Sunday’s Sermon: The Purpose of Today

We’ve been together long enough that, I believe, I can tell you one of my bad habits. This habit involves my driving. Though I’m sure there are others, a habit I am particularly aware of is that I have a tendency to constantly look in my rearview mirror.

This might seem like a safe driving technique. We are told to scan our rear and side mirrors in order to be aware of other drivers. However, I will routinely ignore the side mirrors and only focus on the rear mirror. This is especially the case when someone is directly behind me. I keep a constant eye on the driver so that I know if I am being tailgated.

Preventing tailgaters isn’t the only reason I scan the rearview mirror. I enjoy looking around while driving. Sometimes this means I take a look in the rearview mirror to see what I missed, such as an impressive building, a road sign alerting an upcoming exit, or some unusual event that has to be seen again.

We all have a tendency to be rearview drivers. It’s not just on the roads, but also in our personal lives. We live in the “rearview” by focusing on the past, the things we have done, the mistakes we’ve made, or the things we wished we had done. Instead of remembering the “good old days” with fondness and appreciation, the “good old days” becomes the motivation for how we live in the present.

If we have the tendency to be “rearview drivers” in our personal lives, just imagine how true this is for the church. Our “rearview” mirror focuses us on where we’ve been and what we used to do. It’s a view that sees the church in the past tense. Instead of being the church that is we are defined by the church that was. There is nothing wrong with remembering what the church has done in the past. It is an important part of worship to give thanks to God for how the Lord has worked in our communities. However, we cannot live in the past of God’s actions and expect to be a faithful witness of God’s love in the present.

Truly, today is the only day we have guaranteed to us. As a community of faith, it is the only day we have to share God’s love, truth, and holiness to a world in need of hope. This is the church’s call: To take each of its todays to make disciples of all the nations by sharing God’s love and helping people to see God’s grace at work in their lives.

There is a sense of urgency and mission in this statement. Without direction, however, that sense of urgency will fall on deaf ears and the mission will be left unfulfilled. We need guidance that will focus us as we move away from looking solely on the rearview and begin to look out to where God might be sending us. Jesus’ words in Luke 4:14-21 give us some guidance on how to live today. His words are a mission statement not just for his ministry, but also for the church in how we live out our mission of being a reflection of Christ’s love in our communities.

In this passage, Luke describes Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth. We’ll be talking about this ill-fated homecoming next Sunday as well, but for today we can make a few background comments. First, Luke is describing an event that didn’t necessarily occur in the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew and Mark tell us that this happened later in Jesus’ ministry. Luke is not focusing on chronological timing, but on the importance of what took place and what Jesus said. Also, the synagogue Jesus visits would have been the central place for worship and instruction in Nazareth. A synagogue served the religious needs for a community outside of Jerusalem. After the Temple’s destruction, the synagogue would become the central place of religious expression for the entire Jewish faith.

All that to say that on this particular Sabbath, Jesus attended the worship services at the Nazareth synagogue. People would have been excited to hear from Jesus, because of what he had done so in Galilee. In those days, there were no assigned preachers or readers. Anyone could read or preach as they felt led. In this worship service, Jesus stood up and was handed the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus opened the scroll to Isaiah 61:1-2 and read it for the congregation. He read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

After Jesus finished reading, he handed the scroll back and sat down to preach. In those days, preaching was done while seated. It’s a short sermon, but the brevity of Jesus’ message is not without importance. He says, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.” This prophetic message from Isaiah about the Messiah, Jesus says, has been fulfilled by the fact he has come and is active in this very time. The awaiting for the Kingdom to come and for the Messiah to arrive is no longer a future hope. It is a present reality, because Jesus, the Son of God, has come and is at work.

In reading this passage, Jesus is attaching himself to this particular idea of ministry. Jesus gives something like an inaugural address by announcing what his Messianic ministry would be and accomplish.

It is a work he is prepared for, because the Holy Spirit is guiding him to fulfill these tasks. A couple of weeks ago we talked about Jesus’ baptism and how the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus for the purpose to accomplish the work Christ came to do in bringing about the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ anointing prepared him for the ministry and saving activity that he would accomplish. It is a ministry that proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s presence and love. Through his words and actions, Jesus’ spread this Good News and its implications for the world.

To the poor, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the message of hope for both the financial and spiritual poor. For the financial poor, Jesus’ arrival is the announcement that the rich and leaders who abuse the poor will no longer have power. To the spiritual poor, Jesus’ life is the announcement that God’s unconditional love is freely offered to them.

To the prisoner, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the message of freedom that the things that capture us will no longer have control over us. To the imprisoned, it is the message of forgiveness that the grace of God is available to all.

To the blind, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the message of a light that shines in our lives. The light of Christ helps us to see the places where we are not completely following God’s desires and shows us a better way. To the physical blind, it is the announcement that Christ will do amazing acts of healing through the Holy Spirit.

To the oppressed, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the announcement of justice for the abused, neglected, rejected, and ignored. It is the hope of redemption and restoration.

To the entire world, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of jubilee. This is the Old Testament practice of forgiveness and wiping the slate clean of our debts. God has come and offers freedom and reconciliation to all through Jesus Christ.

This is hope. This is love. This is the ministry Jesus came to do. The Kingdom of God has come and with these words Jesus announces what this kingdom will look like. It is a kingdom that cannot wait for tomorrow, but is lived out in the ministry Jesus will do in the present time.

These are powerful and challenging words, because Jesus is still at work through the church. As the body of Christ and witness of Jesus’ hope to the world, we are called to participate in what God is doing by living out this mission in our churches and our own lives. The church is called to live in a mission of today that proclaims the love of Christ to the world. We seek to be people who desire to be used by God to proclaim the love and hope of Christ in our communities.

The church that lives in today announces that Christ has come to the people in our neighborhoods and communities, to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, and to each of us. We do this by offering ourselves, gifts, and talents to our communities through acts of grace that care for the needs of others and proclaims the name of Christ. Through both big and small ways, we are called to be a church that cares for others so that all might know the depths of God’s love.

This is hard work. It is intimidating to be used by God in ways that makes Christ’s name known to all. However, it is a work we are prepared to do. Just as the Holy Spirit prepared Jesus for his ministry, so has the Spirit of God prepared us to be the Lord’s hands and feet in Mackville, Perryville, and all points in between. Our baptism prepared us to participate in what God is doing through the gifts, talents, and abilities we have been given.

It’s not the “few and the proud” who have been called to participate in the church’s today, but all of us. We each have a role in living out the church’s today through living into what Christ proclaimed in Luke 4. The greatest gift we can ever share is the greatest gift that has ever been given to us, and that is the love of Christ.

There are so many ways we can live this out. Allow me to offer some suggestions. Maybe you like to quilt. Perhaps you and others with the same passion can make quilts for nursing home patients. Maybe you like to write. Perhaps you and others with the same gift can write notes of encouragement to people in our community or letters of thanks to our soldiers overseas. Maybe you have a passion for caring for others. Perhaps you and others with the same gift can visit our shut-ins, or go to a nursing home, or start a Bible study in the jails. Maybe you have a desire to see others experience the love of Christ. Perhaps you and others can work on ways to invite others to worship.

We could go on. Perhaps you are thinking of some ways to live out the church’s mission today. Participating in the life of Christ, and in Jesus’ words in Luke 4, is how the church becomes defined not by the was, but the is. It is only in living in the today and the mission of Christ that we can be the church that shares Jesus’ hope and love with others.

We can be the church that is living in the today. We can be the church that witnesses to the depths of God’s love through our outreach in the community. We can be the church that proclaims freedom to the poor, blind, captive, and oppressed. We can be that church. We can be that church today.

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