Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

Click here for directions
 

A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

The Purpose-Driven Jesus

Rev. Jim Ketcham

1/24/16

 

Scripture Lesson:  Luke 4:14-21

 

Our text this morning finds Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown.  Luke puts this story into the context of the actions of the Holy Spirit:   first there is the baptism, with the descent of he Spirit, then the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, and now Luke tells us Jesus is “filled with the power of the Spirit.”

Jesus is back in his childhood home, entering a familiar synagogue, seeing people he grew up with.  He knows their faces and their names.  The synagogue is full of friends, acquaintances, relatives.

The narration slows as every action is detailed.  He stands up to read, the scroll is given to him, he finds his place.

And the first words out of his mouth in his first recorded speech are “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”

I think Luke places this story first in his gospel, not because it is the first chronologically, but because it is the first programatically.  This event announces who Jesus is, of what his ministry consists, what his church will be and do, and what will be the response to both Jesus and the church. (Fred Craddock)

From the beginning of the gospel, in Mary's Magnificat, Luke emphasizes that Jesus' work was to bring good news to the poor.  By choosing this reading, Luke signals that concern for the liberation of the impoverished and oppressed was of paramount importance to Jesus' ministry.

The words of Isaiah are talking about a complete transformation of society, much like the song Mary sang earlier in Luke: “God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty...”)

And there's the song of Hannah oh, so long ago:  “the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil, the Lord raised up the poor from the dust.”

Who does Jesus think he is, with this kind of talk?  Since when do carpenters' sons from small villages change the world?  Can you imagine the courage it took to read these words in front of his relatives and childhood friends?

What leaders are talking like this today?  Of all the people running for President, do any bring good news to the poor?  Do any proclaim release to the captives or promise to let the oppressed go free?

I only hear talk about the middle class at best, almost never about poor and oppressed in Presidential politics.  When politicians do talk about the poor it is often to denigrate them, not to give them hope.

But Jesus is not giving us a campaign speech, full of promises that will never come true.  This is Jesus's inaugural address:  this is the plan, this is the model, this is the mission statement at the heart of the ministry of Jesus and therefore it should be at the heart of our ministry.

What is today's church to do with this story? What's a follower of Jesus to do?  Have we lost our way from the course Jesus set in his inaugural address?  As Christians, we're not just studying history or biographies of the long dead.  Here in these few verses is our own biography, our own operating instructions, our GPS directions for life.  If we follow this example, we will find the Spirit of the Lord is upon US.

This congregation is known for its long history of backing the social gospel, for following the politics of compassion.  You have joined with like-minded congregations and formed FOCUS Churches almost 50 years ago. 

The pantries and breakfast club have served thousands and thousands of meals over the years and you did it by working together.  I am deeply impressed with the spirit and enthusiasm of the volunteers working in the Breakfast Club and the pantries.  Your dedication makes a difference.

In this age of extreme individualism there are those who would rather talk about “a thousand points of light,” each one of us doing our own thing to better the world, rather than the idea of the community reshaping itself, reordering its priorities and transforming our relationships to meet the needs of all of God's children.

There's an old story told about a certain fisherman that I shared with the search committee when I first interviewed for the FOCUS job.  It seems this fisherman had a favorite spot along the river just outside of town, where he went fishing nearly every day.

One day, he heard a sound and realized there was a drowning man being swept along in the river's fast current.  Without hesitating, the fisherman dove in and brought the man to safety.

The next day, the same thing happened again.  And the next, and the next.  Crowds began to gather along the river, anticipating the next rescue.  Finally after almost a week of these rescues had happened, the fisherman walked away from the crowd and his latest rescue.

“Wait,” the crowd shouted, “You can't go!  What about the next victim?”  The fisherman turned to the crowd and said, “I'm going upstream to find the son of a gun that keeps pushing these people in!”

FOCUS churches have learned to go upstream to the source of the problem, with the addition of advocacy to good works.  You've learned the need to challenge the system that produces the problems: the gap between the very rich and the very poor, the economic systems that reward a few at the expense of the many.

Many of you know exactly what Martin Luther King Jr was talking about when he said, “I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

The time is now to call on our business and political leaders to fashion solutions that attack the roots of the problem.  We need to stop forcing the poor out of their homes due to what some like to call “urban removal.” 

We need to stop expecting people to lie on $16,000 a year, if they could ever find full-time work.  We need to stop warehousing non-violent criminals; we need to stop simply chasing people off the streets and out of the public places and thinking we've done anything at all useful. 

Unbridled capitalism gives way to unbridled greed and here we are, still maintaining a “temporary feeding program” almost 50 years later.  It's time for all people of faith to go upstream.

We need the moral courage to listen to the intention of God for humanity as Jesus proclaims it in Luke 4.

Some of this is very challenging to those of us who are not among the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed or the imprisoned of our society.  It is threatening to contemplate turning upside down the economic structures from which we might benefit in some way.

It's one thing to say everyone deserves a living wage, it's another to budget such a living wage for those we employ, isn't it?

Jesus sometimes made the physically blind see, but he – and we – also have the more difficult task of encouraging the spiritually blind to open their eyes to the truth of the gospel.

Could we walk into our churches on Sunday and proclaim “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” – or us?  Can we name our purpose so boldly as Jesus did?

“The Purpose-driven Life has been called the bestselling non-fiction hardback in publishing history by Publishers Weekly.  It's sold more than 32 million copies. (And it's just out in a new edition.) Warren founded Saddleback Church in 1980 with his wife, Kay.  In addition to a 120-acre campus in Lake Forest, CA, the church has ten satellite campuses in Southern California and three international campuses. 

(Personally, it sounds to me like he has an “edifice complex!”)

 

Warren obviously knows a lot. But in his book, he doesn't know the purpose that drove Jesus. Despite dozens and dozens of quotes from the Bible and a stated desire to help Christians discover their purpose, Warren never quotes from our scripture this morning.

He seems not to know the purpose that drove Jesus. And therefore, he doesn't know the purpose that should drive all those who would dare to call themselves followers of Jesus. 

Since writing that book, Warren has shown some movement in the right direction, starting ministries to the poor, the mentally ill and those with HIV.

Still, he can't resist engaging in silly doctrinal battles such as defending creationism, and saying things like “The model of marriage has remained unchanged in all cultures for last 5000 years.”  He simply hasn't read his Bible if he believes there's only one model of marriage in the Good Book.  These doctrinal battles are NOT good news for the poor and oppressed.

There's a gap between Warren's intentions and his actual product.  Barbara Cawthorne Crafton recognizes the gap between how things are today (or were back in Jesus' time) and the songs that Jesus and his mother and Hannah sing: songs of healing and justice and all things made right.  But “Scripture,” she says, “is much more full of hope than of journalism.  All political ideas live in the human imagination before they become flesh in the human community.  So it is with all prophecy.” 

The important thing, she says, is to “remember how we first received the messianic hope in the Gospel of Luke:  justice and healing for those who suffer illness and wrong… Today we understand this hope to be not only about God's agency, but about our own.” (Luke, Feasting on the Gospels, Vol I)

The message of Jesus is our message.  The purpose that drove Jesus is the purpose that drives us, even today:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon US.

God has anointed US

          to bring good news to the poor.

God has sent US

          to proclaim release to the captives;

          recovery of sight to the blind

          and to let the oppressed go free!

AMEN.

 

 

Home