Let me set the stage for our Gospel reading, it comes after Luke’s telling of the baptism of Jesus by John and Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil to give up his kingdom for worldly rewards. In all three of these Gospel readings we heard of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in Jesus life. We heard of the Spirit descending like a dove, and we heard that Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. Today we heard these words, “and the spirit filled him and he began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone”. Clearly Luke wants to inform us that Jesus was not alone, he had the Spirit to guide him and hold him in every step of his ministry, every day of his life.
Jesus left the wilderness and returned to his home country of Galilee, he traveled through Galilee teaching in the synagogues, spreading the Good News, preaching the Gospel, and his fame spread throughout the country. Jesus came to Nazareth, his home town, the place where he was raised by his loving parents. On the Sabbath, as was his custom, he went to the synagogue, the church where he had spent so many days in his youth. I really like the words, as was his custom, those words portray so much. They tell us of Jesus’ practice, that he, like us came together with his community, to worship the Lord. They tell us a lot about his loving parents, who obviously brought him to church on the Sabbath so often that it became normal, it became his custom. Mary and Joseph were like so many of you, like so many of our parents who faithfully insisted that we attend church on Sundays, who sat with us Sunday after Sunday, putting up with us, even when we were making it well known that we would rather be somewhere else.
Imagine if you will, Jesus, the carpenter, came home to the synagogue where he was known. His family was probably in attendance on that Sabbath, his mother and father, his brothers, maybe some aunts and uncles, maybe even a grandparent or two. The synagogue would be filled with his childhood friends, many of them now sitting with their own children. Jesus was known to this community, he was known as the child of Mary and Joseph, he was known to have apprenticed as a carpenter. And Jesus went to the Bema, the raised platform in a Synagogue, the place we would know as a pulpit, took the scroll and began to read from the Prophet Isaiah:
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He 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."
As he finished reading, he sat down and said: “ Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”
Can’t you imagine the shock of the audience, the gasp that surely must have escaped their mouths? Jesus, that – that Carpenter, just said that he was the Messiah; that his mission was to proclaim the release of captives, healing for the sick, and liberty and justice for all those who are oppressed by their circumstances and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to proclaim the Gospel.
As we read these words from Isaiah, we must remember that poverty, captivity, and blindness have both physical and spiritual dimensions. It is bad to have an empty wallet, but worse to have an empty soul. Ask any of the federal employees who were on forced furlough how they felt about missing their second paycheck. Those employees and their families were captives in a political tug of war. Some were desperate, their wallets empty, facing all of the potential consequences of not being able to pay their bills or buy food to feed their families or diapers to cloth their babies. Some felt betrayed, angry, wondering how long the foolishness would last. They joined the many others in our community who are oppressed by circumstances.
Captivity is terrible, but Nelson Mandela, who left his prison cell to become the President of South Africa and led his nation out of apartheid, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Minister, who died in a Nazi Concentration camp, leaving us many writings of faith, have shown that it is possible to remain free in the midst of horrific confinement. Those who are struggling to free themselves from drugs and other addictions, manifest true slavery. Helen Keller was blind from infancy, but her words and actions demonstrate a clear vision that sees to the very core of life.
Jesus came to bring sight to the blind, not only those who are blinded physically, but those who suffer a much worse blindness, blindness of the soul, blindness to the plight and needs of others. Jesus came to bring sight to us.
These few verses from Isaiah are Jesus’ Mission Statement; these few verses are the foundation upon which all of the Gospels rest.
St. James also has a mission statement, it is found on our web site, it reads:
Sharing ourselves and our faith with others…
St. James is a Christian Community that welcomes all with respect for the inherent dignity and value of every person. We strive to enable spiritual growth through worship, education, outreach and stewardship for the purpose of restoring all people to unity with God and each other.
The parish family fulfills this mission through Worship, Spirituality, Sacraments, Music, Christian Formation, Lay Ministries, Fellowship, Social Ministry and Support.
Within the Anglican tradition, St. James Episcopal Church “glorifies God by proclaiming Jesus as Lord through word and example and working together in love and unity.”
Our mission statement is also based on those verses from Isaiah. We bring good news to the poor through our many outreach programs and yes, through the beauty of our Sacraments and Music. We proclaim release to those who are captive or oppressed by their circumstances, through our feeding programs, through working with Habitat for Humanity to make home ownership possible, through our Rectors Discretionary Funds, through our generous donations to the Taos Youth Music School and Taos High Schools Culinary Arts program. We proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor by our actions, our services and our generosity. Most of us are here today because someone shared a word of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and walked with us as we searched for that light we find In Christ.
No we can’t do all of those things called for in the Gospel – even when we try we don’t always do them well – but by the Grace of God, that which we do brings God’s Kingdom just a bit closer.
Like me, you might sometimes feel overwhelmed when you see the scope of the world's problems. You watch the news and see the suffering of the oppressed around the world, in our country and on our borders and feel that anything you can do wouldn’t begin to make a difference. That's probably true, but it's also OK. If you do what God has called you to do –– and if I do what God has called me to do –– and if all of the people of St. James do what God has called them to do –– by the grace of God it will be enough. By the grace of God lives will be changed. By the grace of God the captives and the oppressed will be set free, by the grace of God the kingdom of God will come.
Jesus’ mission statement is also ours!
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, because he has anointed you to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent you 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."
“God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and new beginnings to all who have failed”.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing and actions!