First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
October 27, 2019
“Be the Church: Fight for the Powerless”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
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.”
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Philip Gulley in his book “If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the values of Jesus” writes of a childhood memory of a man from his hometown who had built an elaborate train set in his basement. The small world this man had created included such things as mountains, streets, stores, homes, a blue lake complete with swimmers and boaters and skiers. Tiny train tracks wove their way through the landscape, over mountain passes, through the village and around the lake. Children would go to his house to see his creation and watch him run the trains, marveling at the tiny world that existed in their neighbor’s basement. Although this hobby world had been tended to with intricate care and passion, the man’s real world was becoming more and more neglected and ignored. As his focus turned to the creation in his basement, the paint was peeling on his house. As he tended the trees on the tiny mountainside inside, the weeds on the outside grew into the flowerbeds. As the children came to see his masterpiece, his family and friends drifted away.
Gulley lifts up this story to raise the question of the purpose of the church. Is it to lift up the hope for a utopian eternal existence available to those who diligently tend to the intricacies of faith or is it something else, or in addition to?
Is it the purpose of the church to devote ourselves so much to a world that is beyond this world that we ignore things around us? Is it the role of the church to get everything right inside these walls even though the world beyond is filled with people who don’t have enough social, political or economic power to have their own four walls? Is it the intent of Christianity to look after the well-being of our eternal souls and disregard the well-being of those we encounter in this life? Is it Jesus’ will that his followers get caught up in the intricacies of doctrine and creeds at the expense of God’s magnificent creation? Is getting to heaven really what the scriptures are all about?
As Jesus began his public ministry, he did so in the synagogues. He went to church. When he got to Nazareth, his own home town, he was handed a scroll – the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Then he read from it, handed it back, looked into the eyes of those who looked into his and proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today. Today. And what was the scripture that he read…. You’ve already heard it from Peter but in case you were in another world… It’s about bringing good news to the poor, it’s about proclaiming release to the captives, it’s about recovery of sight to the blind, it’s about letting the oppressed go free and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
The scripture that Jesus fulfilled tells, not of a kingdom beyond this world with streets paved with gold but of a world where those without power are empowered, equipped, lifted up, and cared about.
This is a world of God’s dreams given voice through the prophets. The world for which God longs and for which Jesus gave his life. It’s a world that focuses not on the powerful but upon the powerless. Not just the faithful, or the powerless of a certain ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income bracket, social status but simply the powerless. A world where those with no say are given a voice and listened to, really listened to without judgment, without cynicism, without skepticism. A world where those who may not be able to speak for themselves are given a voice through compassionate others. A world where those without financial resources or political clout are valued in the political process and social order.
It’s not a small world, nor is it an easy world. But it’s the world of God’s dreams. It’s the world God has called, empowered and equipped the church, the body of Christ, to be a part of.
And the real kicker is that Jesus proclaims that all this is fulfilled today. But that’s confusing. Did he mean today today, like October 27, 2019? or 2000 years ago “today?” Or is this just a big old pipe dream for some other day off in the future after we get a few things taken care of around here. You know, we’ve got this stewardship thing going on here so, God, do you mind if we get that taken care of before we go fight for the powerless? Oh, and then it’s gonna be Advent and Christmas, and, you know, pageants and cantatas and candlelight services and Christmas parties… How about we fight for the powerless after the first of the year. Or is it a dream that God has for some other church? The Unitarians and Quakers… they’ve got this. Fight for the powerless… the big city churches are on top of it.
Luke’s gospel speaks a lot of today…. A few passages that may be familiar to you:
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. Is that today – 2000 years ago or today last Christmas or today today?
Today you will be with me in paradise. Today 2000 years ago? Today when I die and go to heaven or today today?
Today, salvation has come to this house. Today 2000 years ago or today today?
When we hear again that the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing is that today 2000 years ago or today today?
As Luke is telling the gospel story, it’s clear that today – whatever that day is – is a moment of radical change because whenever Luke speaks of today – Jesus is in the house – Jesus is present and teaching and speaking. It’s a message that takes the reality of the presence of the Savior into real time. It’s not an event that occurred in the past or is yet to take place but is part of the present reality. It’s what happens today in real time when we, in the words of Paul “Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.” When we know that Jesus is in the house, this house, the house if filled with the capacity to do all kinds of things. Fighting for the powerless is just one of many. When we let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, being the church comes, not just second nature but first. And the world God dreams of is no longer just a dream. It’s our mission – as it was Christ’s.
The man in Gulley’s book – like all of us, he eventually died. His house was sold and the little world that he had worked so diligently on was taken apart and put into boxes. It’s a world that no longer exists. A world that died with him. All that is left are the memories. I don’t think the world God dreams of is that. I think it’s a world that extends way beyond these walls but is brought into reality when we take the mission of Jesus out of this house and into today’s world. Amen.