Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Epiphany + 3, Jan. 27, 2019
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So we are back in Luke’s gospel for the foreseeable future, with the exception of the Easter Season which is always…? [John]
There are themes particular to any gospel, which is why we have all four. Each looks at Jesus through a slightly different lens. Matthew’s lens is the experience of the Jewish people, the rites and rituals of Judaism. And the Law. John wants to think about how Jesus fits into the whole cosmology, and what it means for him to be Son of God and Son of Man.
Mark’s Jesus is the Man of Action.
Luke’s Jesus is the Liberator. So while Mark and Matthew also tell the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue near his home, only Luke shows us what he is teaching. Only Luke includes the lesson 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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
It is a text of liberation, is it not? The perfect opening salvo for a man whose mother sang the Magnificat while waiting for him to be born. “God has sent me to turn the world upside down—to bring good news to those on the bottom.
Jesus reads the Isaiah text as if it is about him, right? We need to be clear on that. He’s not just reading the Second Reading, “Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.” He is offering the people gathered there in his home town his Mission Statement.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
Because God has anointed me. And sent me.
And to whom has God sent Jesus? Who are the recipients of his Spirit-infused ministry?
The people Isaiah names:
And those who have lost their land or were enslaved or owed large sums of money.
You might not have caught that last part, but that’s what “the year of the Lord’s favor” means. Isaiah declares—so thus Jesus declares—a Jubilee Year, during which debts are forgiven, land is return to those who had to sell it, and slaves are set free.
So, again, to whom is Jesus sent? To those who are suffering. To those who yearn for freedom. To those who live on the margins.
This mission is the liberation of the world, from systems which enslave them and oppress them and rob them of the hope that is in their hearts.
It is a mission which has been given to us. In this place. Do you think there is need for liberation in this place? In this time? Are there people in our parish who need liberating?
What’s our stated mission? [Building hope, proclaiming peace]
Is that a mission of liberation? A mission of turning the world over, and focusing on “the least of these?”
Of course it is.
You build hope in those who are hopeless.
You proclaim peace to those who live with war, with grinding poverty, with gun violence outside their doors, and sometimes inside them.
Ours is a mission of liberation, and we stand in the footsteps of Jesus and of other great prophets of liberation.
Father Greg Boyle is one of those prophets. Anyone heard of him?
Father Greg is a priest in the barrio of Los Angeles. For over thirty years, he has been in ministry with gang members. His parish is a hotbed of gang activity, and in the early days of his ministry there, Father Greg set out to “save gang members.” “But then,” he says, “in an instant, I learned that saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Me wanting a gang member to have a different life would never be the same as that gang member wanting to have one. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.”
Father Greg has stood at the margins with murderers and drug dealers and little kids on their way into gang life. He has accompanied them to jail and done their funerals.
But he’s also seen a whole bunch of them transform their lives. With people from the parish and some of the folks in and out of gang life, Father Greg started Homeboy Industries.
Homeboy Industries started as “Jobs for a Future,” with Father Greg convincing local businesses to hire young people trying to transition out of gang life. Then in 1992, a Hollywood producer donated enough money to buy an abandoned warehouse, and Homeboy Bakery was born. Homeboy Tortillas followed, and today there are multiple industries at Homeboy, including a t-shirt business, merchandise, a bookstore, a café (Homegirl Café!), a diner, and a Farmer’s Market.
There’s also a school, legal services, and tattoo removal.
“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
You no doubt noticed the signs for The Mark Youth and Community Center as you came in today. If you missed them, check it out before you leave.
I don’t think The Mark is going to become Homeboy Industries, but with this project, we are taking a step toward those on the margins of our community. Across the street at DeLaSalle High School are young people who could really use a break. I see them in the morning when I take Dominic to daycare. They are buoyant and funny and strong. They are also bowed down from the trauma they’ve endured. Over ninety percent of the students there have endured significant trauma: gun violence, extreme poverty, family addiction, abuse.
We’re not going to “save” them. That’s not what The Mark is, or what it does. The Mark is a way to join them where they are, and offer them a chance to do something else in the afternoons. I can’t tell you exactly what The Mark does, because that is up to the kids, not me.
I can tell you this: The Mark is our most significant opportunity to “build hope and proclaim peace,” and it is a project you should be proud of. I hope it is also a project some of you will want to support; there will be lots of ways to do that.The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, people of God. God has called us to join young people on the margins of our community, not to “save” them, but to stand with them. As we do that, we stand with Jesus, with Father Greg, and with the vulnerable, right next to the heart of God.