Jesus' Inaugural Address

In the United States, every four years, on January 20th, the newly elected, or re-elected, President of the United States is sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Sometime after that, the President gives an inaugural address to the nation.  The inaugural address is sort of like the President’s mission statement. In it, he (at least so far it’s been a he) lays out his priorities and vision for his upcoming term in office.

We witnessed, either in person or through news sources, such an inaugural address last Monday.

And in a way, that’s what we witness Jesus doing in our reading from Luke today. This is the first thing Jesus says publicly in the Gospel of Luke.  He has been born and raised and baptized and tested in the wilderness. He has been a regular attendee at the synagogue on the sabbath. And now he speaks to the people as his public ministry is about to begin. He is laying out his priorities and his vision. He’s saying what he is about. This is, to quote my teacher Luke Johnson, Jesus’ inaugural address.

And for that address he picks out a reading from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor to everyone.”

Now, I’ll leave it to next week’s preacher to talk about the people’s reaction to Jesus’ speech, which is significant. For now, let’s focus on what Jesus is saying about himself and about the God who commissioned him through the prompting of the Holy Spirit - and what that means to us.

In essence, Jesus is saying that he came to be an agent of God’s mercy to the downtrodden. He came with the good news that no one is marginalized to God - and to prompt us to see that there are plenty of people who are marginalized to us.  And he came with the news that he, Jesus, has been commissioned by the Spirit in his baptism to be God’s agent. And that the agenda of Jesus is the agenda of God and that that agenda is about release from bondage, about restoration, about healing and wholeness to those who are broken, cast aside, in chains of one kind or another.

And we will see that agenda played out in the story of Jesus’ life and work. He will literally heal the sick and free people from the things that cause them to be marginalized, the things that are broken in them. He will heal people whom the rest of the world considers outcast or at least on the fringes of society. He will not abide by any kind of class constraints or discriminate between Jew and Gentile, male and female, adult and child. He will eat with them and touch them and restore them.

But this address and agenda don’t mean much to us if we cannot re-locate them into our community today. Otherwise they are simply history.  

Nor do they have much meaning if they are only about Jesus. Jesus chose others - his disciples - to assist him in his work and to make disciples of all people.  And we through our baptism are commissioned by the Spirit to join him in his work here and now.

And we ARE joining in that work of being Jesus’ disciples. 

Many of you participate in local ministries to those on the margins in our community through volunteering and supporting FISH and Avalon and PORT. Remember our collections of food at Thanksgiving and toys in December? And we host meetings and will soon begin to host worship for local recovery groups. The Bruton Builders also do hands-on work in our community and beyond.

And in two weeks, we will host the Williamsburg winter night shelter for a week. We as a community will be participating in a new mission of Jesus to feed the hungry and provide shelter to those who have no shelter, to make a determined leap in a new way into the arena of transformational relationship-building.

But you and I know that even with all that we are doing here, there is much more to be done. The level of need in our community and our world is daunting and it can be discouraging. As our deacon Bob pointed out last week in his class between services, what we are doing with the shelter (and indeed with any of the work we do) is only a start. There is always more to be done, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can now.

And you and I know that working with and for Jesus in the community is sometimes scary, too. It’s not easy to stand with the marginalized as a fellow human brother or sister rather than as a patron providing services.  It is not easy to see all the lack and the want and the brokenness. Not only is it hard to jump into the unfamiliar, to try to relate to people who are so different from us in many ways, it’s also not easy to stay with something, to stay in relationship, after the initial excitement has worn off. 

And then there’s this, in anticipation of how the people will react to Jesus’ agenda next week: It’s not easy to accept that God’s grace and mercy are for all people, not just us, and that it is not up to us to define who should be included in that grace and mercy. Jesus is speaking to all of us here in his inaugural speech, telling us who he is and what  he is about, but what he is telling us is that this good news is often meant for those we ourselves have marginalized and look down upon.  That it is meant for those who are enslaved to all sorts of demons and are broken for all sorts of reasons. And that is not easy to hear.

And so while Jesus speaks of comfort to those who are lacking, he also is issuing a challenge to those of us who are not lacking. He is challenging us to look around and see those who are on the margins, to open our eyes and see the downtrodden, to see people who are suffering and to see them differently because of what we know about God’s love for them.

The challenge for us is that if we wish to be attentive to God, then we must be attentive to the suffering of any of God’s people. To look away from their suffering is to look away from God’s concern.  

And so our work is not done, and never will be, until Jesus comes again. But Jesus is clear - he (and so God) is ready to break through any barriers to get to those who are suffering. And so must we be ready to break through boundaries, too, with God’s help, so that the glory of God will shine out in the world.