Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:14-21: Jesus’ Mission Statement

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

I’m preaching this Sunday so what follows is basically my sermon (though it will no doubt change a bit in the moment).

Just imagine something for a moment with me. Father Owen on a Sunday morning reads the Gospel as usual. We are all watching him (or maybe we’re reading along in our bulletin, but hopefully we’re paying attention). Then he just sits down and says “OK, that scripture is fulfilled today” and that’s the end of his sermon. We’d be like, “What? What is happening?” But you’re out of luck this morning, I have a lot more to say—you won’t get off that easy.  But keep that in your mind as we move on.

Next let’s bring our imaginations to the time of Jesus. This is a little more difficult since we haven’t been there. Jesus has been baptized and then he has been tempted in the wilderness. He then returns to the area of Galilee where he grew up. Today’s Gospel says he returns “filled with the power of the Spirit.” What does this mean—filled with the power of the Spirit? It’s no small thing—when Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, he’s letting us know that now we’re getting down to business. You don’t describe someone filled with the power of the Spirit if they’re just planning to have a snack, take a nap, maybe catch a football game. Being filled with the power of the Spirit means something significant. He begins teaching in the synagogues of various towns, and word begins to spread that he is something special.

Then Jesus’ ministry truly begins with today’s Gospel, and he announces it in his own hometown.

He arrives in his hometown of Nazareth and is asked to read from the scriptures on the Sabbath. Someone hands him the scroll of Isaiah. He finds a particular passage (now take note this is also what we do on our Sabbath day–we look into the scriptures to learn something every week).

I’m going to read this again; it’s important: 

“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.”

Luke 4:19 : Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6

What’s interesting to me is that he is very deliberate about the passage he reads, and he adds a bit from another part of Isaiah. So he knows exactly what he intends and this makes it more meaningful.

Then Jesus sits down. (From what I understand it was common practice for someone presenting in the synagogue to read a scripture and then sit down before explaining it.) He then says, as everyone stares at him expectantly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “This text is about me and I’m about to blow your minds.”

The response of the people of Nazareth will be continued in next week’s Gospel reading–you’ll have to come back for that (I feel like I’m giving you a cliffhanger—but you can also read it in any of the Bibles here). Today it’s all about what Jesus is saying. You could call this passage Jesus’ mission statement, because it’s indeed what he goes on to make the focus of his ministry–to bring good news to the poor, to tell the captives they are free, to proclaim sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to tell everyone the time has come for the Lord’s favor. 

His carrying out this mission is apparent in everything he does—in what he teaches, in his healing ministry, in his surprising responses to questioning by religious leaders, in his miracles—and this mission is what leads him to the cross. Then he rises from the dead and his mission continues in the hands of his church. Sometimes the church has followed his mission and done it very well and of course sometimes it’s done it poorly or even as if following a very different mission.

Let’s break this mission statement down. First, to bring good news to the poor. Jesus was very focused on poverty. He was very focused on money. There are people who count these things and they have calculated that he talked about money more than anything else–but he talked about it in the sense that earthly things are fragile and fleeting. In that time people who were wealthy were often considered blessed by God. Honestly there are a lot of Christians who think that way today. They think if you’re poor, you must have done something wrong—never mind income inequality, the effects of racism, classism, the difficulty in affording higher education—poverty is somehow a sin and a reflection of bad character according to some people. Recently Franklin Graham (he’s the son of the famous Christian evangelist Billy Graham) said in an interview, “A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume.” This was in context of him saying that the United States has been a force for good because of its wealth. I think I get what he’s trying to say, but it comes across very dismissive of the poor and their intrinsic worth, worth that Jesus would never deny.

 There are ministers (some are themselves multimillionaires) in the pulpit this morning telling their congregations that they just need to pray harder to be blessed with money. They teach that they lack faith if they struggle financially. But later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are you that hunger now.” Jesus had no disdain for the poor but only for those who mistreated the poor and trampled them on their way to their own riches. He often contrasts the poor with the wealthy. After blessing the poor, he says, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” His words of comfort were for those who needed it, not for the already comfortable. Most of us probably know the story of Jesus watching people donating money at the temple. He saw the rich men donating large amounts very ostentatiously—obviously showing off their wealth while they were at it. Then he watched a poor widow give two copper coins and he said that she had given more than all the rest, because they gave out of their abundance and she gave all she had. That was how Jesus cared for the poor. He brought good news to the poor because they likely saw themselves as unworthy as well. They internalized that harsh assessment of poverty being their own fault, but Jesus gave them comfort and intrinsic value.

Next, Jesus said “proclaim release to the captives.” Often this is interpreted only metaphorically—freeing people captive to sin or freeing us from certain ancient laws. It’s true that I can’t recall an incident of Jesus personally setting captives physically free—but he did have a message of hope and freedom. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and 20 percent of the world’s imprisoned population. Do we really have more law-breakers than other nations? Even as the rates of violent crime and property crime have gone down, our prison population has increased dramatically for decades, thanks to harsh sentencing and mandatory sentencing laws and I think also due to a certain culture of condemnation and retribution for even minor offenses. Our prisons are disproportionately populated by people of color. In addition to our regular prisons, we have those detained at the border seeking asylum. Our country has increased spending for prisons dramatically compared with the increase in spending for education. The amount of tax payer money spent for state and local prisons increased at triple the rate, compared to public school education. If Jesus began his ministry in this decade, I think he would call us out for all of these alarming statistics.

Jesus also talked about recovery of sight to the blind. This was very literal in the Gospel when he healed the blind and many other people. Healing was an extensive and essential part of his ministry. Healing should also be a part of our ministry, whether spiritual or physical. Healing is complicated and difficult, but it’s part of our calling as followers of Christ. Of course, we should work to make medical care more accessible and affordable for people and that’s important, but healing isn’t synonymous with curing. To cure someone is to eliminate their disease. To heal someone is to make them whole. That goes beyond the medical. How are people healed? Sometimes they are literally cured, yes. Sometimes they are healed of addictions. Sometimes they are healed of their own closed-minded bigotry. Sometimes they are healed of loneliness. We may not experience the kind of miracles Jesus performs in the scriptures, but healing still happens and we are called to care for our fellow children of God.

Jesus also says he’s called to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Isn’t that a beautiful thought—freedom for the oppressed and the Lord’s favor? So many of us have been treated badly, so many people have been marginalized and abused by society and by other people. And Jesus had a message of hope for them, for us. And he calls on us to carry on this mission, a mission to the poor, to the captives, to the blind, to the oppressed—to all the people our culture has rejected and neglected.

Today’s reading from Corinthians is also about the church, the Body of Christ, and how we are called to live out the mission of Jesus. We are all part of that body and we all have our own purpose within it. We all have gifts and skills to use for the church and for society. Those gifts are all different. Your gifts are not the same as your neighbor’s. Those gifts work together to make a functioning and thriving body of Christ, working together for the good of the church and the world, carrying out the same mission.

I want to challenge all of us to think about Jesus’ mission over next two weeks as we approach the date of our annual meeting. How are we fulfilling our role within the body of Christ?—both as members of Grace and members of the larger church. How is Grace working toward these goals? I could tell you some wonderful things Grace is doing, but I challenge you to look into it in the coming week. You can check out the website for information on all the ways this church is at work fulfilling Jesus’ mission or you can come to the annual meeting on the 10th and hear the voices of those doing that work and inviting you to join in as well.

So let’s go back to where we began—in our imaginations. We have heard the scripture. The Holy Spirit is within us as followers of Christ. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to heal the broken, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim the goodness of God. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.


Proper 25, Year B: Mark 10:46-52: Meet Needs With Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 25, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus arrives in Jericho, followed by a large crowd. A blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the road, where he often sat begging for money. When he heard Jesus was there he began to shout to him for help. Other people tell him to be quiet, but he cries out more, “Son of David, please help me!”

Jesus, of course, asks for them to call him over. Bartimaeus approaches quickly. Jesus asks what he wanted and he asks to see again.

Jesus tells him, “Go. You are healed because you believed.”  The man is immediately able to see again and he followed Jesus down the road.

Once again Jesus has a different view than others. Others are telling the man crying out for help and mercy to shut up, to leave Jesus alone and stay quiet. But Jesus notices him and wants to see him. He doesn’t care that he is merely a beggar. Another popular teacher might be seeking out the rich and famous and trying to make a few bucks off his power and popularity, but Jesus sees the saddest person there in the greatest need. And he sees that person’s belief. Then he meets that person’s needs. His eyes see what others don’t. He sees a need and he meets it with love.


Proper 18, Year B: Mark 7:24-37: Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 18, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is trying to stay hidden (because he is so often surrounded by crowds begging for healing). A Gentile woman finds him and asks for healing for her daughter. He seems reluctant at first, telling her that the children must eat all they want before their bread is given to dogs. She replies that even dogs eat the crumbs under the table that the children don’t eat. He approves of this answer and says that her daughter is healed. It sounds harsh and I think that’s partially a cultural thing that’s hard for us to understand, but the woman seemed to have both humility and assertiveness in her response. Jesus is reluctant, yes, but he does extend his love and healing beyond his own people.

Then Jesus moves on and people bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly. Jesus leads the man away and heals him quietly. He told people not to tell anyone, but they do not stay silent and spread the word about him.

Jesus in these stories is not seeking out the crowds but his compassion is so great that he continues to heal and help people, even though that makes it hard to keep a low profile. He is continually loving and healing people. This makes me think of the healing ministry of my church that was recently expanded to include individual prayers during or after the Eucharist. It’s a lovely way to follow in the steps of Jesus.

Proper 11, Year B: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56: Jesus as a Healer

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 11, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

The disciples Jesus sent out in the previous passage have returned to him. They eagerly tell him all they had done. But it is so busy with people that they don’t even have time to eat. Jesus tells them they will find a quiet place to rest. So they go on a boat to a place where they expect to be alone, but people follow them there. So many people come that a large crowd is waiting when Jesus gets off the boat. He takes pity on them so he stops to teach them.

The lectionary passage here skips ahead to another landing of the boat. They get out of the boat again and people recognize Jesus and people come in from all over the area bringing the sick to him. Wherever he goes people bring sick people to him and beg that they might just touch even the edge of his cloak. Anyone who touches it is healed.

This is very timely for me (even though I am doing it a couple weeks late). I happen to be sick this weekend and unfortunately I was too sick to serve on the healing prayer team today at church as planned. Our church has had healing services on some Wednesday nights for a while now, but we recently started a ministry of healing prayer during Sunday morning services. A couple of us stand to the sides during the Eucharist and people can come up to us after receiving communion for an individual healing prayer and anointing with oil. We discussed in our Adult Spiritual Formation commission that healing is not just about physical healing and that healing isn’t synonymous with curing. I’ve been reading a book called Healing in the Landscape of Prayer that has some great stories of people being cured after prayer, however, so it can happen. It’s lovely to be involved in a ministry that was so much a part of Jesus’ ministry in his lifetime.

I have spent some time in hospitals with my youngest son, who has a rare genetic disease, KBG Syndrome, which causes a few physical issues as well as some neurological ones. I know the great comfort I’ve had when visited by an Episcopal chaplain or our own priest while my son is sick. He may not have been cured, but we felt a healing effect and the love of Jesus.

Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13: Ministry of the Twelve Disciples

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 9, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.

Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.

Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.

So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.

Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.

Proper 8, Year B: Mark 5:21-43: Jesus Embraces Impurity to Heal

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 8, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage, Jesus crosses the lake in a boat and when he lands crowds surround him. A leader from the synagogue named Jairus comes (apparently not everyone in leadership was opposed to Jesus, at least not when in great need). He bowed down before Jesus and begged him to heal his dying daughter.

Jesus accompanies Jairus, but as he goes he is still crowded by people. A woman suffering from a debilitating illness that caused constant bleeding was among those following him; she thinks that if she can just touch his clothes, she will be healed. As soon as she touches his coat, her bleeding stops. Somehow Jesus felt the power and looked around to ask who touched his clothes.

His disciples are surprised that he is asking about a specific person touching him when he has so many pushing around him, but he insistently looks around until she comes up to him and bows at his feet, shaking in fear. She tells him her story and he tells her she will not suffer anymore.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains that a woman with such a bleeding condition would be considered unclean and as she pushed through the crowd she would be causing other people she touched to be unclean by the Levitical laws–it may be part of why she was fearful, because she could have also rendered Jesus himself ritually unclean by touching his clothes. Instead she is cleansed and purified. It is significant that he made the act known publicly and did not fear impurity. Jesus meets people in their need with love.

Then some people come from the home of Jairus to report that his daughter has died before they have even arrived. But Jesus told Jairus not to fear, just to believe.

As they entered the house, Jesus asked people why they were crying. He said the girl was only sleeping. Then he had the crying people leave the house and he went to the girl, bringing along her parents and three of his disciples. 

Jesus let only Peter, James, and John the brother of James go with him. They went to the synagogue leader’s house, where Jesus saw many people crying loudly. There was a lot of confusion. He entered the house and said, “Why are you people crying and making so much noise? This child is not dead. She is only sleeping.” But everyone laughed at him.

Jesus told the people to leave the house. Then he went into the room where the child was. He brought the child’s father and mother and his three followers into the room with him.

Then Jesus held the girl’s hand and said to her, “Talitha, koum!” (This means “Little girl, I tell you to stand up!”) The girl immediately stood up and began walking. (She was twelve years old.) The father and mother and the followers were amazed.Jesus gave the father and mother very strict orders not to tell people about this. Then he told them to give the girl some food to eat.

Mark 5:41-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Again, Jesus ignores the rituals–touching a corpse could make one even more impure than touching a bleeding person. But Jesus does not hesitate to take the dead girls hand and again, rather than him being made impure, she is brought to life and purity.

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:29-39: Jesus Heals and Prays

Bible.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage follows right after last week’s story. Jesus leaves the synagogue with his followers. They went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill in bed with a bad fever. They told Jesus about her, so he went to her bed, took her hand, and helped her stand up. At that moment she was healed and the fever left her.

Then, that night, people came to the house, bringing many sick people to be healed. They also brought the demon-possessed. Mark says everyone in the town gathered at the door. Jesus healed the sick and forced the demons out. The passage also says, “he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.”

The next morning he got up very early and left the house in the dark to be alone and pray. Some of his followers came to find him and said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

He tells them it is time to move on to share God’s message with other people in other towns. “That is why I came.” So he traveled all over Galilee, speaking in the synagogues and healing.

The takeaway from this passage is much like last week and other Epiphany readings. Jesus is unique as a teacher and healer. He draws crowds wherever he goes and does wondrous things. Also, he is doing the work that characterizes the rest of his ministry–teaching, healing, casting out demons. He also takes time to go off alone and pray. He makes that time, even though people are constantly seeking him out. His time with God is a priority. Again, I see this also as a lesson for us–our ministry is also to help others, but not to neglect our own spirituality in the process. Love others, love God (like Matthew 22:36-40).

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:21-28: Called to Teach and Heal

Jesus Drives Out a Demon

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage, Jesus and his friend arrive in the city of Capernaum. Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach people on the Sabbath. They were amazed by him. The Bible says, “He did not teach like their teachers of the law. He taught like someone with authority.” A  man possessed by an evil spirit is also at the synagogue. The man shouted at Jesus:

“Jesus of Nazareth! What do you want with us? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are—God’s Holy One!”

Jesus, his voice full of warning, said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The evil spirit made the man shake. Then the spirit made a loud noise and came out of him.

Mark 1: 24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Pretty dramatic stuff! Mark says the people are amazed as this is something new happening and at his authority to command even evil spirits. Again, the idea of him having authority unseen before. So the news about Jesus spreads all through Galilee after this.

 

I struggle with reading about demonic possession in the Bible–like what does it mean in our more scientific time? As a college student,  I actually attended a service where the leadership started to attempt to cast out a demon, but I found it disturbing and weird, so I got up and walked out and didn’t go back to that church. What was actually happening when Jesus cast out demons? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just a first-century understanding of a severe mental illness and that’s what Jesus was healing.

I think there are two important elements in this story that explain why it’s part of our Epiphany readings, which have so far all about how special Jesus is and about calling us into following him. First, note how the people marveled at his authority–he was not like other teachers, because he taught and acted with authority–Jesus was unlike anyone else. Like the rest of the Epiphany readings, we see Jesus as unique and set apart.

Second, this story is about Jesus beginning his ministry and a major part of his ministry was going out among the people, teaching and healing–in this case a spiritual kind of healing. Our work in following him is also a ministry of teaching and healing. We are called to go out into the world to share the good news of his kingdom and to bring healing and love with us to help his kingdom come.

Proper 6, Year A: Matthew 9:35-10:8: The Disciples Sent Out

Jesus spreading his teaching to people

Jesus spreading his teaching to people – source: iStockphoto.com/artisticco

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 6, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew from Track 2.

Today’s reading begins with Jesus doing his work, traveling around, teaching, preaching, and healing people. I especially like this part:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So many of us today need that compassion. We are harassed and helpless, looking for leadership, sometimes following the wrong people instead of Christ.

Jesus sends out his twelve disciples with some pretty strict instructions and a pretty demanding set of tasks:

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

They are also sent only to the Jewish towns to minister to their own people at this point. As we know from the story of the Ascension, they will eventually be sent out to the whole world, but for now they are only reaching out to gather in their own people and save and minister to them.

These instructions could also be useful for Christians today. Start in your own backyard and later move on to serving the whole world. And make your focus healing and caring for people, as well as proclaiming the good news. There’s no need to get bogged down in anything else. If you start to get bogged down, it’s time shake the dirt off your sandals and move right along and keep sharing the love of Christ.

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Lent 5, Year A: John 11:1-45 : Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus Raising Lazarus

Jesus Raising Lazarus – iStock.com/traveler1116

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s Gospel lesson is a pretty famous one. Before Jesus rose from the dead, he brought another man back from the dead, his dear friend named Lazarus.

The first part of the story is a little puzzling. Jesus receives a message from Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, telling him his beloved friend is ill. Jesus hears it and said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Continue reading