This is a sermon I preached, so if you prefer to listen here you go.
In just 5 days, we will hear an inaugural address from the 45th president of the United States of America.
I was curious about the most famous inaugural addresses, so I did a little research. Coming in at 10, is William Henry Harrison. Harrison was the oldest elected president until Ronald Regan- Harrison was 68 years old when he took office. His inaugural address actually isn’t memorable because of what he said, but because of how much he said. His speech was over 8,000 words and took 2 hours to deliver. It was freezing outside, and he did not have a coat or hat on. 31 days later he died of pneumonia, serving the shortest term.
Here are the top 3.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” (JFK, 1961)
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Franklin Roosevelt, 1933)
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1865) This is the closing line of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865. It is the most famous, and the shortest ever delivered. Just 700 words. The Civil war was on its way to ending, and Lincoln would be assassinated a month after the speech.
An inaugural address sets up the future mission plan of the presidency. While I cannot predict the words of Friday’s Inaugural Address, there is an inaugural address today I want to talk about that bears more weight on our lives than any other we have or will ever hear.
I want to tell you about an inaugural address that was given almost 2 millennia ago. An address given half way across the world from us. A mission outlined in Galilee. So far, Luke’s Gospel has built on God’s purpose to bring salvation. We have anticipated the arrival of salvation through the songs of Elizabeth and Mary and Zechariah. We hear the dream of a savior who will be a revolutionary, restoring their nation.
Just before the passage we read this morning, at the beginning of chapter 4, Jesus encounters Satan in the wilderness, and we see Jesus confronted with three ways to accomplish his mission.
- Satan tempts Jesus to turn the stones into bread, to feed himself. Satan tempts Jesus to secure his mission. It’s a temptation of safety.
- Next, Satan leads Jesus to a high place and tells him if he’s really who he says he is, then he should do what the people expect him to do. Satan tempts Jesus with popularity.
- And then Satan tells Jesus if he bows down and worships him, then he will give him all of the kingdoms of the world. Satan tempts Jesus with power.
Safety. Popularity. Power.
They’re the big ones. They sparkle and they shine, they confuse and distract. They catch our attention. We get so lost in chasing these three things. We focus our energy on securing our safety, popularity and power at the cost of all else. At the cost of our health, our relationships, our faith, and other human beings. We clench our fists and hold on to what we have, we do what we have to do to get the applause of others, and whatever it takes for us to have the upper hand.
But you see, Jesus resits these as the methods to accomplish his mission. His mission isn’t about security or power or success. In fact, his mission is for the people who have been hurt by the systems these things create.
Jesus leaves the wilderness, and returns to Galilee, and news was getting around about his teaching. He went to Nazareth, where he was raised, and on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue, because that’s what any faithful Jew would do. He went up front to read the Scripture assigned to the day.
Jesus was handed a scroll, the text assigned to the day. And he read,
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.
He rolled it up.
Gave it to the attendant.
And then he sat down.
Everyone stared. Their eyes fastened on him.
And then he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
They were amazed! They were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They were asking, Isn’t he Joseph’s son? They reveled in thinking that Jesus would bring justice for them.
You know how it would feel to receive such praise. Especially from the people you’ve known all of your life. Everyone’s whispering about how great you are. But Jesus doesn’t waste any time basking in their affection.
Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what you have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed only Naaman the Syrian.
No prophet is accepted in his hometown.
There were widows in Elijah’s day. Elijah is one of the greatest prophets. And the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was famine. You would think, when you have an incredible prophet speaking truth and working to redirect you toward God, that everything would be as it should. But Jesus is reminding them, that that’s not what happened. There was a severe famine, and Elijah wasn’t sent to any of the Israelites. He was sent to a widow in Sidon, not even an Israelite widow. And there were lots of people with leprosy in Elisha's time, but the only one that was cleansed was a Syrian.
Who did Elijah reach? Who did Elisha heal?
They reached the people on the outside. The people who were not born into the family of Abraham.
Jesus brings this message about having good news for the poor,
freedom for the prisoners
recovery of sight for the blind
freedom for the oppressed.
And the people in the synagogue assume he’s talking to them. That his words are about them, and what he’s going to do for them. And I suppose, they could apply these categories to their own socio-economic-politico situation. They hear this, and they think his words are gracious. Gracious, when they’re directed at them.
And that’s when Jesus says, no, you really don’t get this. He says his mission is for the poor. Scholar Joel Green explains in The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament):
Jesus’ mission is directed to the poor — defined not merely in subjective, spiritual or personal, economic terms, but in the holistic sense of those who are for many of a number of socio-regions reasons relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people.
Jesus refuses to accept that there are “outsiders”. He refused to accept that anyone is beyond salvation. He refuses to accept that only the people inside are worthy enough to hear the good news. Jesus’ mission is about reaching the people who are not members of the family. Jesus declares that no one is beyond the pale of salvation, because God is opening the door, welcoming them into the family through his mission.
We’ll come back to the captives in a minute.
Similarly, Jesus talks about sight for the blind. This again is both literal and figurative. Through Luke and Acts, there are physical healing, but Luke also uses it as a metaphor for receiving revelation and experiencing salvation and inclusion into God’s family.
Before and after the blind, we have the captives and the prisoners.
There's a Greek word used, aphesis (ἄφεσις), and we usually translate it as: freedom for the prisoners and set the oppressed free.
But it is more accurately translated: release.
To proclaim for the captives release, to send forth the oppressed in release.
The release that comes from Jesus’ mission is in stark opposition to the binding of Satan’s mission. The mission of safety and popularity and power requires you to enslave yourself. It requires you to give up your freedom.
Another interesting thing about release I learned this week, is that Jesus later in his ministry will refer back to the practice of “release from debts”, referencing the law of Jubilee. And using the word “release” would bring Jubilee to mind. Jubilee is the freeing of slaves, the cancellation of debts, the fallowing of the land, and the returning of all land to its original distribution under Moses. This happened every 50 years.
Every 50 years, you handed your property back to who it originally belonged to. And you returned to the property that belonged to you. It had all been equally divided, and the time would come that everything would be reset. Everyone started where they began.
Jesus’ mission is about extending a place in God’s family to people who do not already belong, to the people who are on the outside of the family. It’s not a mission for the insider. It’s for the vulnerable. The hurting. The lost. It’s about the financially poor and the physically blind, but also goes way beyond. And it’s about release. It’s about jubilee.
It’s not about safety. It’s not about popularity. It’s not about power. But we’re culturally conditioned to think that it is. I want to warn you today not to make a deal with the devil in the wilderness. There is always a cost when your mission is about any of those three things. They should never be the basis for what you do or who you follow.
Jesus’s mission is about release. It’s about freedom, and grace and compassion and arms open wide, waiting to welcome people into the family.
But after Jesus explains to the Jewish people that this message is actually for the people on the outside, they turn on him. No longer do they find his words very sweet or gracious. No longer do they care that he’s Joseph’s son. Instead, they chase him out of town, attempting to throw him off the cliff. The people on the inside, the people who knew the prophets, in fact they knew these words from Isaiah, and yet, they found it offensive that this grace could be extended beyond them.
This week, I want to encourage you to be reckless with this grace. There are many parables in Luke to come, where we see God’s grace offered in offensive and reckless ways. Because there’s nothing popular about caring for the people who are the most vulnerable in society, they’re vulnerable because it benefits the powerful. They’re at risk because it makes others feel safe. They’re poor at the expense of another’s greed. It’s the way the world operates. But it’s not the way Jesus does. And Jesus calls us to adopt his mission. To outline our lives on the basis of these priorities. This is Jesus’ inaugural address. This is what his mission is about.