings. Let us claim this moment to renew our heart and our walk with God.

On that first Sunday in January 2005, Marv Knox invited the church to put on its track shoes and get ready to run into a new season of ministry. I fear that I have worn the treads on your track shoes bare. So now, I invite you to shed your shoes and slow the pace. Let’s look forward to a season when we more deliberately and intentionally move toward deepening our faith, our faith relationship, and our place in our community. I invite you to come go with me in living out the mission of Christ – as we continue to be the people of the Great Commission. Amen.

[i] Loader, William, "First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary,"available online at http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkEpiphany3.htm%20on%20January%205, 2010.

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