The Pastor’s Pen
Jesus unrolled the scroll 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 bind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” ~ Luke 4:16-19
Servants of God,
Each New Year brings its own assortment of hopes and dreams and goals, and when it’s over we look back at them and begin evaluating how well (or not) the year lived up to its promise. We go through this process as individuals and we do it as a congregation, too. On January 31st we will stand on that crossroads of past and future once more and make decisions about where and how God is prompting us to go in this New Year and decade. Some level of fear and trembling accompanies the discernment process leading up to the annual meeting every year (as it should!) for we dare to say, as a community “We believe God’s Spirit is calling us to do X.” What do we base the “X” upon? We are a community of the baptized, and because of who and whose we are, we look to the gospel of Jesus to shape our mission agenda in the world.
The passage above comes from Jesus’ first hometown sermon. The quotation is from the prophet Isaiah. The words are a forceful declaration of how Jesus intends to fulfill his God given mission. And the reaction he gets? The reaction moves from congratulations to critique to violent intention. By the time he leaves the synagogue the congregation is ready to throw him off a cliff! Yikes! Jesus, it seems, did not fulfill their expectations. He did not come to endorse the status quo but to call God’s people to a radical reorientation around God’s mission—what God is up to in the world. Adopting that mission plan eventually cost him his life, and simultaneously seeded new life for you and me and all.
On January 17th we will celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who inspired us with a dream for racial equality that beckons us still today; a man who taught us that racism belittles both the perpetrator and victim alike; a man who showed us that non-violent resistance to injustice has a moral force that violent means can never match; who said, “The arc of history is long—and it bends toward justice.”
It was a different brother Martin who warned of the propensity of human communities to become “curved in” on themselves when confronted with life’s challenges. The gospel of Jesus, this Martin said, compels us always to turn our vision ever outward toward the welfare of our neighbor.
Charlie Mays, my pastor during seminary years, who served Christ’s church in the Northwest for decades and whose death one year ago left many of us bereft, liked to say provocative things about the role of the church. Like: the church is the only organization that gives itself away for the sake of those who are not its members.
When we review our congregational life on January 31st, and get caught up in discussions and decisions about budget line items, salaries, and how we will fund our mission, we do well to remember the larger purpose to which we have been called in Christ, and the gifts with which God has blessed and equipped us. We do well to recall the long arc of God’s salvation story, which reaches out to us in God’s Word-made-flesh and pulls us toward a future characterized by hope and fulfillment, a future that is unfolding even now in our lives and in the lives of all whom we serve.
Blessed New Year!