14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to the Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 Jesus began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. And he stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Everything we have comes from you,
And you have given us all we need.
Give us eyes to see with your vision.
Help us to see that to which you are calling us.
Make us bold. Help us be flexible.
Remind us what we are created for.
A couple of weeks ago, a group of our friends, like 14 in total, all huddled around our devices as we were throwing out ideas for a big group trip that we’re planning for 2023. And since this is a group of our friends from college, only like 10 minutes total were dedicated to actually talking specifics about the trip and the rest of the hour or more was spent cracking jokes or having a good laugh at the expense of one another. Typically, we would have found a restaurant or a brewery to gather together, of course making allowances for those of our friends who don’t live in Houston, and originally, when we planned this conversation back in December, that was the plan. But we had to adapt and change and shift as the pandemic shifted yet again, and a good number of us actually were infected by COVID-19.
In very much the same way, the church, we, have had to adapt and change and shift over the course of the past 2 years as we seek to respond to an ever-evolving landscape—not just from a pandemic perspective, mind you, but also socially, religiously, politically, culturally…you name it. If you haven’t felt the ground shifting around you, certainly over the past 2 years, but I would argue over the past 5 to 7 to 10 years or more, I’m not sure you’ve been paying attention.
And this kind of shifting and change can really throw a community off its game and bring to the fore some things that had been hiding under the surface. So when I say that this pandemic has clarified things for us as a congregation, as a people, and as a community…what I mean is that we’ve all had the opportunity to explore and discern what’s truly important in our lives. And ultimately, whatever is truly important to you is where you will invest your time and your energy.
Whatever is truly important to you…is where you will invest your time and your energy…and yes, your resources.
What has this pandemic clarified for you, church? Over the past 2 years, what have you come to determine is important to you?
Over the next few weeks, during this season of Epiphany, which is time in between the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord and the season of Lent, our readings in worship will all be from St. Paul’s letter First Corinthians and our Gospel readings from the Gospel of Luke which will all be from the early parts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And with these readings we’ll have the opportunity to talk about community—and what do we mean by “community”, and what kind of community are we seeking to nurture here, and what are the communities (plural) that we believe God is calling New Hope to in this time…
What are we created for?
What are you created for?
Who are we created to be for?
As we figure out how to live with this virus…as, God-willing, we start to feel more and more comfortable resuming or restarting life as we remember it from before the pandemic…it’s important to recognize the ways in which we are not the same people that we were 2 years ago. We’ve grown, we’ve changed, maybe your values and what you believe to be important have evolved.
We are not the same community of faith that we were. I see it, I’m not ignorant. I know you see it. You see who’s here…and you see who’s not here. You talk to your friends, you know who’s going somewhere else and who just maybe hasn’t stepped back in. I’m not ignorant of this, church, I can see just as well as you can. But I also see who hasn’t been here…yet. I also look around our neighborhood and I see people yearning to hear good news, some of whom have never heard about New Hope, some of whom maybe haven’t heard the name Jesus yet. Who’s going to tell them, church?
And here’s where it would be easy for a lot folks to get super-discouraged, right? “Oh, my friends went over there,” or “All I see is our community shrinking, and I don’t see the new people or the visitors we used to see,” or “Where is everybody?” And look, I’ll be honest, I’ve said some of these same things, but I’m not discouraged.
Because, here’s why…in the midst of all this, I find a lot to be excited about. It’s absolutely going to be hard. It’s 100% going to be a heavy lift. But I’m excited and I’m energized and I have faith.
I have faith in what St. Paul lays out in our reading from First Corinthians…that all the members together make up the body of Christ, and every single member is important to make that body work. And it’s actually the members that are thought of as weaker that are the most indispensable, Paul says. In the one Spirit, we were all baptized, and the body doesn’t consist of one member, but of many. Friends, the body of Christ is many and varied, and every single member is important. We’re not all hands, we’re not all fingers or toes, we’re not all ears or eyes…some are fingernails, some are feet, some are knees, some are noses…and yes…someone’s gotta be the armpit…and if you’re wondering if it’s you…ehhhh…… I’m just kidding…but seriously… But here’s the thing, with all of these members—all the hands and feet and ears and eyes and mouth and shoulders and legs and the 6-pack abs—with all of the members…Christ is the head. Christ is the head of the body.
And as long as we remember that…as long as we remember that we are not the point of our ministry…our call as disciples and baptized followers of Christ, our call as New Hope Lutheran Church, is to stay faithful to the ministry Christ has entrusted to us.
And if you’re wondering what that ministry is, look no further than our Gospel reading from today. These verses from Luke 4 come just after Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. So, like we said last week, if baptism is the movement and the arrival of God’s spirit, if baptism is the beginning of that call on our lives, then our gospel from Luke 4 is that call starting to take shape for Jesus.
This week, we hear a clear statement from Jesus about how he understands his mission. This excerpt that Jesus reads in Luke 4, from Isaiah 61, is Jesus’ manifesto. This is how Jesus understands his mission and his call from God. This is Jesus’ mission and vision statement. And we should note, then, that Jesus understands his ministry as being explicitly and expressly focused on the oppressed and the marginalized, the ones of no account—the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, the prisoner, and those suffering under the weight of debt.
And friends, if this is how Jesus understands his mission, how are we, then, to understand our mission and our work as disciples of Jesus and as a community of faith who follows Jesus?
It stands to reason that our work and our mission would be aligned with those same things as well.
Next week we’ll have our Congregational Meeting and the biggest piece of business will be to pass our budget for 2022. This week and next week you’ll have an opportunity to see and ask questions of Council about that budget, but I’ll tell you that one of the things I take from that budget is a faithfulness and trust in God’s abundance and a vision for what New Hope can be for the future. At our Congregational Meeting next week, I’ll also get a chance to share my thoughts on some things I think we can do this year to start to plug folks back in to mission and ministry here. Things like bible studies and small groups, evangelism, new partner organizations, a new focus on hospitality and welcome and inclusion, and more.
I’m excited because then the next week, on February 6, we’ll finally formally launch our Capital Campaign that’s been on hold for 2 years. And I’m so thrilled to share the vision of our Capital Campaign Team and Leadership that has their sights set on how New Hope can reassert itself in our neighborhood as a place to truly be a center for our community. It involves a lot of work on our physical space and campus, but the opportunities to reach out even further into our community and neighborhood are so abundant.
And none of this is to even mention the two financial gifts we received last year that I talked about in my Christmas Eve sermon, and the ideas and possibilities for mission that come along with that windfall.
Church, I look out from our corner of 1092 and Lexington and I see fields that have been planted and watered. I see fields that are bursting forth with fruit. I see fields that are abundantly ripe for the harvest.
It takes a bit of work on our part. It takes quite a bit of faith and trust.
It takes a willingness to be adaptive and to try new things.
But most of all, it takes you. It takes your willingness to be part of this body.