Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 30, 2022
4th Sunday after Epiphany
A couple years ago, Session updated our church’s mission statement. It reads as follows: The mission of First Presbyterian Church is to celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service. Celebrating God’s grace and sharing Christ’s love—it’s what we do around here—or, at least, it is our goal. But, in the end, what purpose does a mission statement for any church or organization serve? A well-crafted mission statement can help an organization stay true to shared goals. It can offer a framework for evaluating opportunities and it can help employees focus on what the company is trying to accomplish. While “googling” the topic, I found several mission statements that were quite long. It’s best, however, for them to be short, and concise, which is what led Session to adopt our current mission statement: To celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service.
Jesus comes to Nazareth—the place where he was raised, and he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath—something he does every Sabbath. Something he does every Sabbath! I know this is a bit of an aside but sometimes when I read this text, it brings up a memory of something that happened years ago, when I was serving a church in Tennessee. After an Easter service, as folks were milling about and visiting, I overheard a man I had never seen before talking to the people around him about how wonderful the service was. Then one of the matrons of the church leaned over him, and said loudly, “Well Jim, we do it every Sunday!” I was mortified that Alice, known for speaking her mind, had said such a thing to a visitor. Thankfully, it turned out he was related to her and used to come all the time when he was a child. “We do it every Sunday!”
Every Sabbath, it was customary for faithful Jews to gather. But this Sabbath, things turned from customary to extraordinary. Likely the folks were used to typical synagogue worship practices that included reciting the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Additionally, an “amen” response from the congregation was included as well as a reading from sections of the Torah and the prophets, a sermon, and a benediction. Any male could volunteer or be asked to pray or read; just as any male could be asked to give the sermon.[i] On the Sabbath in question, Jesus stands up to read from the Prophets. He unrolls the scroll and chooses the following:
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.
In essence, when Jesus chooses to read what we know as Isaiah 61:1-2, he sets forth his mission statement. He tells the people what his life and ministry will be about: caring for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus is on a mission to say no to all that is false in the world and yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to say no to self-glory in all its forms and yes to helping the poor and the downtrodden. What might happen in our churches if we declared to God and to one another something similar?
As baptized believers, we have been anointed with the power of the Spirit of the Lord and he has called us to play a part in bringing good news to the poor. He has called us to help free those enslaved by the ills of this world and assist those who are hurting because of sickness and oppression.
While the mission statement of our church is shorter, it still has at its core the essence of Jesus’ mission of service and love: To celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service. The truth is we all have a purpose in God’s plan of salvation for the world. What is your purpose? You may have noticed a space provided on the back of the bulletin for your mission statement. I encourage you to take your bulletin home and spend some time pondering the matter this week. Then write down your mission statement and keep it somewhere you will see it from time to time.
To help you get started, allow me to offer four points to keep in mind. First, you are a child of God. Do you know what that means? That means you are royalty. Queen Elizabeth has nothing on you. Second, your life has a purpose. You are not random; you were born for this time and place. Third, you are a dwelling for the Holy Spirit which means you are equipped for amazing and wonderful things. And fourth, because you are a child of God, because your life has a purpose, because you are equipped by the Spirit—you can change the world.
I know. I know. You are taken aback by the very idea that you can change the world. So, let’s unpack “the world.” For some people, like Jesus, the Apostles, Saints through the ages, Mother Teresa, for example, “the world” may mean just that—a circle of influence that knows no bounds. For others, “the world” may be our nation or our denomination—think, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. For some, “the world” may be our community, church, family, circle of friends, place of work, or bridge club. For some the circle is large, for some it is small. But here is the thing—we don’t need to worry about that. The scope of our influence is none of our business. That’s up to God. Our task is to find our role in God’s story and then do what is ours to do to help bring heaven upon the earth. Remember, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We say it every Sunday.
Anointed by the power of the Spirit of God, Jesus proclaims his mission for good work in the world he came to save. You, too, are anointed by the Spirit for good work in the world. So, take time to create your personal mission statement. It is more than a statement of who you are—it is a way of claiming who you are called to be and who you aspire to be. I have been working on mine this week and here is what I have thus far: My mission is to listen, learn, discern, and birth into my little corner of the world, the hope, joy, and love of Christ. What is your mission? I can’t wait to hear it!
When Jesus makes his bold pronouncement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he declares what his life’s work will be like and he announces that those who have known him since he was a child, can no longer see him simply as Mary and Joseph’s son. He is the One they have been waiting for all their lives. He is the one their parents have been waiting for. He is the one the priests and prophets have been waiting for. He is the long-awaited Messiah.
As your pastor, it is my prayer that in this New Year, we will all be more focused on the mission of Christ, the mission of our church, and the personal mission the Spirit has laid upon each of our hearts. Let us pray and work toward the better world Jesus envisioned. And let us gather as often as we can to worship (in-person or online), to celebrate God’s grace and share Christ’s love. Thank God, it’s true—we do it every Sunday!
[i] Linda McKinnish Bridges, Feasting on the Word, 287.
*Cover Art Zaria “Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54196;