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Rev. Jane Willis

WUCC   Jan 27, 2013

Luke 4:14-21

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This week we witnessed the inauguration of our Presidents’ second term. No matter how you feel about his views, an inauguration is important. Among other things, it is an acknowledgement of our freedom to vote and an affirmation of democracy.

The inaugural speech is a highlight of the event, where the President lays out a vision usually filled with hope and optimism.  A century and a half earlier, President Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural address to  speak critically of the nation,  naming the  evils of slavery and war and urging people to end both.

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Today we hear Jesus’ inaugural speech. In Luke’s Gospel, it comes after the baptism, the testing in the wilderness, the calling of His disciples, and the first miracle, which was turning water into wine. Those events were his election campaign, so to speak. He passed the tests. So, today we hear His vision, summed up in a text that  would be known to these people; a text everyone probably knew by heart because it expressed a people’s hope.

Jesus’ mission and vision as expressed in the text:

  • Proclaim good news to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • Help blind recover sight
  • Set the oppressed free
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

And what a vision!  But I am impressed also by what is does not include. He was not sent to judge and condemn. His plan was not  a plan for self fulfillment.  It was not a plan for material wealth.  It was not a plan for being your personal best. Jesus laid out a five point ministry plan that focused on the people living on the margins of society. It was not a ministry of material abundance or material prosperity. It is a ministry of serving others. We could call this Jesus’ five point plan.

As for point one, proclaiming the good news to the poor, remember that Isaiah wrote these words long before Jesus’ promise of salvation. So the “good news” is much more comprehensive than that promise of eternal life. One writer described the “good news” this way:

He said, God’s story is always related to human need. For example,

if a woman is dying of cancer, the good news is God’s strong word of resurrection.

If a person is permeated with guilt, the good news is God’s assurance of forgiveness.

 If people experience extreme suffering, the good news is the prayer: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.”

 For the starving, the good news may be bread.

For a homeless refugee, the good news may be freedom in a new homeland.

For others, the good news may be freedom from political tyranny.

The good news  is always related to human need. It is never truth in a vacuum, a theologically true statement which may or may not relate to one’s life.

And the prisoners that Jesus talks about in point 2? Is he talking about people behind prison bars? Yes, but also Jesus talks about freeing slaves.  I believe we can also include other kinds of enslavement.  We can include people trapped by others in a bleak situation. People like the captives of  FDLS, the extreme Mormon group. Just a few weeks ago a woman escaped. And for these people, Jesus’ plan is not to convert or  chastise. He comes to proclaim freedom.

A while back, while still studying to be a minister, I heard a man tell a story about ministering to someone with substance abuse challenges.  The man was frustrated because he couldn’t get across how faith could help the substance abuser. The man finally said, “ I just wish I could tell him that truly God can set him free.”  We said, “why don’t you just go back and say that.” Jesus came to proclaim freedom for captives.

What about point 3 of Jesus’s plan: recovery  of sight for the blind?. We know that Jesus did, in fact, heal blind people.  We also know, however, that the reference is to spiritually blind. And again, the plan is not to instill guilt or to induce shame. The task Jesus took on was to help people recover their sight.

And point 4 is, to set the oppressed free. This is a highly political part of the plan. It is addressed to a people who were ruled, enslaved and oppressed by foreign governments for centuries. And again the message is freedom. Makes me wonder why religion enslaves and chastises certain types of people…when Jesus clearly talked freedom for all.

Point 5 is the ultimate declaration of freedom, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. This phrase, “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor” refers to proclaiming a Jubilee year. A few years ago I talked extensively about Jubilee years, which occurred every 50 years.  It was all about freedom too, regarding debt, land ownership and slavery.

I just love Jesus’ inaugural speech. This year I made a collage that  show cases the 5 point plan. The timing is great this year, allowing us to compare Jesus’ speech with an inaugural speech. And I like the timing for another reason. This is Annual Meeting Sunday, where were review our progress last year and look ahead to the new year.

It is good to be reminded today of Jesus’ five point plan for his ministry and to claim it for our own.  This is a good day to ask if we work the plan, right here. Do we :

  • Proclaim good news to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • Help the blind recover sight
  • Work to set the oppressed free
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

And how we answer depends on our perspective, our upbringing, our gifts and our hearts. One persons’ interpretation of working he plan is different than another person’s. One person gives food in a gesture of unconditional love. Another dispenses tough love by requiring the poor to participate in their freedom. One person escapes the world and gives money. Another rolls up their sleeves and jumps in.  Each has a place in ministry.

Still, Jesus’ 5-point plan is our 5-point plan. We must always be vigilant about discerning God’s intention for his people and how we are called to serve. And our work must be grounded in God’s vision, and not a manipulation of God’s intention to serve ourselves. So, lets move on to our annual meeting, unafraid to entertain ideas about how we can better serve God through Jesus’ 5-point plan. AMEN!

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