Jesus’ Mission Statement
(Epiphany 3, Luke 4.14-21)
January 21, 2007
Grace church, like most churches, has a mission statement. We publish it in the bulletin every Sunday; it is usually up on the wall in Jinkins Hall and other places; and from time to time I have us read it together as a reminder of what we say our mission is. So as a starting point in today’s sermon, that is what I want to do this morning.
So if you would, please look with me on page 11 of your bulletin. It is in the middle of the page. And let’s read together the Grace mission statement: Through the grace of God to help each person experience God’s love and guidance.
Thorough the grace of God to help each person experience God’s love and guidance.
That is our statement to the world of what we are about – our purpose for being - at Grace Church. Therefore, it is important that we measure everything that we do in relation our mission statement. And that we test each and every one of our ministries to be sure that they serve that stated mission. That each and every one of our ministries serves the purpose of increasing people’s experience of God’s love and guidance in their lives.
Now I am talking about mission statements this morning, because in our gospel reading today, we very clearly hear Jesus declare his mission statement for his life on earth.
As Luke sets the scene, we are very early in Jesus’ ministry. Luke tells us that after being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus is compelled by the Holy Spirit to go into the wilderness for forty days. Those are days of great temptation for Jesus. But he withstands the hardships of living in the wilderness and resists the overtures of the devil. And in the verse just before our reading, Luke tells us that, “the devil departed from Jesus until a more opportune time.”
And so now Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit,” journeys to his home town of Nazareth to begin his ministry.
And after arriving, he goes, as was his custom, to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. And taking the scroll of scripture, he stands and reads from Isaiah, one of Israel’s most beloved passages.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me 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.”
And then Jesus hands back the scroll, sits down and simply says, “today this Scripture is fulfilled in your presence.”
In other words, I am the one that has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the promises that God made to his people through the words of the prophet Isaiah. I am that One of whom Isaiah spoke hundreds of years ago. I am the One.
And so right at that time; right at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is declaring to his friends and family what his mission on earth will be. He will be an agent of God in the world, and he will bring God’s message of love to those who are oppressed or imprisoned; blind or poor.
Now next week, we will read the next set of verses and look at how the people of his hometown react to Jesus’ mission statement. But this morning I will just stick to Jesus’ mission statement as he declares it.
Because the bottom line is, that if our mission is not a reflection of what Jesus Christ states as his mission, then we are obviously missing the boat. So we need to understand exactly what Jesus was about in order to be about the same thing.
Now the first thing that I notice about what Jesus does in the synagogue is that he puts himself on the spot. Think about how much easier it would be to just go about doing the things that he was sent to do, without declaring his intentions ahead of time. What I mean is, that there is always less chance for public failure and embarrassment if we understate what our intentions are. Don’t set our personal goals too high where everyone can see them, in order that we not fall woefully short.
We all do that to some extent, right? In golf it is called sandbagging. Underestimating our ability by overestimating our handicap.
But we also do the same thing in life – because it makes it easier to cope with life’s disappointments if we hold a little back. Sometimes it may just be subconsciously, but we shy away from putting our whole life and our reputation on the line.
But Jesus has none of that. I am the One . . . . the One that you have been waiting for, he says. I am the one about whom it is written in Scripture, he shall free the captives and bring hope to the poor. I am the One.
Just imagine the incredible impact of that promise when he made it. The Jewish community was mostly poor and oppressed. To hear a promise of fulfillment of what they and generations of their ancestors had waited for must have filled them with excitement. And at the same time, it puts a lot of pressure on Jesus to deliver what he says.
But Jesus is never afraid of accountability; and that is an important part of this lesson for us. Being accountable for living out there, the Christian lives that we talk about in here.
I first experienced that sort of accountability when I declared my intention to follow a call into ordained ministry. Because my personal life suddenly became very public. It was sort of shocking at first. I mean, not just family and friends, but even people that I did not know particularly well, were constantly checking for updates.
And that was a very different experience for me – to be so vulnerable in front of so many people. But that is exactly what the gospel requires of us. There is just no such thing as a half-hearted commitment. Jesus demands that we give him all that we have. He wants our whole lives – our souls and bodies. He wants us to put our total trust in him.
And that means accountability. That means openly declaring our intentions before God and before others; and then being willing to depend on the Holy Spirit to help us live up to what we say. As a church and as individuals, we put our mission statement up on the wall where all can see what we stand for, and then we regularly ask each other, how are we doing? What is our status?
We will do that this morning at our annual meeting. That is its purpose – to look at how we are doing. But not in terms of numbers – dollars of pledges and Sunday attendance.
We need to look at how we are doing in terms of our mission statement. Because that is our most important criterion for success.
Of course the other important thing to notice about Jesus’ mission is its intended target. Not the priests and the scribes. Not the ones who were well off and who could afford to provide financially for his new church.
No, quite the opposite, Jesus targeted his mission for those without much of anything.
Jesus came to give hope to those who had little to hope for. He came to free the captives – to release them from bondage.
For some it was bondage to sin.
Others were held captive by the cycle of poverty.
Still others were literally bound by social oppression – slaves to their masters.
Those are the ones, the downtrodden of the world, that Jesus declares as the purpose (the recipients) of his mission.
And, He came to open the eyes of the blind. Maybe that’s us – blind to the bondage of others. Blind to the oppression that continues to worsen as the gap between rich and poor grows all the wider.
And most importantly, blind to the fact that church is not about us. It is about unrolling the scroll, reading and hearing the Word, and then taking God’s message outside our walls to those who need to hear it.
In our reading today, we hear the mission of the Church loud and clear from the lips of Christ. There is nothing to argue about, nothing that is difficult to interpret. And Jesus challenges us to undertake that mission.
Challenges us to understand that just as he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, so too are we anointed in the Spirit at our baptisms.
And with the power of that Spirit, we can have the courage to be disciples of that same mission, and to be accountable for how well we do it.