“The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Us”

pdficon_small Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 27, 2019

Luke 4:14-21

 

You might say it was Jesus’ own personal mission statement, the center of his sense of purpose, the call that animated his relationships, his work, his ministry, his life.

Our reading today represents the start of Jesus’ public ministry.  He has been baptized in the Jordan River, has been led by the Spirit into the wilderness and contended with trial and temptation there, and has returned home to Nazareth.  Fresh from these identity-forming experiences, where he wrestles with who he is and what he is called to do, Jesus heads for the synagogue.  He heads for his community.

When he gets there, the synagogue attendant hands him the scroll, and Jesus unrolls it all the way to what we know as chapter 61, almost to the end of the book.  And he proclaims:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God 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 was an observant Jew.  His parents conducted all the proper rituals for him in childhood.  Going to synagogue was his custom.  He was well-versed in the Hebrew scriptures—in fact, he quotes from Isaiah at several other moments in the gospels.  So I think he must have chosen this particular passage on purpose as he launched himself into the work ahead.

You might say it was his own personal mission statement, the center of his sense of purpose, the call that animated his relationships, his work, his ministry, his life.  Good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor…  It certainly describes the mission he carried out in the subsequent three years.  And it certainly describes the mission this congregation of disciples carries out in his name, too.

A few examples from the past year:

In January 2018, this congregation celebrated our 15th anniversary as an Open and Affirming Congregation with a worship service on the theme, followed by a second hour with Elliot Altomare, who helped us expand our understanding of transgender identities and pronouns, and invited us to consider how we might grow our welcome to the trans community.

In February, this congregation gathered shampoo and conditioner, soap and body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and tampons, combs and razors, and shared them with the guests at the domestic violence shelter.  Proclaim release to the captives and good news to the poor, indeed.

In March, we celebrated our third anniversary as a Community Kitchen host site.  Thousands of meals; thousands of guests; thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours.  And boundless, immeasurable joy.

In April, we hosted several young adults who are part of the DACA program to share their stories of life as undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and have never known another home, yet whose status and safety are in jeopardy.  We were reminded that in God’s eyes, no human being is illegal, and we were invited to raise our voices to advocate for policies that reflect that fundamental truth of our faith.

In May, we collected hundreds of dental hygiene items for the St. Boniface Health Foundation in Haiti, and we were visited by the Rev. Marilyn Kendrix, who shared with us in worship and a second hour about the systemic sin of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on communities of color and its intersections with poverty.  God has anointed us to let the oppressed go free…

In June, members of our congregation participated in the historic tri-conference Annual Meeting, at which the delegates from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island voted overwhelmingly to move forward to create a new conference of the United Church of Christ, something that has not happened since 1957, not out of a sense of diminishment or desperation, but out of a sense of being called by God to do a new thing together here in Southern New England, “that they may all be one.”  In June you also supported your pastor to travel to Silver Lake Camp and Conference Center to lead a Racial Justice training for the summer program staff, so that they can help to live out God’s call to justice for and with hundreds and thousands of young people.

In July, this congregation joined together with our friends and neighbors from East Woodstock for shared worship and fellowship—another witness to the unity of the Body of Christ.

In August, we blessed a mountain of donated backpacks and school supplies, to be distributed to students and families in need through our friends at TEEG.  Good news to the poor and the year of the Lord’s favor…

In September, members of our congregation participated in the Greater Putnam Interfaith Council’s annual Peace Day event, where we joined with our siblings from many religious traditions and no religious tradition to offer prayers and hopes for peace and justice to prevail on earth.

In October, we participated in the recently revitalized CROP Walk, and we hosted a second hour with Katherine Bottieri, who shared about the work her organization does to provide affordable, high-quality health care in Haiti.  God has anointed us to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind…

In November, we gathered ingredients for the Thanksgiving baskets TEEG provides to families in this area who would otherwise go without a holiday meal, sharing in communion with our neighbors in the spirit of Jesus, who invites us to a table where there is room, and hope, and food for us all.

In December, we invited our neighbors in to take part in an Advent wreath workshop.  We told stories of the Christmas traditions of our various family heritages at the REVELations extravaganza.  We filled the chancel to overflowing with Christmas gifts for families who are struggling—so many gifts that I almost didn’t have room to preach!

And just this month, in celebration of our 16th Open and Affirming anniversary, we installed a rainbow flag outside on our sign—a flag that has already drawn happy feedback from folks who see it as they pass by and are overwhelmed by gratitude for seeing a church proudly proclaiming our love, and God’s love, for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

God has anointed us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the Lord’s favor.

You might say it was Jesus’ own personal mission statement, the center of his sense of purpose, the call that animated his relationships, his work, his ministry, his life.  And I would say it is ours, too.

Because this world does not yet fully resemble the Realm of God, it still needs people who will bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Because this world does not yet fully resemble the Realm of God, the Divine still calls people—is still calling us—to be the ambassadors of God’s love.

As we move through the 329th year of this congregation’s journey, I am proud of the witnesses to God’s love and justice we have carried out already, and I look forward to all the new ways in which the Spirit of the Lord will be upon this congregation, and we will respond to God’s anointing, in 2019 and in the years to come.

 


Hungry for more?  Read another sermon from our sermon archive.