Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and I attended the Troy community celebration of Dr. King’s life. Our speaker reminded us that Dr. King’s message was quite revolutionary. Not only did he want to end segregation, he wanted to tackle two other related issues of his day: poverty and militarism. He recognized that poverty and militarism were related and that they disproportionately affected people of color. In taking up these causes he made enemies. At the time of his assassination he was trying to create a coalition of poor people whom he was going to lead in a March on Washington to make sure that Washington understood the plight of the nation’s poor and marginalized.
Later in the day I read an essay by David Gushee that challenged our national observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday. Even as we celebrate a call to service and a dream of a color-blind America, David reminded his readers that Dr. King wasn’t killed because he believed in service and had a dream about a color-blind America. No:
People who directly and aggressively challenge white America’s racism, and while they are at it challenge our complacency about poverty, and (in 1967!) challenge the morality of the Vietnam War, such people might just get beat up, arrested, and murdered. [http://davidgushee.religionnews.com/2016/01/18/how-dr-king-became-safe/]
These are the messages I was hearing on Monday as I sat down with our text from Luke 4. The messages I had heard earlier in the day provided a contemporary context in which to meditate upon Jesus’ first visit home after being filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. I began to see some parallels between the two missions. Both Dr. King and Jesus offered up a prophetic message that didn’t always sit well with those in power.
Luke tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. In the verses that precede our text this morning, Luke tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into the Wilderness where he was tested (Luke 4:1-13). Having survived the ordeal he’s ready to begin his ministry. And according to Luke, Jesus was very successful. Wherever he went the people raved about his preaching. News began to spread about him. Then he returned home to Nazareth. The home folks had heard so much about him, they wanted to hear him preach. You know that the home crowd can either be supportive or highly critical. So, how will he be received?
On the Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue as was his practice. The leaders of the synagogue invited him to read the scriptures and say a few words. The text for the day was a tough one. It came from Isaiah 61, which speaks of a messianic figure. This prophet who lived in the years after the exile, when Judah was experiencing poverty and enslavement, points our attention to one who is anointed by the Holy Spirit, the one who will bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, bring recovery of sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In other words, the Messiah would ring in the Year of Jubilee. You will find the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25. There it reads:
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return everyone one of you, to your property and everyone of you to your family (Lev. 25:10).
In other words, during the Year of Jubilee everyone got a clean start (Leviticus 25:8-55).
When Jesus finished reading from Isaiah 61 he handed back the scroll and sat down. Then he told the congregation: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Yes, I’m announcing the beginning of the Year of Jubilee, which means that everything starts fresh.
This is pretty radical stuff. Just think if there were some big land owners and bankers sitting in the congregation. I’m not sure they would have liked hearing Jesus tell them to return the property they had foreclosed on or had purchased at below market prices, impoverishing the original owners. I expect that there were at least a few murmurers in the crowd that day. I expect that there were others who welcomed this message, because they had fallen into poverty and there was no feasible way out. What message then does Jesus have for us today?
Some years back Central Woodward embraced the call to become a missional congregation. In discerning our core values seven years back, one of the values we named was that of service. Over the years we’ve become involved in a variety of ministries that touch the lives of those living on the margins. Think about the school kits and blankets that are distributed by Church World Service. Then there’s the Christmas boxes for the children of Detroit’s Head Start program. We helped launch Gospel in Action – Detroit in partnership with Rippling Hope. We also helped start the Metro Coalition of Congregations five years ago. Next Sunday we’ll have the opportunity to take this another step when we launch Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity, which is also known as DRIVE.
A number of you have asked how we can help with the water crisis in Flint. Well, the Region has established Gospel in Action Flint in partnership with Vermont Avenue Christian Church in Flint to distribute water and filters to that community. I already gave an offering online through Week of Compassion. You can do the same by going through Week of Compassion or through the Region. Just make sure that you note that the money should go to the Flint Water Crisis.
While each of these efforts are good and important works, we shouldn’t forget that Jesus engaged in his ministry “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Ruth Duck, who will be our Perry Gresham lecturer next fall, asks an important question: “Why do we attempt to live as Christians without seeking the guidance, gifts, and strength that the Holy Spirit brings?” She makes a very valid point. How often do we try to do good things without waiting on the Spirit? Ruth goes on to say:
The church finds its call as it continues the ministry of Jesus, drawing on the varied gifts of its members. None of us has all the gifts. No one individual congregation has all the responsibility to do all the ministry (or every kind of ministry) to which the worldwide church is called in Jesus Christ. [Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, 1:98, 100].
When Jesus went home to Nazareth, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he offered a vision of what his own ministry would look like. In the same manner, Jesus invites us to be filled with the Spirit so that we might discover our own gifts and calling and then participate in proclaiming the Year of Jubilee.
So how do we share in this ministry? Since this is Laity Sunday Anne McCauslin decided that we should have a “mission fair.” When you go into the Fellowship Hall look around at the Tables and think about where God might want to use you in service to God’s realm. As you move around the room remember that our ministries are rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit who gifts us for ministry. You may want to make use of a spiritual gifts inventory to help you think about where you might serve. Maybe your gifts lie in working with the children or maybe with Stephen Ministry. Maybe you’ll find that the Growth Ministry Group can best use your gifts. Then of course there are all kinds of outreach opportunities. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in Spirit-empowered and inspired ministries.
Once again, in keeping with the meaning of Epiphany, Luke reminds us that something of God’s glory is revealed in the spirit-empowered ministry of Jesus. We can therefore rejoice and be glad. But as we do so, let us remember that the story continues. Not everyone was ready to hear the message that Jesus brought home to Nazareth. Many found it unsettling, even as Dr. King’s message proved unsettling to many of his listeners. But it also brought hope to the lives of those pushed to the margins. Such is the ministry of the Spirit!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
January 24, 2016