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Our Mission Statement by Rev. Richard Hasselbach, Ph.D

I recently lead a discussion group for residents at a drug rehab facility. Eight young people dressed in dungarees and sweats, wearing sneakers or flip-flops came to meet me in a bare, drab, windowless room. They sat in a circle of folding chairs; all of them came to talk with me about God.

The young woman next to me started: “My father abused me from when I was eleven to the time I was seventeen; that ruined my life. It’s why I got into drugs. If God loves me and is running the universe, where was he when I needed him?”

Mary chimed in: “I had a great father, he was kind to me; he was a good man; I really loved him. He died in my arms when I was seventeen. Why did God take him? How could a good God do that?”

Only the Holy Spirit can answer some questions; Only the Spirit can heal brokenness like this.

Biblically, it is the Spirit who fills the world with the Glory of God and inspires the voice of the prophets. The Spirit was active throughout Jesus’ life. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; when Jesus was brought to the temple for his dedication, the elderly Ananias, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit anointed him messiah and then let him into the wilderness to be tempted and to overcome temptation.

Led by the Spirit, Jesus returns to Galilee to begin his ministry.

Galilee was the northernmost province of Israel. No one important lived there: it was home to a bunch of farmers and fishermen. There’s nothing special about Galilee: that’s the point. The Spirit leads Jesus to an unimportant part of an unimportant country where unimportant people live out their seemingly inconsequential lives because, to God, there ARE no inconsequential lives.

Jesus has already been in the region preaching preaching with authority; healing people; he was the talk of the countryside! When he comes to Nazareth, in the synagogue, we hear Jesus first words in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:14). It is Jesus’ “Mission Statement:”

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”...

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Anyone who lacks something essential to happiness is poor. Material want is a form of poverty, but if like Dicken’s Scrooge, I am materially secure but live a loveless life, I am also poor. If I live with unrelenting sadness, money can’t buy me happiness, I am poor. Whatever the source of our poverty, Jesus says: “Come to me burdened; leave light; come empty; leave full; come with grieving, leave with joy.”

It is not only jail cells that imprison us: we are also held captive by our sinful habits, addictions, bitterness or anger. Whatever holds us in its thrall, Jesus proclaims freedom. The Greek word used here, aphesin, means completely free: it’s life’s reset button.

Pastor Helmut Thielicke kept a photograph of a Christmas pageant on his desk: it showed the angels all dressed in white proclaiming good news of great joy, and shepherds listening to them with hope-filled eyes. All the players in the pageant were criminals: each had committed some serious crime, but in prison, each had embraced Christ. Each, though physically in prison, had been set free.

For the Jews of Jesus’ time, a Jubilee year, was a time for reestablishing justice. In Jubilee years, Israel rested from labor and trusted in God’s providence. It was a year when the people strove a right relationship between individuals and with God. Justice is more than mere fairness, God’s justice is the world as God would have it. That is what Jesus comes to establish, and what he proclaimed to be in our midst.

“This day in your hearing, the scripture is fulfilled.” This is all coming to be now! We’re free now, we’re released now, we’re unburdened now. But can we see it?

A cursory look around the world reveals that there is still a lot of poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression! Where is the Good News Jesus proclaims is in our midst now? God ’s kingdom remains hidden, and God is at work long before we notice the results. Only the eyes of faith see good news in a world where there is still so much suffering. Yet Jesus still proclaims Good News to the poor and liberation to captives. And he still insists that the prophecy is fulfilled in our hearing - now! It happens ion our ministry as it happened in his. Our mission is to participate the work of Christ: we, too, are anointed by the spirit to bring Good News to the poor.

Only our actions make Christ’s mission credible. When spent time with the grieving; or bring soup to a sick neighbor, or forgive an old injury we are proclaiming good news, and liberation.

There was a young man named John in my group. He responded to Mary, who lost her father when she was seventeen. “I lost my dad when I was 14, and he was a great dad. I hated God for years because he took him.” He continued: “I only started liking God again about two months ago.”

“Two months ago? what happened then?” I asked.

He said: “Two months ago I was homeless. A guy who didn’t even know me, a Christian, got me off the streets. He saved my life. Jesus saved my life.”

Then the girl who spoke first said, “Come to think of it, there were people all along the way who reached out to me, but I never dared to reach back.”

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