This is Annual Meeting Sunday, and I know that's
not exactly a liturgical event :) And you don't find references to
annual meetings in the lectionary, and you don't hear too many stories
about people who found Jesus in an annual meeting :)
I've always joked that our Annual Meeting is set as that Sunday that
occurs on either the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Epiphany, as determined by the
divine authority of the NFL (as that Sunday as there shall be-eth no
playoff games!). But that's better than when I was a kid growing up in
Albany and the Chair of the Board of the congregation at that time
decreed that we were not going to change the church's calendar because
of a new sporting event called the "Super Bowl". Yeah, I'm that old that
I can remember the very first one (go Green Bay Packers!).
So, on this particular third Sunday of Epiphany, the scripture from the
gospels is actually very fitting for this high-liturgical event of
annual-meeting Sunday. And it comes after the baptism of Jesus, and he
goes on that camping trip, you know, 40 days in the wilderness, and
before he does anything else in Luke's gospel, before any of those signs
that we saw last week from John's gospel, before any of the healings
that are recorded in the first chapter of Mark's gospel, before he calls
the Disciples (according to Matthew's gospel), before any of that, Luke
tells us about his trip to his home church. So here's that account:
Then 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.
16 When 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:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
20And 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
So, you get the sense, I think, from reading and
from hearing this text that this is much more than the local college boy
come home, you know, who's done real good and you can just hear the
people "You know that boy from Mary and Joseph? Why, he's educated now!
He's done learned how to read. Isn't he a good boy!". And that's kind of
the sense you get from the rest of story when you read it, we'll come
back to that next week. Turns a little sour on him. But here, that's not
the main sense that we get out of the story, from observing, from the
Looking back from our historical perspective, we
can see that this is Luke's equivalent of John 3:16 -- "For God so loved
the world . . . ". It's the equivalent of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount.
It is the introduction of Jesus in his public role as the Christ. And so
this is, to use that image from that big event in Washington DC on
Monday, this is the inaugural of Jesus the Christ. This is his inaugural
address. And like President Obama, Jesus lays out the core of his
program. And no, I'm not trying to compare the two. But, I have to say,
you look at this, healing the blind, letting the oppressed go free,
release of the captives, kind of sounds like "Jesus-care", right? :)
So, this is, Luke tells us, what the proclamation of the Kingdom of God
is all about. This is what it means to be the Christ, the Messiah. This
is his definition of the Savior of the world, the one who does these
things. Jesus is using here, from the prophet Isaiah, 5 key phrases to
describe that task. First of all, to proclaim good news to the poor. And
you know, that's a major theme, especially in Luke's gospel. The
Beatitudes in Luke's gospel begin by saying "Blessed are the poor" (not
the "poor in spirit" as in Matthew's gospel). Just simply "Blessed are
the poor". And we remember that wonderful Magnificat from Mary that we
typically read during Advent, where she speaks of the reversal that her
child will bring. Of how the hungry are filled with good things, and the
rich sent away empty. And then in Luke, we see Jesus fulfill that in the
story of Lazarus, remember? The poor man begging from the rich man, and
then the tides are reversed in the next life. And then in Luke, Jesus
advises us, whenever you're hosting a banquet, don't invite in your
friends, those you want to impress, those who can pay you back --
instead, invite in the poor, the blind, the crippled. The people who
can't pay you back, right?
In Luke, we hear about the story of the widow praised by Jesus who puts
her last two cents into the Temple treasury.
And then there are those stories we find in the
other gospels as well, the rich young ruler who is told he has to sell
everything he has and give it to the poor and come and follow Jesus. The
feeding of the crowds. And on and on it goes.
So bringing good news to the poor is a major and consistent theme
throughout the gospels, and especially in Luke. Without it, you see, the
gospel is not complete. Without it, the good news is not very good.
And then the next three phrases -- release to the captives, recovery of
sight to the blind, liberation of the oppressed -- are all variations on
the same theme. These are the kinds of things Jesus does, that he talks
about in various ways. The freeing of women from their stereotypical
roles of servitude. That story of Mary and Martha, and so now women get
to the serve in the military in combat roles. Praise Jesus, right?
That's a weird one, what do we do with that. . . .
Jesus stopping the stoning of the woman, stopping the crowd from stoning
the woman. Showing a tax collector how to practice economic justice.
Remember Zacchaeus? I mean, how radical is that? He pledges to give away
half of all his wealth and to a return four-fold anyone he has
defrauded. Freeing a man from the captivity of demonic possession.
Showing the Samaritan woman at the well some dignity and respect, and
showing empathy for a Roman centurion's ailing daughter. Two different
sides of the spectrum, totally challenging and changing the oppressive
norms of society. The lines of privilege. The boundaries of class.
And all of this is summed up in that final phrase from the quotation
from Isaiah of proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. What is known
as the Jubilee year. In theory, every 50th year, when all slaves are to
be freed and all debts are to be forgiven. The ultimate wealth
distribution in ancient society. And of course people fear that our
government is trying to do that today, that it's some evil scheme, when
it turns out it's right here as part of the gospel. Not just part of it,
it's central to it. It comes right out of the Torah, out of the first 5
books of Moses. It was the yardstick used by the prophets to measure
whether or not the nation was living up to their covenant with God. How
have you cared for the poor, the least of these, the widows, the
We all pledge allegiance to one nation under God, our politicians all
call upon God to bless America. People clamor for the return of God to
our schools and statehouses, and all of that is utterly meaningless if
it is not backed up with a program of action to deliver. To do the kinds
of things that Jesus did.
We say "In God we trust", and I'll believe it
when I see us put an end to homelessness and hunger in this country.
I'll believe that we trust in God when we put more into education and
than we put into the military. I'll believe that we trust in God when we
put our faith into the nonviolence of Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi and
Martin Luther King rather than into the possession of guns. That's when
I'll believe that we trust in God.
For Jesus to read this text from Isaiah, with its lofty ideals, and then
for him to conclude by saying "Today this is fulfilled in your hearing",
you see, is a radical call for change. It's a daring proposal.
Now, there's lots of debate on whether or not Jesus chose this passage
after spending those 40 days in the wilderness meditating on his
mission, his call, deciding what passage kind of sums it up for him, and
chooses that for his inaugural. Or, whether or not this was part of the
lectionary that they had in those days, that was then given to him to
read. And then it becomes for him that kind of Epiphany, coming out of
that wilderness experience and saying "Aha! This is what I'm called to
do and to be". But all of that is speculation and it misses the real
point, that whether it is chosen by Jesus or chosen for Jesus, or
whether even created by Luke, the point is that this inaugural address
by Jesus explains all else that follows. This is what Jesus is about.
So what are we going to do? We're going to hold an Annual Meeting :) The
Savior of the World has given us world-changing news! What are we going
to do?! We're going to think about changing the times of our worship
services :) Annual Meetings are not just perfunctory necessities in the
business of the church. They are occasions for us to reflect on where we
have been and where we are going. For those that stick around this
afternoon, and I hope you will, and after we've had our meal, when we
are discussing our budget and that proposed change to our worship
schedule (and a unified Sunday-school program between the 2 services,
which may perhaps be reversed in order), I invite you to keep the big
picture in mind -- our purpose as a community of God's people, our
mission to be a light to the world. Because when we ask people to help
us to steer the direction of the church in deciding those mundane things
like budgets and schedules, we are asking everyone to look past your own
personal interests, to keep that larger perspective in mind.
Now, I love that moment in Al Gore's movie "Inconvenient Truth", when
he's talking about climate change and the impact upon the world. And he
uses a scale, and then he says on one side of the balance we have the
earth, and all life. On the other side of the balance we have corporate
profits. Now, which is more important? Hmmm. . . . . . Life as we know
it, or profit? It's a great moment that kind of sums it all up. But, you
know, sometimes we have discussions like that, don't we? On the one side
is the Kingdom of God on earth, Martin Luther King's beloved community,
salvation of the world, and on the other. . . . what time do I want to
worship? :) What's my favorite music? I know which music is preferred in
the Kingdom of God -- it's the kind I like, right? :)
And I'm not suggesting that these aren't important things, they are
important to us. But to keep that perspective.
So I know it may be shocking news, but we're not going to usher in the
Kingdom of God by finding the perfect schedule on Sunday morning, right?
So whatever the outcome of our discernment process today (and I don't
know what that will be), our mission, our reason for existence, is not
going to change. Our mission is no less than that of Jesus, to proclaim
this good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free, the release of
captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim that
acceptable year of the Lord's jubilee. Our calling is to be that light
to the world.
So if we're going to offer true good news to the poor, we have to be
willing to do more than to offer a free meal once a week, or a free bed
on those nights when it's freezing outside. We have to be willing to ask
why is poverty and homelessness and hunger on the rise in this country
when there is so much wealth that is also on the rise?
If we seriously want to consider who are the captives in need of
release, we might want to consider how is it possible that 25% of the
people in this world who are in jail right now are in this country, that
holds 6% of the world's population.
If we believe that we can offer sight to the blind, we might want to
begin to ask, as Jesus said, to look at that log in our own eye, you
see, before we make sure we can at least as well help those who may be
seeing better than we do.
Letting the oppressed go free? I mean, take your pick -- victims of
domestic violence, sex trafficking, Palestinian struggle for statehood,
undocumented immigrants struggling for official status, unemployed
struggling to find work. There are so many that need to be set free.
To call for a Jubilee year as did Jesus is to call for a radical change
of the social order that make President Obama's call for collective
action to change the political order in Washington look like a squirt
gun against a fire-hose. Or against a tsunami. This is tough stuff, it
is big stuff. We're just one little medium-sized church with big dreams.
And more than one idealistic thinker :)
The consultant that we hired last year that we're still working with
comes from a big mega-church, gay-friendly church in Dallas from the big
state of Texas. And he challenged us at our retreat to think and to
dream big, and you will hear some of those dreams and that big thinking
when John presents his report this afternoon in the annual meeting.
For the gospel itself, you see, is a mighty big dream. It's God's dream,
of how the world can be. Should be. And because we are followers of the
Christ who gave us that dream, we dare to believe that we, the people of
Christ's church, can bring a glimpse of it into reality. Right here.
Right now. Today, the gospel is fulfilled in your hearing.
May it so be.