Sunday, January 24, 2010

to let the oppressed go free

Luke 4: 14-21

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, … to proclaim release to the captives and, … to let the oppressed go free.”

About a week ago I got a text message from a friend that said, “You’re sick, dude. I hope the people at your church can’t see your facebook page.” As I began to ponder what he could possibly mean, my phone rang. Another friend had questions about my facebook activity as well. “Why,” he wondered, “Would I ever think that it was okay to become a fan of the dead babies club?” Well, I started freaking out and couldn’t log onto facebook because my password had been changed, and so I knew immediately that my account had been hacked. And for the next three hours or so, my phone would not stop ringing – friend after friend with question after question about things I apparently posted on people’s walls. “Why’d you tell Ben that dogs ate his brother? Why’d you tell Christy that Darth Vader was going to kill you? Why are you dating an 87 yr. old man? I have to say, this experience made me feel like a prisoner – like I was powerless and out of control. An evil villain was holding me captive– reeking havoc on my life – and there was nothing I could do. I felt like a prisoner.

Now obviously, I’m only being half-serious. In the grand scheme of things, having your facebook hacked isn’t that big of a deal. But the panic we feel when confronted with injustice – the feeling of captivity that comes with being powerless and out of control – that is real. And the reason it’s real is because that feeling of captivity tells us something about how the world should be. All I have to do is mention Hitler or 9/11 or that devastating earthquake in Haiti, and pretty soon we start shaking our heads and thinking, “that’s not right. Things are supposed to be different. We need to fix that.” But then, we realize we can’t – that we’re powerless and out of control – that we’re held captive by the forces of evil or chance or circumstance – and that, that makes us feel like prisoners.

In order to understand today’s Gospel, and the hope that Jesus offers, there’s something we have to understand first. The people in that synagogue that Jesus preached to also felt like prisoners – they felt like captives on this earth – and I can think of at least three reasons for that. First, they were a conquered people. The Romans ruled over them and the Israelites felt imprisoned by their presence and their politics. Second, as devout Jews, they yearned for personal holiness and found that they couldn’t attain it. To quote psalm 51, “I was born guilty, a sinner from my mother’s womb.” I’m pretty sure that sums up how they felt. They wanted to love God. They wanted to follow God’s law perfectly, but just couldn’t do it, and this inability to be holy made them feel like prisoners. Finally, and I don’t know how else to say this, but they had a problem with the whole “natural disaster thing.” You see their belief was that the entire creation was imprisoned – that all of creation needed to be set free. And so earthquakes and storms, the scorching heat and the bitter cold, even animals hunting and killing each other, these were all thought of as part of a world that needed to be set free. And so that’s the first thing we need to understand – the people in today’s Gospel felt like prisoners.

But there’s something else we need to understand. Not only did Jesus’ audience feel like prisoners, but their hope – their faith – was that God would act in a mighty way in order to set them free. In other words, they weren’t okay with the status quo. There was no Hebrew equivalent of “c’est la vie” or “that’s just how the cookie crumbles” because they hungered for a better world. And so they prayed for it, expected it, wrote about it, and were actively waiting for this new world to arrive. And perhaps more so than anyone else, the prophet Isaiah championed this belief that a new world was on its way – that a time was coming when God would anoint someone to set them free. And prophets like Isaiah called this person the Messiah, which is a Hebrew word meaning “one who is anointed.” And so to recap, lesson #1 they felt like prisoners. Lesson #2 they longed for a Messiah – or an anointed one – to finally set them free.

Ok, now we can look at today’s Gospel, which is actually the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke. You might even say that today we hear Jesus’ mission statement. His manifesto. His public declaration of who he is and what he came to do. And to recap, this is what Jesus declares. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed ME to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and to let the oppressed go free.” For a people that felt imprisoned, for a people that yearned for freedom, for a people that expected a Messiah, Jesus is speaking words of hope – the “Lord has anointed ME.” I’m here to set you free. I’m here to set the entire creation free. I’m in control. I’m here to fix things. The Lord has anointed ME.

Now, I doubt that you need me to stand here tonight and tell you that all isn’t well with the world – that you know, deep down, that things are supposed to be different. Because in our heart of hearts, like the people Jesus was preaching to, each one of us hungers for a unified world – for a world where societies are fair, where everyone prospers, where tectonic plates don’t shift and cause earthquakes, and where people not only know the right thing to do, but where they actually do it. In our heart of hearts, we all hunger for a unified world. For unified lives. For a world that is free.

The good news of the Christian Gospel is that Jesus came to bring freedom. To quote the apostle Paul “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). To quote Peter, “live as free people” (1 Pet 2:16). To quote Jesus, “I’ve come to let the oppressed go free.” You see, the miracle of the Gospel is that Jesus himself was imprisoned – not in a cell but on a cross – and that he was intentionally taken captive so that you and I could be free.

You and I are free. We may still struggle with sin and fear and sickness. But make no mistake we are free now because we know that a day is coming when Jesus will set the entire creation free, when as Revelation puts it, “death will be no more,” or as the prophet Isaiah puts it, when the “lion will lie down with the lamb.” We are free because Jesus lives to make all things new.

And so as you go into the world this week, you may have a moment or two or twelve when you feel powerless and out of control. But I’ve got great news for you. You are. You are powerless. You’re not in control. But you know what, that’s okay because Jesus is in control. And Jesus’ power is so great that He’s made death his prisoner. And because of that you and I are free.

And so here’s the question I leave us with this week. Jesus lives to make all things new. What are we living for? You see in baptism we too were anointed. The priest took some oil, made the sign of the cross on our head, and marked us as Christ’s own forever. In baptism we were anointed. Now, I’m not saying that we’re the Anointed One. That’s still Jesus. But I am saying that we are anointed ones- that we are mini-messiahs, that the Spirit of the Lord is also upon us and that our great purpose in life is to join Jesus in His mission is to bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives. To let the oppressed go free.

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