Jesus’ Mission Statement

Jesus’ Mission Statement

This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the 70th anniversary of St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, on October 21, 2018.

St Luke’s in the Meadow         Seventy Years             October 21, 2018

This morning’s readings from Scripture are the appointed readings for the Feast Day of your Patron Saint, Saint Luke, transferred from October 18th.  The early church theologians ascribe to Luke the authorship of the Gospel according to Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles.

Today’s passage from Luke comes early in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus has been baptized; the Holy Spirit has descended upon him like a dove, and the Voice has proclaimed, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And then Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

And then – the beginning of today’s passage – “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit,” returns to Galilee.  A report about Jesus spreads throughout all the surrounding country, so he is gaining a reputation already.  He begins to teach in synagogues, and he is praised by everyone.

Then, he comes to his childhood home (Nazareth), goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, stands up to read from the scroll from the prophet Isaiah the following: “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.”

Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and sits down. All eyes in the synagogue are fixed on him. And then, instead of saying “here ends the reading,” or “the Word of the Lord,”  Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing .”

In effect, Jesus is saying, “Isaiah is talking about me.”  And, Jesus is telling the gathering in that synagogue, “This is my mission statement.”

That’s where the story ends today, but if we keep reading, things go downhill from there. Everyone gathered starts praising the hometown boy, and they begin to imagine what the hometown boy can do for them. After all, he is Joseph’s son.

He’s one of us. We helped raise him.

And to make a long story short, Jesus informs them that his mission extends beyond the hometown, and they don’t understand what he just read anyway, and besides, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  And the entitled hometown is insulted, and in a rage they get up and drive him out of town.

If we recall the whole story, even the disciples will want special status and special favors. They will argue over who is the greatest. They will jockey for position to sit at the right hand.  The will express jealousy when someone who is not following “us” exorcises a demon in Jesus’ Name.

Luke tells a story in the Acts of Apostles, a dramatic story about favoritism and showing partiality.  This is after the Resurrection. As the story goes, Peter encounters a Roman centurion named Cornelius. It’s evident that the Holy Spirit has drawn Peter and Cornelius together for this encounter.

Cornelius is a God-fearing man, and he will become one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity. So, God is at work here. But, it is significant that Peter, a Jew, is in the home of a Gentile, crossing all boundaries – and not only that, he is in the home of a Roman officer.

And in this encounter – in this particular moment – it’s actually Peter who experiences a conversion of sorts. It’s Peter who has a sudden epiphany, that Jesus is Lord of ALL.  All – meaning even Gentiles, and even this centurion from the Imperial Roman nation that crucified Jesus.

And in this moment Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality!” To Cornelius and to his gathered household, and perhaps to himself, Peter says, “God shows no partiality!”  God has no favorites.  God’s relationship with us is not based on our status, our ethnicity, or our religious heritage.  Peter says, “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all.”  Jesus is Lord of ALL.

And there are two ways to hear this – at least two.  In the Roman Empire it’s going to be heard one way – at least by those in power. For to declare the very FIRST creed of early Christians that “Jesus is Lord,” included an unspoken “part two” to the creed: “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.” And, as Peter likely knew, that creed could lead to martyrdom, and for him it did.”

And another way to hear the claim which Peter makes, that God shows no partiality and Jesus is Lord of ALL, is that all are included. The Risen Lord is Lord of ALL. The Risen Lord is a different kind of lord.  It doesn’t matter who you are, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, woman or man, leper or priest of the temple, Pharisee or tax collector, simple fisherman or Roman centurion,  God shows no partiality.

The Risen Lord is a different kind of lord.  For in the Risen Lord we see the power of love.  In the lords of the Roman Empire we see the love of power. Their systems serve the elite. Burdensome taxes support the power of the empire, rather than the poor, the disadvantaged, the outcasts – not even the widows and orphans have a safety net. There is a system of domination with the principalities and powers at the top, and the servants and slaves and foreigners at the bottom.

This “different kind of Lord” begins his life as a refugee. He is raised in the small, insignificant town of Nazareth. And unlike both the religious authorities and political authorities of his day, he eats with sinners and tax collectors. He touches lepers. He heals foreigners. He treats women as persons.

He quotes Isaiah and says, “I am anointed by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to liberate the oppressed” – his mission, the Church’s mission.

St Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church:  you host and support  4Saints Episcopal Food Pantry and Eastside Ministries. You make a difference in the lives of children at Meadowbrook Elementary School, supporting “Drop Everything and Read” days, as well as hosting organ concerts and demonstrations.  On Friday mornings you gather on the corner of the church property at the school crossing, and you serve coffee, fruit, and breakfast bars to parents and children – “Coffee on the Corner.” You host Living Room Conversations to explore the social, political, and religious challenges of our times. You have a presence in the neighborhood as you host worship services in the park and bless pets.  You participate in the City of Fort Worth Parade of Lights, as well as the Tarrant County Gay Pride event. You are a witness to Peter’s epiphany and testimony that Jesus is Lord of ALL.

There is much to celebrate today.  Seventy years as a parish.  A time like this is fraught with memories.  We remember and give thanks for all the saints of this community of faith.  We give thanks for the countless ways this congregation has proclaimed by word and deed the Good News of God’s love for all people. We give thanks for past sacrifices and even past challenges.

We gather around this Altar with all the company of heaven and all the saints yet to come, as we do every time the bread and wine are elevated, and we hear the words of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Do this for the remembrance of me. Remembrance. Remember. The word,  “remember,” in the Greek language means more than simply remembering a past event. It’s more than remembering a time gone by. It means: “making the past present here and now.”

It’s like when you hear an old song on the radio, or you see an old home movie, or you take a deep breath of a long-forgotten smell, and the past is made present. That’s what this Greek word for “remember” means: making the past present. Our past, our history, God’s healing and reconciling work throughout history, is made present at this and every Altar.

And not only our past, but our future is made present. The Christian hope of reconciliation with God and one another – union with God and one another – is made present at this celebration of Holy Communion.  “Remember,” Jesus said. All which is dis-membered, all which is alienated, all is RE-membered in this present moment.  All is “at-one” in the breaking of the bread.

Every time we gather to celebrate this Sacred Meal, we see God’s vision for the world: all of God’s children gathered around the Table “at one.”  And not only do we see the vision, we participate in it.

Jesus says: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.”  We gather at this Table, and as the Early Church Theologians claim: “we become what we receive.” We become the Body of Christ – all members of the Body connected, all members essential, all members at-one – as we proclaim and embody the Good News of God’s love for ALL in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.