Dear Friends in Christ,
This has been a time when many of us have had to reassess how we look at ministry in our congregations, communities and the world. Everything that we thought we knew about being the church has been slightly tilted, if not turned upside down. These indeed are challenging times. We want to get back to church as we knew it, yet it won’t be the way it was, at least for a time. New concerns have arisen. New opportunities have been presented. We are asking new questions about how to be the church when the building, and our gathering there can’t be our primary focus. It is a time when we have had to adjust the lens of our camera to focus more sharply on the picture of the church as it is present in our lives today.
I think a good place to start is to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry here on earth as he begins in it the Gospel of Luke. In Luke, Jesus lays out his ministry on the Sabbath in his home town of Nazareth. As he stands up in the synagogue, he reads these words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
These are the words that Jesus chose to define his ministry, to tell those who were listening then, and all of us today, what the core of his ministry and ours is to be. It was a tremendous task that he laid out before him. And I would venture to say that that same task is no less daunting for us today. Guided by Jesus’ own ministry as we all reflect on these words here and now, it is a good time to welcome the renewal of the Spirit to focus on the mission that we each have been called upon to carry out.
Jesus finds direction in the words of scripture and a vision for where God is leading him. As we look closely at these words, we see that they are very specific. It is not a vague nice-sounding and all-encompassing mission statement, but one that is substantial and hits to the heart of our human needs. We should not be surprised by those who are mentioned, yet in some ways they do not fit the profile of those to whom the church has reached out to over its history. Jesus makes clear that the focus of his ministry is to be the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. That is quite a litany of needs that Jesus has come to address. And as we are seeing today, one which has not vanished from our world, but in many ways has become even more desperate and immediate.
We see the effects of unaddressed poverty, those who are held captive in a system designed to keep them from having a voice and those who are oppressed by the very laws that are intended to keep us all safe. The lack of care for our environment has left people without clean water and safe housing and the boot on the neck of the oppressed is crushing the breath from them.
My prayer for each one of us is that the “Spirit of the Lord may be upon us” as we consider what it means to be the church in times such as these, when we most need to be connected to one another and those most in need.
God’s blessings in our continuing ministry together,