Jesus’ Mission is Our Mission
by the Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
- Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
- I Corinthians 12:12-31a
- Luke 4:14-21
In our Epistle lesson from last week, the Apostle Paul began to lay the groundwork for his belief that the Church that carries on the work of Jesus the Christ is, in fact, the very body of Christ. This week, Paul takes this a step further and helps us see that just as the human body has many parts, all of them must serve the common good for the body to be healthy. In verse 12, Paul writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul was writing these words to a church in the middle of a huge fight about whose gift was the most important and, therefore, who got to call the shots. Sound familiar? Some things never change. Next week Paul completes this important teaching with the famous “Love Chapter,” telling us that love is most certainly the greatest gift of all.
Since we read these two chapters over the course of three weeks with seven days between the readings, we lose the overarching message that Paul is trying to get his conflicted church to see. Because of this, I feel that we too narrowly define our spiritual gifts as something that we do, whether it be teaching, hospitality, administration, or knowledge, as outlined in chapter 12. But equally as important is that we become aware of our underlying motivation as we express our more narrowly defined gifts. Therefore the gift of love becomes the most important of all the gifts, for a gift expressed without love is destructive to the Body of Christ.
Jesus himself ran into this problem as we read in our Gospel text for today. Here Jesus, just beginning his public ministry with his newly assembled disciples, returns to Nazareth. As would have been essential for Jesus, he attends services at the synagogue on the Sabbath. Here is how the Gospel of Luke tells the story. “Jesus stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
The text says that Jesus “found the place” in Isaiah to read. This was nothing left for chance; Jesus purposefully chose this text. Here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus chose these words to be his job description. This is what he feels to be the will of God for his life, and we should not take this lightly. While it is not a part of this week’s reading Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus’ message was not well received by the hometown folks. So upset were they that he is run out of town and there is an attempt to throw him off a cliff! They did not appreciate Jesus’ chosen priorities.
Here the people chose not to respect Jesus’ call to ministry and decided to remove him from the membership rolls of the synagogue by force.
It is easy for us to draw the lines of separation rather than to see others through the eyes of love and seek reconciliation. When we seek to divide, we try to defend our actions by saying that we are defending important theological points. But are we really? Paul tells us that our first motivation should always be love, and love calls us to reconciliation rather than division. The trouble is that division often reduces our ability to do the very thing that God most wants us to do. This happens first because the conflict itself takes a lot of our time and energy to try and manage. And when the division does come, it usually reduces our ability to serve the community and world that desperately needs God’s love.
Here at the Board of World Mission, we have recently received news that one of the denominations that has long partnered with us in supporting the Medical Clinic in Ahuas, Honduras, has experienced a split which has now formed two denominations where there was one. The membership in both groups will be less than what they were before, and this division has no doubt already caused a loss of members that can support these mission efforts. Divisions in congregations can be equally as damaging to the ability to do mission.
We live in a world where we are being taught that if you don’t get what you think you want or deserve, you simply walk away. But this is not what Paul is teaching us. The Body of Christ today is called upon to keep Jesus’ priorities as they are outlined in the Gospels. Jesus’ mission is truly our mission.