Archive for a prophet is without honor in his home town

Doing our Mission Statement

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered to St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 27, 2019. It was also the day of the Annual Meeting. It was also Mozart’s 263rd birthday (and Cadenza Music School joined us–it was glorious!).

Luke 4:14-21

1.

Before diving into today’s Gospel, let’s take a moment to gain our contextual bearings. Once upon a time, Jesus left his childhood home. Now he’s back. Where has he been in the meantime?

According to St. Luke the Evangelist, Jesus has just been tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights—a narrative we’ll explore more carefully during Lent. And just before that, Jesus was baptized—a narrative we considered two weeks ago.

But where was Jesus before his baptism, between then and the once upon a time when he left home? What was he doing? Carpentering?

More likely, he was studying and teaching. Maybe even with his cousin, John the Baptist. That’s what a good number of Jesus scholars think anyway, going so far as to suppose Jesus and John were members of the same community; a kind of monastic community; maybe even (quite speculative now) the Qumran community, from which we have the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And now, today, Jesus is back. He shows up in the midst of his hometown religious community—where he grew up—and, Luke says, is filled with the power of the Spirit.

It’s an epiphany, the start of his active ministry.

The people here know him. They’ve watched him grow up. No doubt, they’re wondering what he’s going to say.

So, you know what Luke is doing here? Luke is setting the stage for the next three years: Jesus’ ministry. In modern verbiage, Luke is giving Jesus’ mission statement.

By the way, do you ever marvel at God’s timing?

I mean, I didn’t pick out this passage today. It was chosen for me.

And long before I knew this would be today’s Gospel, the BC and I selected January 27, 2019 as the date for this year’s Annual Meeting.

And today, right here, Jesus gives his mission statement!

Meanwhile, today, right over there, we will be hearing about the work God has been doing in and through St. Thomas Episcopal Church and School; and the work we hope God will do in and through us into the future.

2.

So, following Jesus’ lead, I’m going to provoke us a little today.

Surely Jesus provoked his hometown religious community on that morning when he went into the synagogue, unrolled that scroll from Isaiah, and proclaimed that the realization of this chosen text was happening right now in their midst.

He was in fact the Messiah they were waiting for, he announced, the Messiah that all the Jews had been waiting for, for centuries!

And I’m sure they were uncomfortable—because—what we don’t read today but follows—they flatly rejected him!

These were friends and family members who’d watched him from childhood—

Who’d observed him growing in wisdom and stature—

Who’d seen him make his first, rough, misshapen carpenter’s box—

Who’d spent time with his family at synagogue fellowship meals—

Who’d seen him make mistakes as children do, as he’d played with their children—

And now he’d grown up and moved away.

He wasn’t carrying on the family tradition of carpentry. No! Instead, he’d gone off to spend time with one of his fringe cousins, John, you know, that guy who spent his days in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey!

And he’d gone away not to do something worthwhile, like build houses for people in need. He was just a wandering philosopher. Can you believe it?

I’m sure he provoked them on that day, when the Spirit carried him into his hometown synagogue; that day when he unrolled the scroll from Isaiah to that part where it says who the Messiah is and what he has come to do.

The audacity to claim that this passage was about him! That he was the Messiah! That this was his mission statement!

It provoked them. It made this hometown religious community uncomfortable, so uncomfortable in fact that these friends and family members rose up as a mob and led Jesus outside in order to hurl him off a cliff!

Yeah! We didn’t read that far today, but that’s what happens next.

And these aren’t the Pharisees we’re talking about, or the scribes, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or any other of the people Jesus has trouble with later on in his ministry. These are his friends and family!

So, anyway, whether I provoke you or not; whether it makes you feel uncomfortable or not, this is my rationale today:

If Jesus as our Lord is stating his mission statement at the outset of his ministry (and he is), and if I as your vicar have committed my life to following him (which I have), and if we as a church are called to be his disciples (which we are), then his mission statement must be worthy of our consideration.

3.

Well, what, then, exactly, is his mission statement? And, maybe more to the point on this day of our Annual Meeting, how does his compare with ours?

So, here (again) is what Jesus read in the synagogue on that morning:

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.

My interpretation?

Jesus has been anointed by the Spirit to do something. And what is that something? To bring good news to the poor.

That’s it, really. The rest is just an elaboration, answering the question of what it means to bring good news to the poor. It means proclaiming release to captives; letting the oppressed go free; recovering sight for the blind; proclaiming Jubilee—that special year on Israel’s calendar when all debts are forgiven, all slaves emancipated, all socioeconomic differences eradicated.

His task was to bring good news to the poor: the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the oppressed!

And this is how we know that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him: because he actually did it! Throughout his ministry, Jesus didn’t just say his mission statement; he did it!

Jesus’ mission statement is undeniably focused on righting wrongs, on bringing justice where there is none, on doing and not just being love.

And it provoked his hometown religious community so much that they tried to throw him off a cliff!

The good news is provocative.

4.

Now, here’s our mission statement (found on the front of your bulletin):

To share Christ’s life-changing love with all people, invite and welcome them into the Body of Christ, and equip them for worship, ministry, and service.

My interpretation?

We here at St. Thomas see Christ’s life-changing love as essential; and we desire to act on his love in four ways, seen in the four verbs in our mission statement: share Christ’s love with all people; invite and welcome all people into the Body of Christ, and equip them to love and serve the Lord.

Share, invite, welcome, and equip. Good!

But—to push back a little—are we doing these things? Really doing them?

Well, for starters, we are welcoming people into the body. I think we’re pretty good at this. In fact, welcoming is often a word I hear used to describe St. Thomas: “It’s a welcoming place.”

Next, I think we’re doing pretty well at equipping too. We’re trying anyway—we’re getting better and better at equipping people to love and serve Christ, learning as we go.

But what about the first two verbs—share with and invite all people?

It seems to me we will never be very good at these until we learn to think outwardly on an ongoing basis; until we pro-actively go out into the surrounding community and really get to know our neighbors.

And I don’t just mean the nearby housing tracts. Our neighbors include places like Parker Medical Center, Citizens’ Bank, Temecula Valley Hospital, and Rancho Community Church—one of the largest houses of worship—maybe the largest—in the Temecula Valley.

Sharing Christ’s love with and inviting all people means going out and finding all those people first.

Anyway—main point here—Jesus knew that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him because he did the things he said he’d do in his mission statement. How will we know that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us? Not just by saying but by doing our mission statement.

5.

Okay, so here’s my chief concern today.

Right now is the time of year when we tend to focus a lot on how we’re doing as a church. Our annual meeting is today; our Parochial Report is due next month; ASA and pledge numbers are defining figures. So we ask questions like, “How can we increase our ASA? How can we increase pledges? How will we sustain our resources? Will we even be able to sustain them?”

How are we doing as a church? For the answer, we look to our building, budget, and attendance!

But Jesus never once mentions these.

Which leaves me to wonder: Are they distracting us from our real mission?

As your vicar, I don’t want our driving question to be, “How are we doing as a church?” Instead, let’s ask, “What are we doing for God?”

And let’s get specific about it!

What are we doing to get to know our community better—our neighbors? Do we know what their needs are—and not what we think they need, but what they tell us, through their stories? Where do they see injustice taking place around us? Then, how might we team up with them to bring justice to these places? Or, how can we collaborate with them to overcome inequality? What can we do together to overturn the nearby tables of domination and control?

So, we’re already doing a lot of things, sure. (Read the Annual Report.) But are the activities we regularly engage in furthering Christ’s mission? More bluntly, are the things we do for God; or are they, maybe, more for us?

Jesus’ own mission statement espoused such radical social transformation that even his friends and family were ready to hurl him off a cliff. Are we ready to transform our community with the Gospel, even if it provokes our friends and family members?

The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus. We know this because he did the things he said he’d do. I want to know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that the Holy Spirit has anointed us too.

Purpose Probe

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2016 by timtrue

Christus_heilt_einen_Besessenen

Luke 4:14-21

I’m going to probe a little this morning.  It might get a little uncomfortable in here.

But why not?

Surely Jesus experienced a little discomfort on that morning when he went into his local synagogue, unrolled that scroll from Isaiah to the people of his hometown, proclaimed that the realization of this scroll was happening right now, as he spoke, in their midst—that he was in fact the Messiah they were waiting for, the Messiah that all the Jewish people had been waiting for, for centuries!—and was rejected!

The people rejected him—the people of his own town—the friends and family members who’d watched him from childhood—

Who’d observed him growing in wisdom and stature—

Who’d seen him make his first, rough, misshapen carpenter’s box—

Who’d spent time with his family and other families at synagogue fellowship meals—

Who’d subconsciously noticed him make mistakes as children do, as he’d played with the other children.

And now he’d grown up and gone away.  He wasn’t carrying on the family tradition of carpentry.  Instead, he’d gone off to spend time with one of his more on-the-fringe cousins, or so the rumors went, some unusual guy named John, who spends his days in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey—of all things!  And he’d gone away to teach!

That’s what Jesus had been doing: teaching.  Not something worthwhile, like building houses for people in need.  He was just teaching!  Can you believe it?

Anyway, I bet he experienced a bit of discomfort that day, when the Spirit carried him into the local synagogue.  That day he unrolled a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.  And he unrolled it to that part about the Messiah, where it says who the Messiah is and what he has come to do.

And then he claimed that this passage was about him!  He was the Messiah.  And what he’d come to do—his agenda—was right here!

I bet it was uncomfortable for him as he prodded the people—the local people—with his agenda.

I bet it was especially uncomfortable for him when these people—friends and family, mind you!—rose up as a mob and led him outside to hurl him off a cliff!

Yeah!  That’s what the following verses tell us.  We didn’t read that far this morning.  That’s because we should focus on his agenda.  Nevertheless, that’s what happens next.  Jesus tells his friends and family in his local synagogue—you know, the one he grew up in—his agenda; and they are so stunned they say nothing.  So he explains: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then—well!—his friends and family are so angry they rise up against him with the intention to kill him.

This isn’t the Pharisees we’re talking about here, or the scribes, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or any other of the people he has trouble with later on in his ministry.  This is his friends and family!

Sheesh!  No wonder there’s that part that says a prophet is without honor in his home town!

But the friends and family who turn against Jesus can’t do him any harm.  Luke tells us that he just walks right on through the midst of them to safety.

That’s because he was being led by the Spirit.

Did you catch that part?  Luke is very sure to tell us that Jesus is being led by the Spirit through this beginning part of his ministry, his epiphany to his hometown and beyond.

Remember, when he went out to John in the wilderness, he was baptized and a voice spoke from heaven and the Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.

Then he was led deep into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he ate no food for forty days and was sorely tempted by the devil.

And now, here, again it is the Spirit who leads him to his hometown synagogue, where he experiences a great deal of discomfort after he probes the people with his agenda, his must-do list.

So, like Jesus, I’m going to probe a little now.  And I’m going to do so using Jesus’ agenda.

I figure: if Jesus is stating this agenda at the outset of his ministry, and he is; and if I have committed my life to following him, which I have; and if we as a church are called to be his disciples, which we are; then this agenda must be important, something like a mission statement.

In fact, let’s see it as a mission statement: Jesus’ mission statement.  And let’s get out our own church’s mission statement.  And let’s compare the two.

This is how I’ll probe a little this morning.  And this—comparing Jesus’ own mission statement to ours—is why it might get a little uncomfortable in here.

I only ask a few things of you.  First, hear me out.  Second, ask if there are ways in which we might align our church’s mission statement more with Jesus’ own.  And third, please don’t hurl me off a cliff.

So then, here’s our mission statement:

We are servants of Jesus Christ, putting his love into action by:

  • Magnifying God’s Name;
  • Proclaiming God’s Word;
  • Equipping God’s people for ministry;
  • Caring for God’s world.

We are seeking, serving, and sharing Christ.

In my opinion, this is a good mission statement.  As servants of Jesus Christ, we recognize that the entire Gospel is summarized in one word: love.  And we desire to act out the Gospel, to put love into action, in four specific ways: magnifying God’s Name; proclaiming God’s Word; equipping God’s people for ministry; and caring for God’s world.

Moreover, there are specific ways in which we are accomplishing these actions already, as demonstrated in the annual report (get your fresh copy today!).  On the other hand, though, there are specific ways in which we could grow in each of these actions.

Now, to refresh our memory, here’s what Jesus read in the synagogue on that morning:

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.

In my opinion, this is a good mission statement too.  In fact, it’s very good, way better than ours.

Like us, Jesus puts love into action.  But his actions get way more specific than ours do.

He is not simply proclaiming the good news.  We say that.  We are “Proclaiming God’s Word.”  He says it too.  But he doesn’t just leave it there.

Rather, he proclaims the good news to the poor.  Similarly, he proclaims not just release and recovery, but release to the captives; and recovery of sight to the blind.  He preaches not just a pie-in-the-sky form of liberation theology but freedom to the oppressed.  He proclaims the good news to people right where they are, whatever their lot.

Jesus’ own mission statement is quite specific.  It is undeniably focused on righting wrongs, on bringing justice where there is none, on doing and not just being love.

At St. Paul’s, we seek, serve, and share Jesus.  We love him.  So what are we doing about it?

Look: here’s my main concern.

Right now is the time of year when we tend to be asking, “How are we doing as a church?”  We have our annual meeting next week; I have to complete the Parochial Report by the next vestry meeting; the present elephant in the declining mainline church is, “How can we sustain our resources, or will we even be able to?”

These aren’t bad questions to ask in their own right.  But they can distract us from our real mission.

When it comes to our mission, instead of asking, “How are we doing as a church?” let’s ask, “What are we doing for God?”

And let’s get specific about it!

What are we doing to right the wrongs that are taking place in and around Yuma?

We’re already doing some things, sure.  (See our annual report.)  But can we do more?  Do we want to do more?  Enough so that we incorporate specifics into our mission statement?

Jesus’ own mission statement espoused such radical social transformation that even his friends and family were ready to hurl him off a cliff.  Are we ready to transform Yuma with the Gospel, even if it makes our friends and family members uncomfortable?

The Holy Spirit was with Jesus, making his mission not only a possibility but also a reality.  The Holy Spirit is also with us.  Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to lead us; and through the Holy Spirit let’s turn Yuma upside down!

And, since we’re here, a final comment: when Jesus sat down, after reading the scroll, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Today!  The Spirit leads right now, in the present, today.

Let’s not procrastinate.

Pray with me. . . .