Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 4: 14 – 21. Focus on God’s political agenda for the world. Be sure to check out The Choir’s rendition of Amazing Grace & Kumbaya.
When most of think of Jesus we think of a friend or a savior, but what about a truth teller? How many of us see Jesus as a truth teller about what he’s about and what he wants us to be about? In my experience most people who are truth tellers are not that well liked. They ruffle feathers just the way Jesus goes on to ruffle the feathers of his homies in Nazareth.
And that’s what Jesus does in our gospel lesson today. He lays out his mission, God’s agenda to the world. He enters his hometown synagogue and picks up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, and he begins reading. The passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is to bring Good News to the poor, release those who are in prison or held captive, make the blind see, set those who are oppressed free and proclaim the year of the Jubilee. The year in which, all economic debts would be erased and everyone would start off fresh and new. And if that were not enough to blow them away in his hometown synagogue he tells them that he’s the one that Isaiah was writing about. This mission, is his mission!
The Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary are just around the corner and there is no escaping the Presidential candidates or their messages. Turn on the T.V. and you can hear them all offering political salvation, and end to the troubles that afflict us as a nation and the beginning of better days. Back to greatness and forward to good times. Those are the promises and the specifics range from offering less health care to offering more, and from building walls to carpet bombing our enemies to keep fear at bay.
No mention of the poor or anything resembling good news for them. They in fact are just users and abusers of the system that rewards people too lazy to work. Only one candidate mentions the fact that rich Hedge fund managers and major banks brought us to the brink of financial ruin or that we are spending trillions on conflicts that have no end in sight and no way of paying for their continuation.
There is absolutely no mention of prisoners or of prisons and their conditions in this country. Did you know that America incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than does any other western nation. As attorney Lisa Bloom summarizes, “The United States leads the world in terms of incarcerating its own citizens. We imprison more of our own people, especially people of color, than any other country on earth, including China, which has four times our population. Over two million people are currently locked up in American Prisons.” (1)
Or, put the same figure another way: “The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.” (2)
As for war prisoners, there are no candidates talking about Guantanamo Bay.
As for the blind we are working hard to eradicate the causes of blindness but in our text Jesus is talking about those who lack insight and compassion. Such that we have heard it proposed that we should keep all Muslims and Syrian refuges out of our country for fear that a terrorist or two might just sneak in. Seems like there is more emphasis on keeping the oppressed out of our country than on helping them become free.
And as for the Acceptable Year of the Lord, which is the Jubilee Year, a year of redistribution of wealth and land, well, no one is talking about that.
Yet they strike me as the remedy that we need, for our broken economy, our highest in the world rate of imprisonment and they ring true to those who are oppressed by war and terrorism. They just are not convenient for those of us who are not Muslim, or Syrian or locked up or heavily in debt.
As a nation and across the world, we are deeply divided in our responses to refugees, the poor and minorities. Jesus’ words challenge us to choose to hear that he has not come to save us individually, apart from one another, or privately, through our personal belief, but he comes for us all, and is revealed in us and through us, as we reach out to embrace one another’s needs.
So many of our candidates profess to be Christian – it would be a welcome wonder if one of them were to have the courage to stand up on TV and read Jesus’ agenda and tell Christians who vote that it should be their agenda as well.
You see that’s how sensitive we are to being told that God agenda isn’t about making the rich richer, or about putting our enemies to death or in prison or about keeping those who are oppressed from arriving at a place of freedom. Yet no matter how hard we try and we’ll even use scripture in our attempts to keep others out we just can’t seem to get God to respect those boundaries. God just keeps plowing right through them. And he invites us to come along or get out of the way.
The problem isn’t that we’re loved any less. The problem is that we can’t stand that God loves more people than we do and will not let his church thrive much less survive if it doesn’t too.
You see we have this natural tendency as human beings to want to congregate with like-minded people. And nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than in church. Sunday morning has been called the most segregated hour of the week. Look around town. We segregate by theology, by ideology, by age, and by race. Just look at where we sit week after week.
Human beings may have a natural tendency toward this but the church ought to know better. Whether we like it or not we Christians know that Jesus preferred the company of misfits and sinners to that of religious people. Whether we like it or not we believe in a Lord who cares for the poor, the imprisoned and the economically indebted, reminding us, no challenging us in the church, to believe that it is God who makes a community and not we ourselves and our differences are God’s best assets for opening us up to the truth that is bigger than we are.
The truth is always more than any one of us can grasp. It takes a world full of strangers and friends to tell us about the parts we can’t see and sometimes we want to kill them for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are still called to see far more than we do. Because until we can see as Jesus sees we haven’t seen it all, much less seen what God wants for all of us.
And I wonder how different our country and world would be if we who claim the name Christian were to suddenly tack the word “Today” in front of all our statements and actions – to remember today that the Gospel is about saving lives not just souls, that today is the time to proclaim God’s agenda rather than our own. What would it be like if we were to do it today? Amen
 Lisa Bloom, “When Will the US Stop Mass Incarceration?” http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/03/opinion/bloom-prison-spending/index.html
 Adam Liptak, “U. S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations,” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all