Readings – Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21
Today let’s begin with Jesus, always a good place to start. Just prior to our reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke, God claimed him. God declared, “You are my Son, you are my beloved”. Blown away by the Holy Spirit, for forty days Jesus wrestled with the consequences of being claimed by God. What did this mean? What was he to do? Where was he to go? Finally, he emerged from the wilderness and returned to Nazareth, his hometown of about 20,000 people. He was ready to launch into the mission. In the synagogue, he requested the scroll of Isaiah, the scroll where Isaiah proclaimed the restoration of Israel to her rightful glory. Jesus read,
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
Israel’s glory was to bring good news into the world. While John the Baptist preached repentance, Jesus of Nazareth preached good news to all. Jesus brought release; Jesus brought recovery of sight; Jesus brought freedom; Jesus brought the grace of God, the favor of the Lord God.
This was to be the ministry map of Jesus for the next three years of his life. This was to be the ministry map of Jesus that took him to the cross. But this is not just the ministry map of Jesus! We have been joined to him through our baptism. Our liturgy declares:
You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
This is our ministry map, too. We are to be people who bring good news to people. We are to be people who proclaim release; people who see reality clearly; people who set others free; people who share God’s grace.
Let’s be clear, in this identification with the bearer of good news, in this identification with Jesus, there is no withdrawal from the world; there is no retreat from the issues of our own day. As I have noted before, we are to be, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, we are to be in the arena.
Face marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errors, who comes up short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… who spends himself in a worthy cause…
As scripture tells us in numerous texts, Jesus set his face, Jesus set his course, toward Jerusalem, the center of the arena for the People of God in his day.
St. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth outlined how some of the faithful in the first century focused on their individual mission maps. Some were apostles; some were prophets; some were teachers; some were doers of deeds of power; some were healers; some were assistants; some were leaders; some were speakers of tongues. St. Paul made it clear that all were needed facets of the mission map of the Body of Christ, of the Church. And I will add, these ministry maps often shift during one’s faith-full life. We all have phases of our lives that may shift our ministry focus depending on our setting, and our circumstances. As someone once said, we are not thirty-nine forever, so our mission maps will evolve as we age.
Jesus had a three-year mission map. Can I say that all of us here have far exceeded a three-year course of faithfulness? Jesus did a sprint mission; we have been on a marathon mission. Even in his three-year sprint mission, Jesus took time away from the mission to pray, to recharge, to refresh.
And we, who are on a mission marathon, need time to pray, to recharge, and to refresh, too. The author of our reading from Nehemiah, gives us the key to our fuel for the journey, for our marathon mission. Verse 10, the very last line of our reading:
for the joy of the Lord God is your strength.
Where do you find your joy? Where do you find your joy? To find our joy is essential for our faith full journey, for our mission maps, that take us into the arena of the everyday twenty-first-century life.
One of my sources of refreshing joy is gardening, not very accessible during the winter months. In the winter months I find refreshing joy in feeding the birds, in keeping the seed and the suet stations filled, and the water bowl, too. And then I just sit at our bay window and watch the variety of birds that flutter about. Sometimes I just enjoy the colors of the winter trees, the red berries on the holly, and the orange berries of the Hawthorne. Even on the coldest of days Leigh and I try to walk the neighborhood for 30 minutes, sometimes not saying much, just looking at the sky and the neighborhood decorations and talking to the barking dogs. As the Psalmist wrote:
the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows God’s handiwork.
Prayers each evening as I settle in for sleep joyfully refresh, especially as I pray for each one of you, generally pew by pew. Again, turning to the Psalmist who wrote,
the ways of the Lord are perfect and revives the soul.
To read the Bible brings refreshing joy. As the Psalmist wrote:
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
For many, the companionship of a dog or a cat gives rise to refreshing joy. For others, it is a phone call to a dear friend that stirs the heart, as does the presence of a spouse sitting close by or across the room. A cup of coffee or tea in the midst of a busy day, or a group of friends during the day can bring refreshing joy. A friend of mine shared that doing Legos with her spouse is such a joy.
As people of faith, we are partners in the Body of Christ, in the Church, active in our community, our nation, indeed, in our world. God has touched us at our baptism:
You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism marked as Christ’s own for ever.
Indeed, we take our various roles in mission in the rough and tumble world of twenty-first-century America.
May we always be living witnesses with boldness.
And may we always take time to refresh with joy, drawing from the well of life that is all around us, and especially in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and our Savior.