Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Entering the Mission Field Luke 4:14-21
Before coming to Saranac Lake, I served as an Associate Pastor in Morton Grove, IL. Each Sunday following the service, my colleague Pastor Michael would stand at the back of the sanctuary and greet worshippers as they ventured forth. Above the door to the Narthex of the Morton Grove Church, a banner is hung. It says, “You are entering the mission field.” Exiting beneath that banner was a weekly reminder that the life of faith doesn’t stop when we leave the sanctuary behind on Sunday mornings. In fact, our work is just beginning as we go forth with love for God and neighbor to pursue our mission as Christians.
I expect that Jesus is especially fond of that banner. Luke’s gospel tells us that as Jesus traveled the Galilean countryside, he visited his hometown Nazareth. There, he returned to the rhythms of his growing years, worshipping in the local synagogue on the sabbath day. In an act of respect for his growing reputation, Jesus was invited to read and teach from the Torah. He chose to read from the Prophet Isaiah and then sat down to interpret and teach. We didn’t get to listen in on Jesus’ whole sermon, but Luke preserved the heart of his message. Jesus believed that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in him. He was the long-awaited Messiah, who was bringing good news to the poor, sight for the blind, release for captives, and freedom for folks who lived amid oppression.
Bible scholars like to suggest that Jesus specially chose these words from Isaiah as a sort of personal mission statement. Afterall, that reading from the prophet captures the values and intentions that Jesus would make a priority in his mission. Jesus reminded his vulnerable neighbors that God loved them and was with them—that’s good news for the poor. He restored sight to the local blindman in Bethsaida and shocked the Temple by healing a blind beggar, who had sought alms at the side door. Jesus set free the Gerasene demoniac, long captivated by a legion of dark spirits. Jesus reminded his neighbors that, although they resided in the tetrarchy of Herod and were a vassal state of the Roman Empire, they belonged to a Holy Kingdom that always prevailed.
Jesus held onto that vision and purpose that he announced in Nazareth, even when it got costly. He held to his purpose despite hostile questions from the Pharisees and open criticism from the scribes. He stayed the course, despite coming into the crosshairs of the religious powers of the Temple and the political power of Herod. He stuck to his mission, even in the judgment hall of Pilate. In fact, Jesus’ mission was greeted with criticism and opposition from the start. If I had read a few more verses, we would have heard how those Nazareth neighbors got so angry at Jesus that they drove him out of town with the intention to throw him down from a high place. You might even say that Jesus narrowly escaped a lynching. How is that for commitment to purpose?
This church has a mission statement. Early in my tenure here, I resolved to read it for you each Sunday as a reminder of who we are and the holy purpose that God calls us to serve. Some of you know it by heart. “God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer calls the First Presbyterian Church of Saranac Lake to love and serve one another and the world around us with joy and thanksgiving. We are a congregation that prays and supports each other and seeks to forgive and be forgiven. We aim to share the Good News and to do God’s mission with love and compassion, both near and far.”
It’s a clarifying statement of our identity, values, and vocation. We developed and adopted this mission as we emerged from a time of deep division and spiritual crisis. Over the years, it has served us well by reminding us each week of the centrality not only of the Triune God but also of love, compassion, forgiveness, prayer, and care for vulnerable people. That vision for mission has allowed us to welcome new purposes over the years. It has inspired us to care for those tiny, vulnerable infants of the Mzuzu Crisis Care Nursery. It has engaged us in supporting Malawi’s widows with microloans, the Clint McCoy Feeding Station, and the sewing project. It has prompted us to feed hungry neighbors with the produce of our Jubilee Garden, our monthly food offering, 2-cents-a-meal, and the Souper Bowl of Caring. All this outreach and more may be an expression of our mission, but we trust that it is also God’s mission, an expression of our love for Jesus, and a hopeful anticipation of his coming Kingdom.
Of course, we aren’t the only institution with a mission statement. Here is the statement for the Marion Medical Mission: “Marion Medical Mission seeks to share the love of Christ with the extreme poor in Africa by providing all in need with a sustainable source of clean, safe drinking water.” The mission of the Women of Grace Widows Fund is to “alleviate the extreme poverty of Malawi’s widows with food, shelter, and safety and to empower self-sufficiency and independence.” Even the Souper Bowl of Caring has a mission: their mission is to “unite all communities to tackle hunger.” Faithful organizations and people make it a practice to ground their service to God in a pithy statement that guides their purpose and brings them closer to Jesus.
What is your mission? Do you have a pithy statement of faithful purpose that guides your life and directs your actions? I invite us to allow Jesus’ mission statement to inspire us to think about developing our own personal statements. To get us started, I’ll suggest three principles that should guide and shape our individual purposes.
The first principle is that your mission must give glory to God. Anyone can have a mission that enlarges their bank account, pads their resume, or adds to their personal power or prestige, but as people of faith we seek first the Kingdom of God. That means that our actions and outcomes are meant to praise and honor God. For example, when Marion Medical Mission partners with African villages to install shallow wells, they bless and seal each well with an inscription in both English and the local language. That inscription reads: “To the glory of God.” That well, which will bless the community for generations to come, is a perpetual reminder of the Holy One who satisfies our deepest thirst.
The second principle for your mission statement is that it must follow in the way of Jesus, in keeping with those actions and values that Jesus claimed as his own when he read the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, long ago in the Nazareth synagogue. Does it bring good news to poor and vulnerable neighbors? Does it offer help and healing? Does it free us and others from our captivity – to poverty, addiction, shame, sin, anger, unforgiveness? In pursuing our mission, would Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant?
There is a final principle for our mission statements. We must be guided by the ethic of agape. Agape is the choice to love others, regardless of kinship, affiliation, or interest. Agape seeks the best for others, even when we don’t know them, even if we dislike or fear them. This is the love that the Apostle Paul encouraged his friends in Corinth to pursue: love that is patient, kind, forbearing, accepting, and forgiving. It’s the sort of love that Jesus practiced, allowing him to bear with those dense disciples, care for those on the margins of society, and forgive his executioners.
What is your mission? I invite us to take some time this week to listen, pray, reflect, and begin to develop our personal mission statements, statements that give glory to God, follow Jesus, and make the world a more loving place. You don’t have to proclaim your mission from the pulpit like Jesus did, but you might like to share it with me, or with your beloved ones, or with a friend in the faith. If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine. A mission statement envisioned and articulated is a promise of action that can make this world a more loving, just, and holy place. I look forward to hearing your mission-minded musings.
This church may not have the words, “You are entering the mission field” hanging above the sanctuary exit, but we can trust as we go forth this morning, whether we are worshipping here in church or we are worshipping online, that the mission field awaits. There’s work to be done. What’s your mission?
Carol Lakey Hess. “Theological Perspective on Luke 4:14-21” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Ernest Hess. “Homiletical Perspective on Luke 4:14-21” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Linda McKinnis Bridges. “Exegetical Perspective on Luke 4:14-21” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Elisabeth Johnson. “Commentary on Luke 4:14-21” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 23, 2022. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”