January 27, 2019
Luke 4: 14-21
Good News for the Poor
In 1996, when I was a student at the Vancouver School of Theology, in the summer after my second year I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala with a group of dentists. We were working with a local humanitarian group and set up dental clinics for a few days at a time in the countryside. We did that for two weeks and then the plan was, we were going to the beach for two weeks for some R&R. But after the profound experience that I had in Guatemala, I wasn’t ready to leave for the beach. During my remaining two weeks I stayed in the same town and continued to volunteer with the humanitarian organization and also learn Spanish. Those two additional weeks in Guatemala profoundly changed me. I experienced true hospitality that was not like I had experienced before. And I witnessed a deep faith that was so deeply rooted in a way that I had not witnessed before.
When I decided to extend my stay, a woman in the community that I had met, offered for me to stay with her, instead of at the hostel. Her home had a bedroom, and a kitchen/living room area and a bathroom. The bedroom had nothing but a mattress on the floor. Her living room had one wooden kitchen chair. In the kitchen was a burner – like a camping stove, and a cooler. I remember that she boiled some water for tea for us and made us some dinner. She had one pot and one frying pan, a knife and one or two cooking utensils. She only had two forks, one metal one and a plastic one like you’d get at a fast food counter, and two plates.
When it was time to go to bed, I pulled out my sleeping bag to set on the floor, and she insisted that I take her bed.
When I returned home to my apartment at UBC, where I was living as a so called “starving student” I remember opening my kitchen cupboards and seeing a stack of 9 plates, and 9 bowls and a drawer full of utensils, more than I would ever need, and it struck me just how much excess I had. Her generosity throughout my stay really overwhelmed me with gratitude – offering her bed to me and her one good fork.
When we talked about our faith, it was clear to me that she deeply experienced the message of hope that Jesus offers in this passage. I had always come at this passage as a call to be like Jesus and reach out to the poor and the oppressed, but here was someone who saw it from the other side, the one being offered freedom from the oppression of her situation. It was a real eye opener for me, because here I was thinking of her as someone that I am supposed to reach out to and offer help, and here she was – sharing with me everything she had. She offered hospitality from her heart as a response to having a guest in her house.
That experience made me take another look at this passage and start to see it in a new and different light. It is not only a call to be like Jesus – but in each encounter that Jesus has in the stories to follow, it is not just their situation that changes, but the person changes too. It is not just a change in environment but a real change in the spirit and life of the person who hears the good news – whose life is never the same after.
So I began to examine my own life and try to identify the places where I am poor, or don’t have enough, or where I’m held captive by my own thoughts and experiences and this passage took on a deeper meaning for me.
This passage in Luke is considered to be the essence of Jesus’ life, ministry and purpose in nutshell. It is part of our current series, but it also normally comes up at this time in the church year in January, a couple of weeks after Epiphany. Epiphany is defined as a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you. Its significance of being placed here is important because it has a major role in revealing who Jesus is, what he will do and for whom he has come.
Jesus paraphrased from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God 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.”
If you could choose the words that might encapsulate the essence of who you are, what might they be? If you were to write a statement like this one that tells of Jesus’ essence, but for who you are – what would it say? I invite you to take some time to think about that – and perhaps even talk about it at coffee with some others after church.
As I was thinking about this question, I decided I better be able to figure out an example for myself if I was going to ask you to attempt the same. So yesterday morning when I was thinking of what I might choose as my words, I was somewhat influenced by my surroundings. I was at the blood donor clinic, donating blood, and I was remembering a conversation I had with a friend when she found out what my blood type was. She said something like, “oh I should have known that your blood type would be B+!!” Because she always saw me as having a very positive outlook on situations and on life. So I think that would be part of my essence.
When thinking about our essence, which would likely be more about who we are at our best, a natural tendency for some of us is to also think of where we have fallen short, or what areas of our life are in need of attention. We may be poor in spirit or stillness or groundedness We may be being held captive by our fears or insecurities or by a diagnosis we have been given, or by an experience that we keep rerunning, or by a destructive voice that keeps replaying in our heads. We may be unable to see the blessings in our life, or the love that never lets us go.
The good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind is offered for each and every one of us, but it is also the work of each and every one of us to do.
As the hands and feet of Christ in the world, we are called to do that work of bringing good news to the poor, the captive and the blind. How do we do that? We do it by responding to the needs of those around us and beyond. We can do this by having a visit with a lonely neighbour, by checking in with a friend we haven’t heard from in a long time, by taking a prayer shawl to someone who might need to feel wrapped in our love and prayers, by extending hospitality to someone who we would not typically associate with, by supporting the youth at events like their fundraising dinner on Friday to benefit people in the Downtown Eastside, by participating in our picnic in Deep Cove in the summer with the folks from First United, and we can also bring good news through the ministry that takes place in our own building almost every day through the thrift shop, in providing a place of welcome and gathering for volunteers and community members.
We also do this by doing our part to help create a wide community of caring where all are welcome for who we are, no matter what might be imprisoning or blinding our sight, and that all feel the unconditional love of God and hope in the new life that Christ offers to all of us. And that is certainly good news for us all.