Sermon Starter – Help in Being a Global Mission Church (Tom Liddle, East Timor)
How often do you open the Bible and sense that God is talking directly to you? How often do you read a passage of scripture and feel that its truth is being fulfilled by your own life or the life of your church community?
Luke 4:16-21 is a wonderful reflection text for thinking about God’s global mission. The text Jesus is quoting here is Is. 61:1-2, 58:6. God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed was at the center of both the Law and the Prophets and Luke’s text has resonances from both. However in Jesus’ time, as in our own, the religious establishment often sidelined such concerns in favor of rituals and right doctrine. Jesus’ proclamation that in him “the Scripture has been fulfilled” places God’s central concerns for those on the margins at the center of Jesus’ life and ministry as evidenced by his many acts of healing, solidarity and justice. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to place these same things at the center of our lives and ministries.
Part of being a Global Mission Church is our commitment to listening for God’s word and call in Scripture. Through reading, study and prayer we can imagine how God might be calling a church or individual to a particular ministry of solidarity and justice. When Jesus read this text from Isaiah that day in the synagogue, somehow he realized that this was directly about him – a poor rural carpenter. What can we learn from this?
An important question raised by this text is what it means to be “anointed to bring good news to the poor.” It’s a question I think about a lot in my work with the people of East Timor. East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and one of the poorest in the world. It is one thing to read this text in a middle class adult study in a U.S. church and another to preach this text to people who make less than a dollar a day.
The people in our church pews and our partners across the world are “captives” and “blind” in any number of ways. What are we captive to? What are we blind to? And how does the good news of Jesus deliver us from captivity and blindness? We must be careful about our spiritual metaphors here though. The “captivity” and “blindness” we need to reflect on must be related to the concrete concerns implied by vs. 19:
“The year of the Lord’s favor”or jubilee year had a specific socio-economic implication of its own (Lev. 25). Whether the jubilee year ever happened in history is unknown, but regardless, the idea is a bold act of theological imagination that leads us directly to God’s central concern for the liberation of the poor from oppression and into a covenental relationship with God and neighbor.
In our efforts to become Global Mission churches, we can use this text to reflect on a number of things:
1. The time and energy we put into our own practice of listening prayer and biblical reflection in discerning God’s call to ministry – following Jesus’ example in Lk 4:16-21.
2. The meaning of “Good News” – especially for the poorest people in the world.
3. The bold vision of Lev. 25 a “jubilee year” when liberty is proclaimed throughout the land and specific provisions for correcting social injustice are prescribed.
Tom Liddle, a member of Peace United Church of Christ, Duluth, Minnesota, serves with the Protestant Church of East Timor (IPTL). He serves as an English teacher and works as a facilitator in the IPTL’s program for strengthening congregations and continuing education of pastors.