the heart of the matter

On Sunday we looked at Jesus’ first sermon. It’s more or less his mission statement. Thoughts after the jump.

***

Who is Jesus? What is he about? If you wonder, like I do, from time to time ‘what is church for?’ ‘what is being a Christian all about?’ This text gets at the heart of the matter.  

But knowing what this looks like is no easy thing.

The way Luke tells the story, Jesus’ whole work was to put flesh on these words, and to enable us to do the same.

So how did he do that?

How did he bring good news to the poor?

He started so simply—by eating with people, breaking bread with those on the fringes of life both economically and socially. He paid attention to beggars on the side of the road. He spent time with people the world dismissed. He let their lives shape the kingdom he announced.

And he proclaimed release to the captive… He came to let the oppressed go free…

The word release here is the same word that is translated as the forgiveness of sins and the forgiveness of debts. Jesus set free those who were bound—by shame, guilt, sin, death. To the tax collector and to a person caught in adultery, he said, you are not defined by your past. He set us all free from the clutch of death.

And he came to bring recovery of sight to the blind…

Literally. Jesus loved to heal blind people. On a deeper level, he invited people to open the eyes of their hearts and see the kingdom taking shape.

Luke says this is what Jesus is all about. He brings good news for the poor, release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

If we want to follow him, then we’re called to put skin on these words here and now. What does that look like?

How do we bring good news to the poor?

There’s a lot to be said for living simply, giving generously of time and money, and advocating for social structures that contribute to the common good. So many of you do this every single day in your paid work or in your free time.

There’s something else I want us to consider. Jesus spent a lot of time eating and sharing life with poor people. At his table tax collectors and hungry widows rubbed shoulders. Socio-economic segregation is deep and profound in our culture. It shapes our schools, our work places, our neighborhoods, and our churches. Bethany is one of the few congregations I have ever been a part of that crosses class lines and genuinely welcomes both those who have more than enough and struggle with decisions about how much is too much, and those who can’t quite make ends meet, who live with crushing debt and not enough work. We don’t talk about this part of our life often, and maybe we should talk about it more, but it seems to me to be an essential part of how we try to live out the good news of Jesus together. In sitting together and eating together and sharing our lives, we proclaim that all of us have dignity before God. This is good news.

How about proclaiming release to the captive? Each week as we start worship with confession and forgiveness we’re practicing this, saying that those things that seem to control us do not get the last word. In our daily lives, when we forgive each other, when we take a leap of faith and believe that a fresh start is possible, we testify that there is indeed release for the captive.

And sight for the blind. Part of why we come here, week after week to worship, is because we know we need help to see. In worship and life with Jesus we learn to see love in a divided world, abundance where others see scarcity, life leaping up from death. And as our eyesight gets clearer, we can point others to what we see—good news for the poor, release for the captive, freedom for the oppressed, and God’s favor covering us all.

This is how we are called to live.

Notice, now: this is not some sort of divine to do list. We don’t add these things to our already long list of who we are and what we’re supposed to do. Instead, as it was for Jesus, this is to be the foundation of our life. When we follow Jesus, we are asking the Holy Spirit to shape our lives this way.

Today we’ll ordain elders and deacons. You have chosen these people to be our leaders in faith. They are called to measure their lives against this rubric and to help our community grow in this direction. But the call’s not just for them. It’s for all of us.

The joy and the responsibility of the incarnation is that Jesus became like us, so that we might become like him, so that we might join with God in creating, redeeming, and proclaiming good news to this world.

When we say yes to Jesus, a yes that we keep saying day after day, year after year, throughout our lives, it is this life that we are saying yes to. A life of shouting good news for the poor from the mountain tops, a life of release and freedom, a life of sight for all who are living in darkness—in short, life abundant.

by Sarah W. Wiles
January 27, 2013
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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2 Responses to the heart of the matter

  1. Bob Braxton says:

    he rolled up the scroll he had unrolled

  2. Linda Gaines says:

    And the people tried to throw him off the cliff but he went his way, may we do so.

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