250

This sermon was originally preached on August 4, 2019 at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California.

Isaiah 61:1-9

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double,
and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.’

For I the Lord love justice,I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

 

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to 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 he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I want to offer a warning before I start, that we will be talking directly about gun violence and white supremacy, so if those subjects are triggering for you, please take care of yourself during this time and step out if you need to.

One of the biggest pieces of feedback I receive regarding my preaching style is that it’s ‘too political’.

“Let’s leave politics and church separate.”

“Worship is about community and love, and the news doesn’t belong here.”

At the beginning, I acknowledged that there may be validity in that, and I was intentional about making my preaching cyclical, like a more ‘political’ sermon, then sprinkle in a few sermons about community and love. I guess that worked for a while. And then, something happened in the world that threw that cycle, that organized calendar of topics, right out the window.

Yesterday, I went to sleep knowing that at least 20 people were killed in El Paso, knowing that many more were taken to the hospital, and knowing that many were left out of the injured count because they drove themselves home, afraid that being treated at the hospital would get them deported.

Let me repeat that.

There were people shot and injured, and they were afraid the government would pay more attention to their immigration status than the gunshot wounds in their body.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

I woke up this morning, still holding El Paso close, and quickly found out that in the time it took my body to refuel itself for another day, a bar shooting in Dayton killed 10 more people and injured almost 30 others.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Each new shooting this country has means that more and more of us forget the places of the last ones, means that we can become numb to the feelings of terror and anger and grief and the feelings of ‘that could have been us’. It means we become broken down or distant or preoccupy ourselves with other things so we can take a break.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Church, this is deeply political, and I can’t deny that. And the other truth I can’t deny is that we serve a God who is too. Jesus, a middle-eastern refugee born to an unwed mother, that same Jesus who died on a cross to save the least of these, that Jesus is political. He’s counter-cultural, going against the status quo to bring people to love God. Jesus stood up to world leaders, and protested, and defied authority because he cared about people, and he cared about restoring humanity.

Some context for our scripture today…Jesus is returning to Galilee from the wilderness, our passage just prior in Luke, where he had overcome temptation. He’s traveling around to teach in the synagogues, because people by this point had heard about what he had done. Circuit riding, kind of.

So he ends up in Galilee, which is Jesus’ hometown. While he had already done a lot to prove himself before leaving, this really was the first time he came back in the role he did, and with the presence he had acquired, from his miracles and from the wilderness.

Jesus is being asked to read the word, to teach in the synagogue. It was customary for the leader to stand while they read scripture, then sit back down to speak afterwards. He reads this passage from Isaiah, and he claims the words as his own, as his teaching and his mission statement.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to 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.”

It is no coincidence that this is the passage he reads. From what we know about him, these words are pretty much exactly what’s at the heart of his mission.

When we hear the words Jesus reads, we can see and read that he’s concerned about the ordering of relationships. He cares about how people are treated, who is being given access to the waters of baptism, and with whom we are naming “the beloved, with whom God is well pleased”.

The words Jesus reads from Isaiah describe his politics, that is, how Jesus orders his relationships. Good news to the poor, release to the captives, bringing sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free. These are foundational to who Jesus was, and what he was after in his ministry. These words speak to the exact ways we are called to live, when us church folk talk about ‘living like Jesus lived’.

So these words, his politics, his ordering of relationships, these are the words that become his first address to the people, where he lays out his ministry, and where he visions for what this movement will look like from here on out. Because he has this opportunity, to speak in such a public way, to a group of people who are there to listen, this is an important moment in Jesus’ ministry.

Whether he meant to or not, Jesus lined up the majority of his personal theology and ethics through the words of the prophet, Isaiah. He made a statement, through reclaiming those words, those instructions. As Jesus sat down to teach, he didn’t go into some big drawn out interpretation of what he had just read. He didn’t convince people why it was important, that passage from the scroll.

He sat down, and he said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”If you all have heard of a mic drop moment, this may have been the first instance of it in history. Jesus is saying that his role, as a follower of God, is to lead in the ways of those before him, listening to God and looking to God for guidance and assurance.

This is an important moment, because Jesus is also establishing his sense of authority, and how his authority comes from God ultimately. He’s speaking in the synagogue, not just anywhere, but in his home town. He has his first opportunity to really line up the things he believes, and he does it, through the divinely inspired words of the prophet Isaiah. He’s looking back in history, God’s timeline, to let people know where his mission is coming from, and how he will lead, through his commission.

It’s a big undertaking, this speech and this proclamation. And he says a lot, through his statement. More than making a statement, with his reading of the words in Isaiah, we can summarize Jesus’ game plan with one question: Where does it hurt?

Jesus calls those in that synagogue to ask that question. Where does it hurt? He called himself, committed himself to ask that question. And he calls us to ask the same one. Where does it hurt?

El Paso

Dayton

Orlando

Sandy Hook

Columbine

We as followers of Jesus must constantly be asking that question. Where does it hurt? Our job, as we follow the example of the one who taught good news to the poor, brought release to the captives and sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free, is not to forget to ask that question. Where does it hurt?

If we really look, we are looking outward. We are reading the news, talking to people, truly searching for that hurt, the stories of pain, of grief. And sometimes those are our own stories. When we look with intention, we can begin to ask what hurts. And once we look, we are opening ourselves up to truly seeing that hurt.

It’s hard to un-see this hurt, once we see it for the first time.

Once we look, once we see the hurt, we are asked to respond.

When we respond, we have a very specific job, Jesus teaches. Not to ask questions. Not to try and weigh checks and balances. Not to be the gatekeeper for this work. Not to create some sort of morality code, and judge the people we see, who say they are hurting.

Through Jesus’ mic drop moment, he’s telling us, that it really is as simple as the scripture he read says it.

It’s not a question of who is good, in Jesus’ eyes. It’s not a question of who is deserving or worthy. Rather, it’s always a response to that original question: Where does it hurt?

Are you poor? Receive the good news. Are you a captive? Be released. Are you blind? See, now. Are you oppressed? Go in freedom.

It doesn’t take discernment on our part, to determine who is worthy of receiving these things. These gifts are not being given because the recipients are good or righteous or set apart. They are given because God is good and righteous and set apart.

We are not God. It’s not our job to decide who can receive the good news, but it is our job to look for opportunities to provide it.

Our job is to ask “Where does it hurt?” and be willing to get an answer, an answer that requires a response.

Our job is to see the hurt, and name it for what it is.

White supremacy. Racism. White nationalism.

If we are to follow the politics of Jesus, we are being called to ask this question, to call out the reality of the hurt, and to respond accordingly. Where are the places you should be? Where does it hurt? What will we do next?

As our 250th mass shooting occurred at one this morning, we are no longer allowed to be quiet, to forget, to think that this was a fluke or a one-time thing. We have work to do, and who better to do it than us, the ones who worship a God who flipped tables and sat with strangers and said no to harmful teachings?

As we leave today, may we look outwardly intentionally, asking ‘where does it hurt’ in powerful, heartbreaking ways. May we be willing to receive an answer, an answer that becomes our task, our chance to impact the lives of our fellow human. And may we look to Jesus’ grand example, Jesus’ politics, in order to realize that our call is ultimately to one another, and that call is where we can seek the good news. Let us pray.

God of grace and eternal wisdom, you pass down your instructions to us today, and you call us good and able to make an impact. Guide us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the places we go and to the people we see. Guide us to call out evil, through your call to make disciples. In your name we pray, Amen.

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