Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist 2015


“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

That short verse from the book of Proverbs sums up a whole world of wisdom. It reminds us of the importance in our daily lives of having purpose and direction. To have that, we need to articulate the core values that ground our identity. And we need to align our actions with those values. Otherwise we run the risk of wandering aimlessly through life and failing to utilize the gifts God has given us

We need to know who we are.

We need to know where we’re going.

We need to know what it takes to get there.

And one of the best ways for staying focused on these core values is by articulating a clear and memorable mission statement.

Even Jesus had a mission statement to keep him on track with his identity as the Christ. We see what that looks like in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus has returned home to Nazareth where he’s attending Sabbath worship in the synagogue. Handing him a scroll of the book of Isaiah, he’s invited to read a passage of scripture. And out of all of the possible parts of that lengthy book of Isaiah, Jesus chooses the following verses to read aloud: 

“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).

This passage from Isaiah serves as Jesus’ mission statement. It reveals Jesus’ true identity and purpose as the Christ. So if we want to know what Jesus is all about, we have to take a closer look at his mission statement. 

Using the words of Isaiah, Jesus starts out by saying that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed him “to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Luke’s gospel always refers to “the poor” in a literal sense. So these are people who simply can’t make ends meet. These are people who don’t have enough food, adequate clothing or shelter, or other basic necessities of life. In Jesus’ day, many regarded poverty as a sign of God’s wrathful judgment and wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. By bringing good news to the poor, Jesus overturns popular opinion to reveal the generous scope of God’s care. Offering the hope of God’s love and the promise of God’s deliverance to the poor lie at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

Jesus has also been anointed by the Spirit “to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Throughout the Gospels, Jesus transforms the physical and spiritual conditions that bind people and hold them captive. As a healer, Jesus frees persons possessed by evil spirits and held in bondage to physical ailments. “Captives” also include those who are so imprisoned by sinful habits and desires that willpower alone cannot enable them to do good and avoid evil. People held captive move our Lord’s heart with compassion. Releasing them from bondage is a top mission priority. 

Jesus also provides “recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18).  Jesus heals persons who have literally lost their sight, thereby freeing them from a desperate situation. For blindness carried a religious stigma in Jesus’ day, with many believing that blindness was a sign of God’s judgment for sin. And in a society with no safety nets, the blind often had to beg for their survival.

But the problem of blindness in the Gospels goes beyond literal sight. There’s also the problem of spiritual blindness. This happens when, through ignorance or willful rejection, persons cannot see the truth even when it’s right in front of their faces. Failing to see the truth, the spiritually blind lack purpose, meaning, and direction, and thus are easily tossed around by what St. Paul calls “every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

God loves those who suffer from blindness. He wants to open their eyes and their hearts to see the truth that gives meaning, purpose, and direction to life. And for those who have eyes to see, that truth is most fully revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus rounds out his Kingdom agenda by claiming the Spirit’s anointing "to let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4:18). Oppression was rampant in Jesus’ day, including the Roman occupation of Israel, unfair taxation, and the extortion of widows and orphans by mercenary religious leaders. But the God we meet in the Bible is a God of justice. God cares about what’s right and fair. Abusing, manipulating, and taking advantage of people demeans their dignity, and that arouses God’s righteous anger and God’s desire to do justice.

Good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed: it’s a comprehensive Kingdom-of-God agenda that sends the powerful message that in Jesus Christ, God has come into this world to save, to heal, and to set things right. Through Jesus, God cares not just for our souls, but for us as whole persons. God wants abundant life for everyone right here, right now. 

Jesus shows us that no one is beyond the scope of God’s mercy and love. People who don’t fit into society, people who have suffered injustices, people who need help but cannot help themselves, and people who are looked down upon for their moral failings – these are precisely the people that move God’s heart with compassion. And they are the people Jesus actively seeks to befriend by offering them what they most deeply need but cannot give themselves: healing, hope, purpose, and freedom. 

Those are the core values and driving motives of Jesus’ ministry. And every person who has been baptized into his death and resurrection has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to share these values by joining with Jesus in the work of ministry. We do that by offering our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to promote Jesus’ Kingdom-of-God agenda. 

Just as Jesus had a mission statement to keep him on track, we who call St. Luke’s our spiritual home also have a mission statement. I believe it is consistent with the values of Jesus Christ, and that it accurately reflects who we are as a church family. It says: 

“Saint Luke’s is committed to caring for one another, to spiritual growth, and to bringing others closer to God through Jesus Christ.”

We are committed to caring for one another. 

We are committed to following our Lord’s example by befriending the friendless, reaching out to the lonely, the sick, the suffering, and to those who mourn. We do this in countless ways, with Lay Eucharistic Visitors taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and the shut in, Stephen Ministers befriending persons facing difficult challenges, clergy and laypersons visiting persons in the hospital, meals prepared and delivered to families who have lost loved ones, prayer shawls knit and delivered to the sick .... The list could go on and on of the acts of love and care we extend to one another and beyond our church family in the name of Jesus Christ. And your support makes it happen. 

We are committed to spiritual growth. 

As you can see in your bulletin announcements, we have a full array of Christian formation offerings for all ages on Sunday mornings. We have an active youth group that lately has been collaborating with the youth from Trinity Episcopal Church. We have several Bible studies that meet during the week, as well as a Men’s Fellowship and a recently launched Young Adult Ministry. We have special seasonal offerings, such as our Wednesday Lenten Series. We are blessed with numerous opportunities each week for spiritual growth. And your support makes it happen. 

We are committed to bringing others closer to God through Jesus Christ. 

The things I’ve already mentioned bring people into closer relationship with God. Foundational to it all is what we’re doing right now: worship. Offering praise and thanksgiving to God in this holy space, hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed in preaching, gathering at the altar to be fed by God, and joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as we sing in joyful response to the Good News of God’s amazing grace and love. What a wonderful thing it is to come together each Sunday to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us in Jesus Christ. And your support makes it happen. 

Our parish mission statement provides a blueprint for answering God’s call as a church family. Living the core values of our mission statement, we share in the healing work of Jesus Christ by bringing faith, hope, and love into other people’s lives. And it’s only possible because we are willing to offer our gifts for the work of ministry.

I pray that you will join me in making a financial commitment to insure that St. Luke’s has the resources needed to equip us for God’s work. As we make that commitment, may we know the joy of belonging to a loving spiritual home that touches lives with the love of God, that nurtures spiritual growth for all ages, and that brings people into deeper relationship with the One in whom alone we find our true identity and purpose.

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