First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
January 27, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)
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.”
“Loving People to Life”
“To Reach up, Reach out, and Reach in”
“Leading People to Experience a God-First Life”
“Making New, Making Great”
These are some examples of church mission statements. Somewhere around the United States, churches are handing out brochures and bumper stickers and coffee mugs to members and visitors alike. They’re nice. They’re compact. They’re to the point,….. just as the church gurus tell us that church mission statements should be.
Could any of these mission statements be ours? Could we “adopt” one or two of them? Which one would you like to have on your coffee mug every morning? Usually it takes church leaders weeks, if not months to distill a mission statement out of piles of notes and pads of flip charts. I’m sure that’s what all these churches did to come up with these lovely mission statements. I found them on the internet by simply searching for “Church Mission Statement Samples. Rather than going through all the trouble of going through the process of writing our own, let’s just adopt somebody else’s.
Here’s another one…. See what you think.
“Save, Equip, and Send out a highly motivated ARMY of believers who engage every segment of society while remaining true to our DNA.” (The Rock in San Diego, California)
God bless the church in San Diego, California that calls themselves “The Rock” and claims this as their mission statement. I hope it works for them. I think it looks like they must be some sort of hybrid of an Army recruiting office, a community organizing center and a genealogy club.
It’s kind of been a church thing over the last 20 years or so for churches to develop short, quippy mission statements. Ideally, a mission statement describes the core mission of your church in 10 words or less – enough to get the point across but short enough to go on a bumper sticker or coffee mug. The process to get there usually involves a lot of conversation, several pads of newsprint flipcharts, and abundance of sticky notes, different colored markers, endless listening sessions and a congregational vote or two. Sometimes churches finally decide on a mission statement simply because they are tired of the process and want to move on to something more meaningful and engaging…. Like actually doing the mission they are trying to narrow down into ten words or less.
As much as I like to make fun of church mission statements and the process that’s gone through to get one, they have their place, and it’s a good place. If it’s a well-crafted statement that truly evolves from the congregation’s understanding of their Holy Spirit given gifts and abilities and the needs of the world, a mission statement can nurture all the work and ministry that comes forth from that church. It becomes the anchor that holds the overall mission of the church together. It’s the root from where the ministry of the church emerges. It’s what shapes the church’s purpose. It’s all part of recognizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the needs of the world. Bumper stickers and coffee mugs aren’t a required part of the mission statement lifestyle but they help.
Jesus had a mission statement and we heard it just a few minutes ago. Do you remember it?
Bring good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
let the oppressed go free
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
It’s what he read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue of his home town. He walked in, went up to the pulpit, picked up the sacred text, read his mission statement, and then sat down to teach. We don’t know just what the lesson on that particular day was but, if you keep reading through the gospel you’ll see that a lot of what followed was about Jesus living into his mission statement.
Good news to the poor;
release to the captives;
recovery of sight to the blind;
the oppressed set free;
proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
This statement was nothing new. It had been something the people in Jesus’ home town would have heard before. Its fulfillment at another time was part of their history. And they longed for these things to happen again in their own time…. For they were poor. They were captive to oppression and injustice. Their leaders were blind to their needs and they sought the year of Jubilee set forth in the ancient laws that allowed for inequality and oppressive power to be dismantled so everyone could start out fresh.
Now, Jesus, the hometown boy, was claiming it as his mission statement. That kid that used to run through their streets had now sauntered into to town and announced that he’s the anointed one they’d been waiting for. And he did it by reading that for which they longed
Because he lived into that mission statement, he became known beyond Nazareth, not just as Mary and Joseph’s kid but things like Savior, Redeemer, Son of God, Messiah. He took the ancient word that had for so long shaped God’s people, claimed it as his mission and gave it skin and bones…. His. Before any disciples are called, before any miracles are performed, before any teachings were uttered, he read the ancient words and then went forth to wrap his life around them. This was his purpose…. His Holy Spirit gifted purpose.
What’s yours? If you were to gather with a bunch of family and friends armed with white boards and newsprint and sticky notes and all the colored markers you could find, what do you suppose your stated purpose would be as a person of faith? What might you have printed on coffee mugs and bumper stickers that you could scatter throughout your life so you would be reminded of your mission statement? What is your unique vocation as a follower of the one who’s mission statement is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor? What is it that the Holy Spirit has anointed you to do in this world at this time? What are the Spirit-Gifts that are part of who you are that the world needs?
Sometimes we get hung up on this Spirit-vocation thing and think that it’s only for clergy. It’s not. Sometimes we think spiritual vocations are something that God reveals to just a few people in big ways…. like Moses and the burning bush or Paul and flashes of lights. They’re not. Each one of us has a spiritual vocation and we will most likely have more than one in our lifetime. That means if you’re cruising through retirement thinking your “working days” are over, think again. Don’t forget, God has a tendency to look past age restrictions when it comes to calling people into service… think Abraham, Sarah, and Noah. As long as we can breathe in that spirit-filled air that’s always around us, we’re still getting some of those spirit-filled gifts. And there are, unfortunately, plenty of needs in the world around us. Our calling, our mission, our purpose, is to bring our spirit gifts to the needs of the world.