The Narrative Lectionary is not subtle, is it? Luke is very clear about Jesus’ mission:
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
But what exactly does this mission mean on this, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the weekend before the inauguration of a new President in these Not-Yet-United-States? What does it mean for our mission as preachers and ministers? What does it mean for our mission as churches here and around the world?
On April 4, 1967, nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the pulpit at The Riverside Church in New York City and said this:
Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men [and women] do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
We must never forget that Jesus was standing at that same place, with the same decision. He had to have been asking himself, “Do I assume the task of opposing my government’s policy? And even, “Do I assume the task of opposing the religious structure, too?” Sharon Ringe, in her excellent commentary of Luke reminds us that last weeks text opens with an introduction to the State (Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias) and Temple (Annas and Caiaphas) and that these two forces are the context of authority throughout Jesus’ ministry.
We are in the same place at this moment. I am unsure about you, but I find myself “on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty.” I’m stopped in my tracks because I am unsure how to move forward into a world where women’s health, LGBTQIA rights, healthcare for the poor, and immigrants rights are being challenged on a daily basis.
But somehow, “we must move on.”
We must move on, because Jesus’ mission is our own, preaching justice for all, pardon for prisoners of whatever the prisons, recovery of sight to the blind, whether physical or spiritual, and setting the burdened and the battered free.
Or, as MLK said it:
This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers [and sisters].
We may make people mad. We may stand to lose our livelihoods. We may even find ourselves at odds with a government who will hold us accountable. That’s what happened to Jesus, “That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom.”
But sisters, this Sunday, you too will be filled with the Spirit.
Twelve activists, artists, writers, thinkers, and troublemakers responded to queries about their 2017 political resolutions, and one, April Reign, a lawyer, editor, and creator of #OscarsSoWhite wrote her resolutions like this:
Follow your purpose.
Know your worth.
Step out on faith.
Let the Universe provide.
Get out of your own way.
Your purpose is clear. Your worth should be clear: you are a child of the God Most High and loved beyond measure. So step out on faith, and know that God will provide. And get out of your own way, because you, with God’s help, can and will make a difference in this world.
So what about you? Where will you go with the Gospel lesson this week?
- The vision/mission of Jesus is a great way to examine our own New Year’s Resolutions. How does your resolution to “get organized” or “lose weight” measure up to this mission of Jesus?
- It’s the same question for a congregation… Is our mission as a congregation matching up to Jesus’ mission? Also, leaders and preachers, it’s a great time to affirm the work of your congregation and opportunities to serve.
- In the Southern United States, it’s snowing, and homeless populations are suffering. Can we talk about the call to reform our local services to meet the needs of the poor in our cities?
- It’s also a great time to talk about “strangers in our midst.” Jesus makes it clear that his mission is to outsiders, foreigners, and to those suffering. Are we reaching out in that way?
And if I may be so bold, RevGals, one more question. What will you do, outside of your job, to be in line with Jesus’ mission for the world? Will you participate in government by making your concerns known? Will you march in Washington or in your local women’s march? Will you spend time hearing voices of artists, activists, POC and following their lead? Will you build a relationship somewhere that will be valuable to someone in need?
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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