Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 13, 2022
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20; Saint Luke 6:17-2
In nomine Jesu!
In his inaugural, mission-goal-setting sermon in his home congregation and (thanks to Saint Luke) to us, Jesus “unrolled the scroll [of Isaiah] and found the place where it was written: ‘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,’ and then proclaimed, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
This Sunday, in his first public sermon Jesus executes part of that plan; he “bring[s] good news to the poor.” Jesus does this with two diametrically opposed statements: “Blessed are you who are” poor, hungry, hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed, and “Woe to you who are “rich, full, laughing, and revered.”
This is not the last time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus will preach like this. Chapter after chapter, page after page, Jesus will continually step over the artificial line drawn between the oppressed and the oppressor, between rich and poor, between hungry and sated, reviled, and revered, hated, and adored; showing both the poor and the rich that there’s enough for all and a little bit more and proclaiming in word and deed a theology of abundance over against the myth of scarcity.
Jesus’ mission plan called for him to preach that way.
Jesus sticks to the mission plan and continues to preach that way.
And when asked by the imprisoned John the Baptist’s disciples in Luke’s very next chapter, if he’s been preaching that way, “Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, — and here’s today’s relevant part — the poor have good news brought to them.”
Jesus had a strategic mission plan. Jesus set strategic mission goals. Jesus executed the plan, met the goals, and could say that he met the goals. So what?
After we complete our mission study; after we’ve responded to that on-line survey; after we’ve participated in our February 26 summit; after we’ve sifted through all the information we gather; after we’ve the focused on and adopted our mission statement, objectives, and goals; we too will have a plan; and I am sure, we too will meet every goal and be able to say that we met every goal too. So what?
We must ask these questions of Jesus; we must ask these of ourselves, because these are the very questions our children and grandchildren; our neighbors, and all those around us labeled “nones” are asking:
What difference does preaching good news to the poor make?
How does this change or improve lives?
More pointedly, from those of our most recent generations who join movements which bring results and shun institutions that maintain stability:
Why should I be a part of anything with a mission like that?
When it comes to meeting the real needs of the poor, Christians in general, Lutherans, very much in particular, and the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church specifically have some incredibly good answers to those questions. You know the list! We can say with confidence that we not only talk the talk, but we also walk the walk. Yet there’s baggage — institutional baggage — that we carry; and many around us see that baggage as more off-putting than the good we do. More to the point, they seek others committed to making systemic change; and when they do not see us engaged in that, they walk away.
I’m not at all sure how we can respond to their critique. I’m praying that the prayerful process we’re now engaged in will provide us some answers.
The hymn we are about to sing addresses those very concerns to God the Holy Spirit who “tumbles down walls of fear;” ‘opens fisted-minds;” and releases those blinded by prejudice. We need the Spirit’s guidance. We need Christ’s strength. We need the Church’s unity so that we can answer these questions and engage in Christ’s mission.
Jesus, of course, did more than just preach. To “walk the talk” Jesus did two things.
1. He gave the disciples, then and now, a usable strategy to change systems and work for justice. We’ll get to that next week, but you can read it for yourself in the rest of Luke 6.
2. He took the oppressors – in his case, the entire Roman Empire and their local collaborators, head on. At Christ’s cross, the oppressor sand collaborators thought they’d won. At Christ’s resurrection, God made clear that they’d lost.
We are the beneficiaries of Christ’s death and resurrection. With the power of death behind us and the sure and certain hope of resurrection before us, there is nothing left to fear, and nothing left we cannot do. Every time we are gathered and nourished at Christ’s Table, that fearless confidence grows mightier within us and among us, so that with Jesus we too proclaim: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon” us; because through Jesus we have been made sure that our faith; the hope of the poor to whom we preach and all whom we serve, is never in vain