Agenda for Jesus
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
A flyer came to the church recently on how to make meetings more effective.
• One of the items was keeping to a clear time frame—start the meeting on time, and unless there is a real emergency, make sure the meeting ends at the designated time. As one man said in a meeting last week, “If it goes over an hour, I don’t listen anymore.” I don’t know about the hour, but I understand the sentiment.
• Another item was to go around the table and ask the opinion of each person there—we all know that some people are quiet and don’t jump into the discussion very well and others are assertive and want to give their opinion on everything.
• Another item on the flyer talked about making an agenda ahead of time and getting it out to people. If there are important items to add, they should be turned in before the agenda is sent out. It only makes sense that people want to know ahead of time what the purpose and plan of a meeting will be.
In my younger days I worked on a number of political campaigns––nothing too interesting––mostly local people running for city council or the state legislature. I remember how we would discuss the candidate’s platform. We wanted to know what the candidate stood for and what the person running was against. One of the huge issues at the time was enacting a state sales’ tax—was the candidate for or against? We thought it only fair that voters be able to make informed decisions. I like my political parties and candidates to take clear positions on issues. Sometimes today it seems more like (lick finger and raise it as into the wind). Campaigns are run more by focus groups and candidates telling us what we want to hear rather than what we need.
In our Gospel text for this morning, we read the story of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this passage, we see clearly who Jesus is and what Jesus has come to do. There is nothing fuzzy about Jesus. Just before this Sabbath in Nazareth, Jesus had gone to the River Jordan to be baptized by John, He was led into the wilderness for forty days of temptation and now has returned to his home town. As Luke puts it, “Jesus filled with the power of the Spirit returned to Galilee.
He began to teach in the synagogues and was praised by everyone.” So far, so good. Jesus is praised by everyone. Then Jesus goes to “synagogue on the Sabbath Day as was his custom.” He is invited to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. After reading the text, Jesus said to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So far, so bad. He is clear about who He is and what He will do. The people dislike Jesus’ claim and discount Him. They know He is Joseph’s son and wonder how Jesus got such notions as being the Messiah. They even attempt to throw Him off a cliff.
Jesus put forth His agenda for ministry and the people did not like it. They were content for this local boy to work wonders and signs, heal people and put their town on the map. When Jesus proclaimed the work of the Messiah to be His work, even proclaiming that He was the long-awaited Christ, then they wanted to kill Him. Jesus’ agenda was to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Isaiah had foretold that one would come to do the work of God and Jesus said that this one was He. His work was that of God’s Messiah.
In our Bible study this week of the Book of Acts, we learned that Luke used the term Christian for believers only three times but he used “disciple” thirty-one times and “brothers and sisters”—really “brothers”––fifty-one times. We do not know the reasons but one idea may be that we believers have a personal relationship with Jesus. We are members of a church and part of the Christian religion but our primary connection is with Christ our Lord. We are followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus the Messiah. We also have a primary connection with each other. We are brothers and sisters of each other, with the intimacy of a loving family.
Our faith puts us into a cross-shaped connection, the vertical dimension between the believer and the Savior and the horizontal connection, to be one with all other believers. The agenda of our text is also our agenda—what we are to do as followers of the Savior. We are disciples of the Messiah who worked for peace and justice. We are called to take up a cross and follow Christ. We are appointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
The duties of a pastor are stated clearly in the constitution: Every ordained pastor shall preach the Word, administer the sacraments, conduct public worship, provide pastoral care and speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world. It is not only pastors but all Christians who are called to be witnesses to Christ in word and deed, to speak of the love of God for all people in Christ, to be concerned with peace among nations and within neighborhoods, schools and families, to be concerned with fairness and justice and care especially for those who start out behind others, those with disabilities, the poor and the poor in spirit.
John Wesley once preached on a passage from Philippians that read, “You shine as lights in the world.” He was preaching in the open air when a gang of ruffians threatened to break up his meeting. The gang was armed with bricks and just as they were about to throw them, Wesley’s face lit up with a radiant smile. One of the gang members shouted, “He ain’t a man, he ain’t a man,” and they were all stunned and quiet. As Wesley walked through the crowd that evening, his face was still radiant and one of the gang members said, “He is a man—a man like Jesus Christ.”
Would that our neighbors and co-workers, the people we meet at the gym or hiking in the hills would say that of us that we are just like Jesus Christ. Henry Hopkins once wrote:
“Jesus loved people,
not because they were attractive and beautiful
and free from faults,
but because His love went out to those who needed love,
rather than to those who deserved it,
and because it was His very nature to love.
He loved quarrelsome fishermen,
women who had scarred the night with sin,
Pharisees who patronized Him,
not because they attracted Him or deserved love
but because they needed His love.”
None of us deserves Christ’s love. We are not so holy or righteous that we can pass judgment on others. When we look into the depths of our hearts we see sinfulness and selfishness. We sin against God in thought, word and deed. We do not love God or our neighbor as ourselves. We fail to be disciples who are willing to take up a cross to follow Jesus and we so often fail our brothers and sisters in Christ. As the psalmist said:
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord,
who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you
so that you may be feared.”
We are one with those whom Jesus came to save, with the poor and captive, the blind and oppressed. We need to hear over and over again the good news of the Lord’s favor upon us. We are not saved by who we are or what we have done, but by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross. We are saved through God’s grace. We are saved by believing the word of promise. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but we are all one in Christ Jesus. There is neither rich nor poor, abled nor disabled, gay nor straight, American nor Iraqi, but we are all one in the Lord.
I received an e-mail this week from the pastor of my home church, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota. It seems that they are going to change the brick sign in front of the church which my father gave many years ago. He had a sign company. I was pleased that the pastor wrote me to ask if I would have a problem with the change. No, of course not, but I was glad to be asked.
Change comes hard to me. When we were back in Chicago we received a pile of green hymnals, the Lutheran Book of Worship, which had been given in memory of my mother. I appreciated how they returned them to us, but now I wonder what I will do with a stack of old hymnals. We are getting a new hymnal but I know that I won’t like the changes—I actually miss the red hymnal that came before the green hymnal. I don’t like changes.
I’m sure the people of Nazareth in some ways feared the changes that Jesus was bringing. What did it mean that the Messiah that Jesus was the Messiah? Why was He going to seek out the poor and the oppressed and set captives free and proclaims the Lord’s favor—shouldn’t the Messiah drive out the Romans?
Jesus was clear about who He was and what He was going to do. It was enough for people to want to toss Jesus off a cliff: later they would crucify Him. Peter and Paul were also crucified, Stephen stoned, James stabbed, Lawrence flayed, Agnes beheaded, and the list goes on. Jesus and those who follow Him, who are His disciples, will always be persecuted for their message and their work. We continue to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus’ work was to proclaim the Gospel in Word and deed and we Jesus’ disciples are called to be brothers and sisters of one another, Christs to our neighbor. We help the poor and captive, blind and oppressed, the burdened. We continue to proclaim God’s blessing on all people.
We like to go to meetings if they are kept short and sweet and to the point. We had a council meeting like that this week. We want to know what someone stands for before we vote for that candidate. We know who Jesus is—He is the Son of God, the Savior. He is the Messiah of Israel. We know what He has come to do, his agenda, to proclaim God’s Word of peace and justice to the poor and oppressed, the blind and captive. He even gave His life for us. We know who we are as Christians. We are disciples of Jesus, brothers and sisters of one another, people who carry on Jesus’ task of proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed. Amen.
Copyright 2007 James D. Kegel. Used by permission.