Jesus’ Inaugural Address
Luke 4:14-21  January 23, 2022

We might consider this morning’s scripture as Jesus’ inaugural address announcing his vision for his ministry.

He had returned to his childhood home of Nazareth right after overcoming Satan’s temptations in the desert.

Today’s reading began, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.

What first comes to mind when you hear the word “power”?

Maybe it’s those eight-bedroom homes in the Hollywood canyons with Bentleys parked behind their gated driveways.

Maybe you think of Washington powerbrokers covertly ushering corporate tax loopholes through the legislative process, or military brass commanding tens of thousands of soldiers.

But, as we’ll see, the Gospel has a different meaning of power.

It was the synagogue custom to invite someone to read and then comment on a passage of scripture.

This was likely the synagogue in which Jesus had grown up, and now that he was becoming a promising teacher, the honor fell to him.

It is possible that Jesus was handed a TAD so he could follow the text without actually touching the scroll.

TAD – which simply means “hand” – is a pointer the Torah reader uses both to avoid fading or smearing the print of the text with their finger, and because the Torah is holy and not to be touched.

So, Jesus stood up and read a few verses from Isaiah 58 and 61.

Luke 4:18-19 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

His choice and interpretation of this passage tell us what it means for us to follow Jesus – but, you know, they do seem like outlandish claims.

Imagine one of our former youth group members showing up at church one morning and announcing that she is ushering in the day when every person would have healthcare at no cost to them, when every person would find fulfilling work at a livable wage, and when every broken-down inner-city dwelling would get an “extreme makeover”.

What is the one thing in Isaiah’s passage that all those people have in common?

It is that they are not the powerful people of the world – and it is to them, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus brings the Good News.

The world is full of preachers and pundits claiming to speak with God-power.

But it is God-power only when it sets others free, only when it builds oppressed people up, only when used for the betterment of those around us.

I frequently remind you that we don’t have to become missionaries or do something grand to express God’s purpose in our life.

It is in our family, job, neighborhood, and church where we make the biggest difference.

But sometimes we hear of someone doing something so inspiring that it illustrates God-power.

With Pittsburgh temperatures dipping below freezing, 58-year-old Charlie Barriger tries to stay warm by laying on a steam grate while a middle-aged doctor kneels to listen to his chest through a stethoscope.

Dr. Jim Withers quickly recognizes another case of bronchitis and administers some Tylenol to bring Charlie’s temperature down and some antibiotic to stop the infection.

He makes an appointment to drop by his street corner in a couple of days to check on Charlie.

Dr. Winters then continues his evening medical rounds along the graffitied alleys, through a cluttered homeless encampment and under a freeway overpass.

An internal medicine physician, in 1992 Dr. Wither ventured into the vacant lots and makeshift camps of Pittsburgh to offer medical care to unsheltered people.

At first it didn’t go so well as he was greeted with suspicion by the street people.

He was shunned, chased away, and threatened with violence
– one time finding a shotgun pointed at his face.

At first, he tried to win acceptance by dressing more like a street person – even smearing dirt on his clothes and face before making his rounds.

Eventually, he found a Native American man who knows the homeless population from years of work with social service agencies to act as his guide, assistant, and bodyguard.

He also felt rejection from medical colleagues who said he was sacrificing a promising career – and some who even questioned his sanity.

The Apostle Paul also felt this kind of rejection but shook it off saying, (1 Corinthians 4:10) We are fools for Christ.

Dr. Wither says, “I was actually really shocked at how ill people were on the street. It was like going to a third-world country.”

He says there were runaway kids, 85-year-old men, pregnant women, families fleeing domestic violence, and decorated veterans.

Carrying a lantern and a backpack of medical supplies, he sees cases related to life in the elements like hypothermia, as well as knife stabbings and broken bones from beatings.

But mostly he sees people with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and mental disorders.

An overturned trashcan or abandoned box becomes his desk.

Withers’ one-man mission eventually became a citywide program called Operation Safety Net with dozens of volunteers and some paid staff – over the years reaching tens of thousands of people.

In addition to making street rounds, the program has acquired a mobile van, drop-in centers, and a primary health clinic, all where the homeless can access medical care and be treated with dignity.

Sitting in his modest office under a picture of Mother Theresa, Dr. Withers says that for him, real medicine means saying, “I’ll honor you and come to where you are.”

This is a special challenge because homeless people are frequently evicted from their camps, often losing all their belongings in the process.

So, part of his ministry is keeping track of where his patients have moved to.

But then he says, “Wherever they are, they are in our circle of love.”

insert: CNN Video of Dr. Wither

Jesus’ circle of love is for all people – especially the overlooked, forgotten, or discarded.

So, you don’t feel called to visit homeless people living under the 405?

As I said, ministry that matters is often expressed in much simpler, everyday ways.

Let me give you an example.

Think about loneliness, an issue that is all around us.

Even before the pandemic, loneliness was becoming a major health crisis – so much so that the Center for Disease Control stepped in.

The CDC found that one out of three adults over 45 – not just elderly adults – suffer from loneliness.

For people living in care centers, it’s even worse: 40% never receive a visitor.

Besides the expected increase in depression and suicide rates, social isolation increases the risk of actual death just as much as smoking and obesity.

Adults who are socially isolated have a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

The further we advance into adulthood, the harder it is to make friends, so most lonely people also feel helpless.

And the CDC reports that the problem is compounded for LGBTQ people who are especially prone to social isolation and who already have experienced social rejection.

I just bet that there is someone you know who could be lifted by you taking the initiative to give them a phone call, and then follow-up a week later.

By the way, people over fifty still answer their phones.

How about going for coffee?

People wear masks, but they are still at Starbucks.

Invite someone to church … just being around positive people can be life-changing.

You see, you don’t have to be a missionary to be a life-changer.

And there are lots of ways you can do ministry within our church.

We are looking for people to re-launch our community team so we can have fellowship events and welcome new people into our church, and the finance team is looking for a couple of people to help manage our budget.

You can help our ministries in so many ways.

And there’s something else about this Holy Spirit power that Jesus brings: it also means that God cares about the parts of you and me that we don’t want seen.

We devote so much energy trying to hide our shame and acting as if we have it all together.

We invest so much in trying to appear younger and more successful.

We are inundated with ads promising that if we just purchase their product that we’ll never feel insecure again.

But deep down we know it is all a lie.

God sees the parts of us that we’ve labeled ugly or unlovable, and God loves us anyway.

And we waste so much time thinking that if we just had the job, the marriage, the lifestyle of someone else then we’d feel happy and complete.

Joyce Meyer wrote, “The truth of the matter is, the first step to enjoying our everyday lives is to be grateful for the lives we’ve been given.  We must not allow jealousy to cause us to be absent from our own lives because we want what someone else has.”

She concludes with this:
“God is asking you to be faithful with your life, not with someone else’s. Trust that God knew what He was doing when He gave your life to you.

There’s a Buddhist proverb I’ve shared with you many times, “All unhappiness is caused by comparison.”

That comparison is the root of much of our personal sense of shame, yet God created you to be uniquely you.

Too fat, too thin, too old, too much booze, some shame we’ve carried from our past … God loves us just as we are – that’s the Good News Jesus announced that day in the synagogue.

But here’s the thing:

When we pay close attention to Jesus’ words, we realize that it is Good News only when we are willing to admit what is hard in our life, what feels broken, what we feel shame for.

When we bring to Him what feels poor in our spirit, what is held captive by our old demons, how we are blind to the fullness of life –then God-power can go to work.

Will there be pushback?

Will your old hurts, habits, and hang-ups just release their hold on you?

No … anymore than we are seeing our society easily give up its racism or the wealthy grant economic justice to their workers.

Remember that after Jesus was so enthusiastically welcomed at his hometown synagogue, some voices turned against him, and a mob formed to throw him off the cliff.

But in the end, Jesus prevailed.

And he will in you, too.

Give your hurts and your shame to Jesus.

He has the power to make all things new.