Let us pray.
Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord,
That we might preach good news to the poor.
You gotta have a good opening line.
Back when I was trying to become a blogger,
Websites who advised up-and-coming bloggers
Used to tell us to spend about 50% of the time
Coming up with a post title,
25% of our time on the first line,
And 25% on the whole rest of the blog post.
Because that was about in line with the amount of attention
Your readers would pay to each part.
At preaching camp,
They told us the same thing.
“Never start your sermon with
‘Today, we celebrate the Feast of Circumcision of Our Lord’”
They would tell us.
You gotta have a good opening line.
It draws people in
Captures their attention
Convinces them that the rest of what you’ve got to say
Is worth listening to.
Today, we hear Jesus’s opening line.
As I mentioned last week,
The gospels differ slightly on order of events,
But according to Luke,
Jesus’s adult ministry so far has been to
Immediately head out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan
Then go home to Galilee
To be a good Jewish boy and go to synagogue.
He hasn’t even called his disciples yet!
Because before he asks people to follow him,
Jesus has to give them this thesis statement
This encapsulation of what he is all about
To convince them
That the rest of what he’s got to say
Is worth their time,
“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 favour.”
Jesus just lays it all out there.
This is the point.
When we look at all future teachings he offers,
All actions he makes,
Every dinner at a tax collector’s house,
Even as he walks to the cross,
Jesus declares that
This is his mission statement,
Through which everything else he does
Should be viewed.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he says,
So he has been anointed by God
To share a message beyond human origin.
A message connected to history,
Because this is a quotation of the book of Isaiah.
And it’s the part of Isaiah,
Where God appoints the prophet to tell Israelites in exile
That they get to go home.
The Israelites who were living in Babylon
Believed that their exile was divine punishment
For their idolatry,
But Isaiah turns up to tell them they’re up for parole.
It’s good news, this message,
And specifically, it’s good news for the poor.
Not the poor in spirit.
Not the slightly disadvantaged.
Not the less than billionaires.
The gospel that Jesus preaches is good news
For the poor.
It’s also good news
For captives, who are now released from their bondage.
For the blind, who receive recovery of sight.
For the oppressed,
Who hear that freedom’s coming,
The Year of the Lord’s Favour.
Now, the Year of the Lord’s Favour
Doesn’t mean God is just smiling down on people,
Happy about them.
It doesn’t mean God is going to bless the crops
And make everyone rich.
The Year of the Lord’s Favour is something outlined in the Law.
It is a divine economic reset,
Intended to be carried out
Every fifty years.
All debts are forgiven.
All land that had been sold
Had to be returned
To its original owners.
Good news for the poor, indeed,
But not necessarily super great news for the rich,
Many of whom had bought up this land
And now had to return it
With no hope of a refund.
I haven’t been able to find any evidence
That the Israelites ever actually practiced this Law,
Which makes it kind of amazing that it never got dropped from the Scriptures
Over the years.
But it didn’t,
So everyone knew they were supposed to respond
To Jesus’s proclamation
With a radical reordering of society
That would leave many much poorer than their current state
For the sake of others.
It’s no wonder the crowd responds by trying to throw him off a cliff!
Now, we might be surprised to hear
That this is Jesus’s mission statement.
As full of sinners as any other collection of people,
Seems to have forgotten our marching orders rather quickly.
While the Church in Acts is recorded as holding all things in common,
We can see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
That remembering we are all in this together
Was a struggle even from early days.
People are shocked when I share with them
Christ’s love for the poor
His call to radical freedom
And total reordering of society
To render justice for the oppressed.
That’s not something they associate with Jesus at all.
Over the past 17 months I have served as your rector,
I’ve been running all over the city,
Having coffee with various non-profit leaders,
Trying to figure out how we can contribute
To the service they are offering our neighbours.
At some point,
In nearly every conversation,
The other person says,
“Don’t you …. worry you’ll get in trouble
For saying things like Jesus loves the poor?
For encouraging Christians to let those they’ve oppressed go free?
Shouldn’t you keep some of these opinions to yourself?”
At first, I didn’t know how to answer them,
So completely was I taken aback.
I didn’t realize just how terrible the Christian reputation was,
That people thought it would be controversial
For me to proclaim the very statement
That inaugurates Jesus’s ministry.
It’s been sobering
To learn just how few people
Associate the gospel of Jesus
With good news.
But we can change that.
We have to change that.
Because the body of which we are members
Is not just our human collective.
It is the body of Christ Himself.
It is not just that we all suffer
When even one member does,
Jesus suffers too.
And when we proclaim a gospel
That offers judgment upon the poor,
Slammed doors in the faces of prisoners,
“God helps those who helps themselves” to the blind,
And “get over it! That was so long ago” to the oppressed,
Then it’s Jesus
Who people hear making those claims.
So it’s our job
To live into his mission statement
As individual members of his body in the world
So that it’s no longer considered controversial
To proclaim that what motivates us
Is the same word that he lived, and died,
And rose again to declare.
As we gather today
For our annual meeting,
We will have some business to discuss.
Now, it may seem boring to talk about budgets and vestry members
And Robert’s Rules of Order,
But I want us to keep this mission statement in mind.
Because we are not a business.
We’re not even just a non-profit.
We’re a church,
Part of the body of Christ whom we worship.
Everything we do – everything!
From what we say to what we buy to who leads us
Should reflect the mission Jesus proclaimed.
Because if we won’t live into Jesus’s opening line,
How the heck are we going to follow
The rest of the example he showed us?
This is our mission.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
Will we proclaim