The scripture this
morning comes from Luke 4, that I think is a very familiar text.
It comes immediately after the baptism of Jesus and the temptation in
the wilderness (you can read along in your pew Bible):
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a
report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He
began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the
synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,
17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled
the scroll and found the place where it was written:
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,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.
The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to
say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your
There are many signs,
I think, that 2007 will be a favorable year here at First Christian
Church in the heart of Eugene.
First of all, thanks
to some conservative spending and liberal giving, we ended the year well
in the black and began the year in the best financial condition that we
have ever been, at least in the last 16 years of my ministry [applause
from the congregation].
Secondly, this is the
first year when we will have the benefit of a full year of earnings off
of the estate of Jessie Bork. That will enable us to do many
creative things in our ministry. One of those things that we plan
to do this year, that will be at the top of the agenda in our annual
meeting after this service, is the hiring of Dick Hamm, the previous
General Minister and President of our denomination, to be our consultant
to lead us in a visioning process unlike any other than we have ever
done before. Very thorough, it will take a number of months.
I'm very excited about that possibility to work with Dick, and I know
that you will thoroughly enjoy him. We'll be hearing more about
Christian Church has appeared in the newspaper three times last week,
and then again yesterday. Three times we appeared last week -- the
to Heart column that Glen Campbell wrote the previous
Saturday. A letter that Peter Stratton wrote. And then the
op-ed that I wrote that appeared on Martin Luther King day.
And then during the month of December, and also in November, we had
several community events that filled this sanctuary with folk.
Such things as the Oregon Mozart Players, University of Oregon's ELAW
conference with nationally known speaker David Korten. Events like
that, you just can't purchase that kind of publicity.
Bank, during the month of December, featured our Helping
Hand Ministry, and had barrels placed in each of their branch office
to receive clothing and other gifts for those in need in our
community. And so on and so forth -- the events and activities and
the people of this church have made us very visible in our community,
and I truly celebrate that.
And then fourth, and
last, the Oregon Ducks are 19-2, and 7th in the nation J.
Does it get any better than this, after last night's incredible
come-from-behind win in overtime?
We have a winning
team here, we have a great staff and superb volunteers. We have an
outstanding program. So on this annual meeting Sunday I think I
can say with confidence: a favorable year is in the future of
First Christian Church in the heart of Eugene.
Now, that's all well
and good, but that is not the favorable year of which Jesus speaks here
in this text. Now, each of the four gospels introduces the
teachings of Jesus differently. And each of them do so in a way
that reveals a central concern, a key theme of that gospel. A
summation of what the gospel message is all about.
For instance, Mark's
is the shortest of these summations. The very first time Jesus
speaks in the gospel of Mark, he says: "The
time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in
the good news". That one sentence succinctly
summarizes the message of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. The time
has come for the reign of God to be realized here and now.
Therefore, turn your lives around and be a part of the good news.
That's what the gospel of Mark is all about.
The gospel of Matthew
takes another turn, does almost the opposite of Mark. Where Mark
is very succinct and brief, the gospel of Matthew is very verbose, the
summation of Jesus' ministry is the longest of the four, is very well
known to you, we call it. . . what? The Sermon on the Mount.
That is the summation of Jesus' teaching in the gospel of Matthew,
that's the first teaching of Jesus. It's three chapters - 5, 6,
and 7. It presents Jesus, in essence, as the new Moses.
Hence, the sermon on the mount. The one who brings the law
from the mountain of God. Scholars have recognized for many years
that Matthew has 5 major sections in it. We believe that this is
very intentional on Matthew's part, to present his gospel as the new
Torah -- the 5 books of Moses. This is the new
representation/presentation of that.
And then in place of
the teachings, John begins his gospel with 2 signs done by Jesus.
What are they? The wedding at Cana, where he turns water into
wine, and the cleansing of the temple. These both point to a
greater reality that goes beyond the teachings of Jesus, that says to
us: here is the Lord of earth and temple. The one who makes
the transforming presence of God visible and accessible to all.
Now, Luke is no
different than Matthew, Mark, and John, in that we see here in this
first teaching of Jesus the very essence of Jesus' message that runs
throughout the gospel of Luke. The concern for the poor and the
oppressed. The changing of their fortunes in the realm of God is a
central theme in Luke, more so than any of the other three
I am convinced,
therefore, that Luke tells us this story here not to reveal that this is
what the ministry of Jesus was about, but to convince us that
this is what the mission of the church is about. Why?
First of all, Luke
takes an account of Jesus in his hometown synagogue that is told later
in the story in Matthew and Mark (appears in the 6th chapter in Mark's
gospel, and the 13th chapter in Matthew's gospel), and he moves it to a
more prominent location in his telling of the gospel story. So
it's first and foremost very prominent. That it is the same
account, and not a separate incident, is evident in that all three of
these accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke report the astonishment or
amazement of the people who hear Jesus. And if you read the rest
of the story in Luke's gospel (and the other two gospels), you will see
that all three of them record the saying that a 'prophet is without
honor in his hometown'. And all three of them ask this
question: Is this not Joseph's son, the carpenter's son? And
all three of them end with the rejection of Jesus -- in this account,
Jesus tells the story of the foreign widow who receives the grace of
God, and is a sign of God's presence, and not the Israelites, and they
get angry and his hometown folk, the people who knew him best, who
watched him grow up, try to throw him off a cliff. Can you
Secondly, Luke then
adds to this story the quotation from Isaiah. Matthew and Mark
don't tell us a whole lot about the content of the teaching in the
synagogue. And what is striking about this quotation is that it is
actually a compilation of three texts from Isaiah. First of all,
there is Isaiah 42, which reads:
have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the
prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Now obviously I'm
calling your attention to that one phrase in the red.
And then Isaiah 58:
not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
let the oppressed go free,
to break every yoke?
And then the more
familiar Isaiah 61:
spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
bind up the broken-hearted,
proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Now watch what Jesus,
in Luke's gospel, does with this text. Those two black
phrases? They disappear. The one phrase -- to proclaim
liberty -- that moves up, and then, inserted, is the phrase from Isaiah
42, and the phrase from Isaiah 58, to give us then the final version as
it appears in Luke with a little bit of other editing in Isaiah 61:
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
recovery of sight to the blind, [Isa 42]
to let the oppressed go free, [Isa
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Now, if you were
paying attention, Jesus is reading from what? A scroll. Have
you ever seen those scrolls? Unrolled? Can you imagine Jesus
sitting there, unrolling the scroll, rolling it back again, going back
and forth? I don't think so. What is happening here?
Does Jesus or Luke just think they can insert a couple other verses from
other places and no one would notice throughout all of history?
Not at all, I don't think that is the case.
Jesus often quoted from Hebrew scripture freely, as he does in response
to the question "Which law is the greatest?" Remember
his response? What are they? Number 1: love the Lord
your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And where does that
come from? Deuteronomy 6. And then the second part:
love your neighbor as yourself. Where does that come from?
Two different versus,
two different sections of the Torah, Jesus combines to say 'this is the
greatest commandment of all'. So that's a very familiar tactic, a
way of interpreting and reading scripture, used by Jesus and others in
But here Jesus is not
quoting off the top of his head. Luke presents him as reading from
the scroll. And then augments this verse from Isaiah 61 with the
two other phrases, elsewhere from Isaiah. Why? Because it
summarizes for Luke not just what the ministry of Jesus was about, but
also what the mission of the church is about. The favorable year
of the Lord, also known as the year of Jubilee that was to occur every
50 years, was a means to make God's grace a transforming reality
throughout society. Debts were to be forgiven, land was to be
redistributed equally among all people, and slaves were to be set
free. Luke adds to that, the healing of the blind as a powerful
way of saying that the good news of Jesus is everything that the Jubilee
year is, and more. That the Jubilee year is not the end goal of
the realm of God, it's the beginning point. It's the
foundation. It's the minimum. And add to that the healing
and everything else of which Jesus spoke.
The spirit, visibly
and audibly upon Jesus at his baptism, is also visibly and audibly upon
his followers in the opening chapters of Acts, just as in the opening
chapters of Luke. And as you remember, Luke is also the author of
Acts. What was the ministry of Jesus now becomes the mission of
Jim Wallis, speaking
to Bethel University, that is especially known for its attraction of
Christians from evangelical churches, said that it was clear from the
response in the chapel (where he delivered his message) that a new
generation of evangelical Christians want to be, like Jesus, good news
to the poor. This is our calling. Certainly central to it.
As far as I can tell,
there is nothing in this text, or anywhere else in the gospels, that
says Jesus wants us to build beautiful, fine, wonderful edifices.
There's nothing in the text, nothing in the gospels, that says Jesus
wants to create bureaucratic structures with lots of committees and
officers. There's nothing in the gospels, nothing in the text,
that says Jesus wants us to hold a lot of meetings to make us feel
good. Now, we're good at all those things, right? But that's
not the calling of the gospel.
The favorable year of
God is about good news for the poor and the oppressed. It's not
about putting more people in prison, it's about getting more people out
of prison and into productive lives. It's not about maiming women
and children and innocent civilians in wars of or against terror, it's
about healing the blind and the lame, in today's world the victims of
war and terror. It's not about the developing world producing all
kinds of goods and services at slave wages to benefit the powerful in
the North, it's about freeing any and all who are economically,
socially, and politically oppressed. [Amen from the
congregation]. I recently heard a report from Mexico that Mexicans
are having difficulty buying corn and making tortillas. Why?
Because their corn is being shipped to North America to make
ethanol. Now there's an ethical problem -- as we seek to free
ourselves from oil, and the poor in the Southern Hemisphere suffer as a
Now this is an
awfully tall order. Surely an unrealistic mission for any local
church. On the other hand, would we expect the reign of God to be
Glen Campbell summed
it up well in that article I mentioned that appeared last Saturday:
love the phrase "On Earth as it is in heaven". Well,
how exactly is it in heaven?
wonder if some souls in heaven are rich, and others poor? Or do
all souls have equal economic standing and security in heaven?
wonder if souls retain skin color in heaven? Are there souls
that appear black in appearance, and others white? What about
sexual orientation? Do these divisions we see on Earth persist
in heaven? If not, why do they persist on Earth?
there countries in heaven? Do souls clump together by
nationality? Are there American souls, as distinct from souls
identified with North Korea, Israel, Iraq, or China? If these
distinctions mean nothing in heaven, why do they mean so much on
there any justification for a child in El Salvador to be born into
poverty, while children elsewhere are born into riches?
And then his
two most important questions are these: what exactly is our
vision of heaven? Can we help bring it to Earth?
[Amen from the
congregation]. Amen. Thank you, Glen.
There's an apocryphal
story told by Abraham Lincoln which rings true, even if it's not
historical. After visiting a large church with a gifted preacher
(a church something like this one J),
he was asked what he thought about the sermon. And he said "I
thought it was eloquent, well conceived, powerfully
delivered". And the aide said to him: "So, you liked
it". And Lincoln said "No, it was a failure".
And the aide asked "Why?" Lincoln said: "It
did not ask anything of us great".
At our annual meeting
this afternoon, you will be asked to commit to a process of discernment
over the next 10-12 months, which will determine how we are going to
live out this mission given to us by Christ. Now, it's a business
meeting, so I suppose we will use a diplomatic process to make that
critical decision. But be forewarned: Dick Hamm will tell
us, discernment is not to be confused with democracy. Democracy is
about determining the will of a majority. Discernment is about
determining the will of the preacher J.
Sorry, I misspoke: discernment is about determining the will of
And God does not ask
of us trivial things. God asks that we give our lives to the reign
of God, to proclaim this year, 2007, the year of the Lord's favor.
When we can say that
we have done that, then we can also say, today, this scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing. May it be.