Sunday, January 27, 2019
“They got up [and] drove him out of town ... so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (Luke 4:29). Someone makes you hot-red mad, and you’re standing right next to a cliff and off they go! If you had been somewhere else, say a field, maybe you just punch the other guy. It’s violent, but all he gets is a bloody nose, not a free fall ending with a splat on the rocks below. After you’ve thrown him over, do you regret your hasty decision? Do you wish you hadn’t thrown him off a cliff? Probably. What did he do to make you that angry?
In chapter 4, verses 14-21, Luke gives us a summary of Jesus’ words from that day in the synagogue. He actually preached a full sermon on the Isaiah text that he read, Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. Luke’s summary helps us see that when Jesus began preaching the crowd was impressed and excited. A local kid had grown up to be an outstanding preacher. But as he talked, they realized they were condemned by the truth he told. Enraged, as we read in Luke 4:29, “they got up [and] drove him out of town ... so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” He did not allow himself to be killed like that. But they were mad enough to try. Why?
As we understand Jesus’ message in Luke 4, are we angered because we’re declared “guilty” by Jesus’ truth? Or, are we convicted, as in we feel called to walk in Jesus’ light? We feel prompted by the Spirit to say and do the things Jesus said and did. These were Jesus’ friends and neighbors, his people. This was one of his earliest sermons. And he makes them so mad they want to kill him on the spot.
In the four actions Jesus lists, who is he talking about? More importantly, if we are to embody those actions, who, in our time, would we say is Jesus addressing?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he says in verse 18, “because he has anointed me to” and then he proceeds to say all that the Spirit has commissioned him to say and do. Jesus’ intentions spring from the same Spirit that led him into the desert where he fasted and confronted Satan. Yielding to the will of the Holy Spirit, he ends up proclaiming a gospel of liberation for the oppressed.
Note the verbs and objects of the actions, and think about what actions the Spirit calls in the face of injustice today. We bring the reality of Jesus into our time so that our thoughts and responses or lack of responses reveals our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit or our willingness to ignore the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. In the first century, “the poor” referred to most people. There was almost no middle class to speak of and few people owned property. Healthcare and insurance just didn’t exist as we understand those things today. Jesus’ message of ‘good news’ was a promise from God that life didn’t have to be an endless, painful struggle to just survive.
In our time, there are more options and more resources available to people and yet, still in our country and around the world, crushing poverty imposes misery on millions. The Borgen project identifies poor health, higher crime rates, and lack of education as the top negative effects of poverty. Poor people cannot afford medicines and treatments that would utterly eliminate conditions many of us don’t ever have to worry about. Crime rates are higher not because poor people are more prone to break the law but because their desperation leads them to do things they otherwise would not do. Starve or steal? I’d steal.
As the body of Christ, how we do help poor people receive the good news Jesus promised? What can we do to feed the hungry, educate those who cannot afford school supplies or who live in impoverished communities with substandard schools? How can we minister to those incarcerated, individuals who never had the opportunity to see life not tainted by arrests and prison? How can we be the good news Jesus promised?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim release to the captives. In 30 AD, Israel was exiled in their own land, enslaved to the Roman empire. The people were enslaved to a complete misreading of the law of Moses by religious overlords who condemned them instead of helping them see God’s grace. And all people were slaves to sin.
Today many people are captive in the world. One example: girls are kidnapped and forced into the sex-industry, living as slaves. Men are in bondage to their pathological addictions so that they see their own urges not as prompts to lead them to love their wives, but as sexual appetites to be indulged to excess. They don’t see the girls they buy as human, but as objects that exist to satiate their demented appetites. Everyone in the transaction is broken and lost and in need of compassion and help and real love. This is one example of many in the world today in which we see people in bondage. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to proclaim release to the captives. As the body of Christ, how we do proclaim release to those in 21st century captivity?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim recovery of sight to the Blind.
When Jesus worked miracles of healing, he usually told the person helped to go and show themselves to the priest because the ailment, blindness, leprosy, paralysis or something else, would disqualify that one from participation in worship. Physical disabilities were indications that someone had sinned and was unclean and unfit for worship. The highest good to be had in life was a right relationship with God and that relationship was realized in worship. The disability didn’t just deprive someone of health and impose pain; it cut the person off from God. By healing people, Jesus made a way for them to come to God.
In 21st century America, we don’t blame people for blindness or sickness or other debilitating conditions. But do we welcome those who have physical disadvantages? Do we structure life our community and adjust our communal attitude so that we are inviting and hospitable for everyone? We may not be able to work miracle of healing as Jesus did, but we can pray God-sized prayers. We can expect miracles. And whether or not they come, we can be a church family that does whatever is necessary to joyfully include everyone. In Christ, there is no healthy and sick; all are one and we strive to meet one another’s needs in love. As the body of Christ, how do we proclaim recovery so that all who are a part of our worship have a clear path to relationship with God?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to let the oppressed go free.
Similar to the captives and to the physically infirm in Jesus’ day, the oppressed were people powerless to stand up for themselves, victims of abuse by the power-holders.
In our time, think about those incarcerated in the United States. If we want to be simplistic about it, we’d say, lawbreakers go to jail and those who abide by the law don’t. According to a U.S. Health and Human Services Department survey in the year 2000, people of all races use and sell drugs at remarkable similar rates. White, black, Hispanic, Asian - there are equal proportions of each population addicted and equal proportions of drug dealers. So, why are 80-90% of those serving long-term sentences for drug convictions black? Why are black men 57% more likely to go to prison for drug charges than white men? And consider this. The effects of prison don’t end when the sentence is over. Try getting a job when you’re labeled an ex-con. For white people, a drug addiction is a sickness to be treated. For blacks, it is a crime to be punished. The inequalities in prison sentencing are one example of how a group of people ends up oppressed here in America, the land of the free.
As the body of Christ, standing in the light of Christ, walking in the footsteps of Christ, how do we help the oppressed go free? Jesus had the Spirit upon him because he came to let the oppressed go free. How do we, his followers, embody his mission?
The Spirit of the Lord is on us. If we respond, we end up taking 4 specific actions. We help the poor, we name the captives as we renounce their captivity, we welcome the sick, and we see the oppressed as well as our hand in their oppression: help, name, welcome, see. In Luke 4, Jesus preaches justice. We know Him. We know that to walk in his steps and stand his light and help these He promised to Help, is gospel work because gospel means “good news,” and that’s what he promised.
This makes people who hold power angry. The privileged get uncomfortable because their position of privilege will have to be shared. Jesus was OK with the anger and the discomfort. We want to follow Him, so we have to overcome the anger and enter the discomfort. We have to acknowledge our own sins and we have to open ourselves to the suffering of others. How do we do it?
If you’ve been following along in this series, you might expect me to prescribe spiritual disciplines at this point. We’ve talked about disciplines that we do to condition ourselves to see God in everyday life, to live obediently, and to submit ourselves fully to God. Are there disciplines that condition us to help, name, welcome, and see the oppressed? Probably. But, this morning, the conclusion is an invitation.
I invite you to participate in ministries our church already has in place. We need more volunteers. We need you to give your time to strengthen the ways our church already works to help, name, welcome, and see. Every month, we collect an offering to help people in financial distress pay their rent and utility bills. Twice a year, we collect food for the Yates Association food pantry. Every Christmas, we collect school supplies for extremely poor families in Appalachia. We partner with Children’s Hope Chest to help poor children in Ethiopia and with Project Esperanza to help displaced children in Dominican Republic. Every weekend, we have a tutoring ministry for refugees. Once a year, we build a ramp on the home of a wheelchair bound person. Once a year we host a free dental clinic. Our youth group goes on a mission trip; this year they’ll go to South Carolina. All these ministries are done in the spirit of Jesus’ preaching in Luke 4. All these ministries need prayer support, volunteers, and additional financial support. HillSong will be a church walking in the light when we have 100% of our members and attendees involved in these ministries.
Open your heart to the Holy Spirit as you read the word. Jesus said the Spirit led him to help the poor, to name evil and name the victims, to welcome the wounded, and to see the oppressed. Allow the Spirit to a similar work in you. Together, we are the body of Christ. In the power of the Holy Spirit we can do good in Jesus’ name.