Scripture: Luke 4:14-21
Often times in our journeys of life we can get distracted. Things come up like work, a meeting, school, or kids. I say distracted but I do not mean that they are bad things necessarily. I was distracted while driving home from the elders board meeting in a positive way, I love driving down I-35 and seeing the vast rolling prairies. When I drive that stretch of highway my heart begins to sing, which is funny because it is not often that my heart goes to singing. But the song it sings is “these thousand hills, roll ever on footprints of a mighty God.” Unfortunately distractions can be negative as well, often work demands are calling us to action and we begin to make sacrifices. Maybe we head out to attend college and we are on our own for the first time, our friends and social lives distract us and we make sacrifices. We work hard, we study hard, we have chores and laundry to do, and we just want to rest. We are caught in a culture of dis-ease.
Life happens. Life has been happening for a few years. Since the dawn of humanity there have been distractions both positive and negative that have been demanding attention from individuals. There has always been this constant quest to find some sort of equilibrium in life, to ease the dis-ease. History is filled with these things. People were hungry so the found food, and create tools to make the obtaining easier. The climate changed and suddenly they had to adjust, moving to different locals or making new clothing and accommodations. They found that living together in groups made it easier to hunt and gather food, but then the groups would often get too large so they would begin to fight amongst themselves and new groups formed. Then someone found out that if you let some of the fruits and grains spoil a bit and if you run water through this a drink could be formed that would relieve some stress. So the groups then began to focus their attention on those plants, and eventually they would gain enough knowledge to begin to farm. These farms needed care so the wondering tribes began to settle into areas where they could grow the plants, and they began to domesticate animals, and villages began to form. As the villages grew people began to specialize in skills, and these non-agrarian skills grew and out of that economies began to develop where people would trade produce for tools or services. From these economies civilization emerged, governments formed, and eventually we have found ourselves where we are today. Still searching for ways to make our lives easier, still distracted and trying to find that place where we can exist in comfort.
Life has changed in many ways, and in most ways for the better. I would rather live today than in prehistoric times. There is still an ever-present quest for a life of ease that continues to speak volumes about the human condition. We live in cultures of dis-ease. Our ancestors invented flint spears because they needed them. They sailed the oceans because they sought a better life. We invented computers and cell phones to fill a need in our culture, we were seeking to ease the dis-ease. It is like the history of civilizations and Garden of Eden seem to meet in the same story line; we fail to ease the dis-ease and are forced to toil and struggle in our quest for paradise.
I know it is an odd way to start this message, but there is something about looking at a large picture that seems to open scripture up. This scripture begins with Jesus going to his hometown on the Sabbath and attending the synagogue, which was his custom. There are very few things that scripture tells us that Jesus did regularly. In fact of the disciplines that we know for certain that Jesus actually did frequently. One is he withdrew often to pray, and another is he attended worship. Of all the disciplines and traditions of religion the writers of the gospels tell us that Jesus in His own life withdrew frequently to pray and attended worship, as was His custom.
I mention this because these are the things that basically form the expression of faith in the Friends Church. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we are a distilled form of Christianity, our ancient leaders were on a quest to boil faith down to its purest and most essential form. They sought to get to the simplest expression of faith, and what they came up with was worship and prayer. These are the two things that Jesus is recorded as doing most frequently in His own personal life. These are also the two things most frequently sacrificed in our personal quests to ease our culture of dis-ease, only to further complicate our lives.
Withdrawing to pray and attend worship, if I were to ask you to rank the importance of these things in your life where would they be? If you are human I am guessing that there are probably many items on the list before these, if you are actually sitting in the pew then I am glad that at least worship has made the list. If we were to actually divide up our time and keep track of each activity would the programming on TV rank higher, would Facebook or Twitter hold greater importance? Have we made it our custom to place our career before worship and prayer, or let’s get even closer to home do our families rank higher than our relationship to God?
All these things are important in varying degrees. Our family is important because God has blessed them to us and we should do all we can to care and encourage them. Our careers and our hobbies are vital to our existence and our ability to cope with our lives, but they can cause dis-ease if we are not careful. Jesus, found it very important to withdraw often to pray and to make it a custom to worship.
The passage goes on telling us that Jesus read scripture in the synagogue; he not only attended worship but participated in it. He read, “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus was proclaiming that He was the anointed one sent by God, the Messiah, but there is more. In reading this verse He is proclaiming the Gospel. He is in essence saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here!”
Which leads us to a third thing that Jesus did frequently in his journey through life, ministry. He speaks of the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. These are the people society marginalizes. These are the signs of a culture of dis-ease. To be a captive means that you are bound, you lack freedom and do not have ease in life. A captive is a prisoner. The blind are lost in the darkness, unable to find their way constantly struggling just to find their next step. The oppressed are people discriminated against for some reason and are seen by the culture as being less than human. And the poor cannot provide the things necessary for themselves or their families. All of these people are living lives of constant distraction. They cannot have a life of ease for some reason. Maybe it is because of bad choices, or maybe it is because they were just born in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Jesus says that he is anointed to minister to these people. The year of the Lord’s favor is to be proclaimed to them. His mission and purpose in life is to ease the dis-ease of humanity.
Worship, Prayer, and Ministry; these are the three things that Jesus participated in while he walked on the soils of Israel. These three things all tie together. If we were to devote 100% of our time and resources to social justice or ministry, we would quickly find ourselves overwhelmed. There are always poor, there are always people living in some form of captivity, and being oppressed. We could work our entire lives to ease the dis-ease of our society and feel like we were a complete failure. We can work hard every day and never see the end of need. This is why Jesus withdrew often to pray. To show us that we need to get away to restore ourselves to rest in the arms of God, to cry out to Him, to express our frustrations and anger that there is still need all around us. We cannot spend 100% of the time in prayer either. If we were to only pray, we would never see the answers to our prayers. If we were only to pray we would never be of service to others, never see the good news being proclaimed to the poor, never seeing a captive set free. We would be stuck in a continuation of the dis-ease that continues to plague humanity. We pray so that we can release the negative energy and absorb new life from the Spirit so we can reengage ministry. We pray so we can release our burdens into the hands of God and be listening to His voice to redirect our efforts. We pray so that we can become and to be open to the answers to our prayers. If we were to only pray and only minister we would still have dis-ease. We will still only see need all around us, but this is where a custom of worship is important.
Worship is where each of us can encourage each other to continue in the ministry that God has called us to. It is where we as a larger fellowship of people walking along in our own journeys can join together in ministry and bring our gifts together to intensify our ministry capabilities. Worship is where we praise God for the blessings He gives, where we come together to express needs beyond our own capability, and share the signs that God has worked in the lives that we have ministered to. Worship is where those captives testify to how God has set them free, it is where the oppressed can proclaim their freedom. We participate in worship because we need it, not because God needs us to sing His praises. He created the birds to sing, and the wind to whistle through the trees, and the grass to dance over the rolling hills. God has all the earth to praise him, with or without us, but we have the privilege to worship and we benefit from it. When we worship we are encouraged to do more and to see more. Worship is more than singing and listening to a message, it is coming together to encourage and support each other as we each are sent back out into the world to continue the ministry of Christ. Which did not start with Christ but has existed since the beginning.
Worship, Prayer, and ministry, these three things are the simplest expression of faith. These are the things that allow us to continue on the journey of life with God and are our primary tools. This can be expressed in another way: Love God, Embrace the Holy Spirit, and Live the Love of Christ with others. The three customs of Jesus, the three disciplines of Christ, the three distilled tenants of Christianity in the most pure form. Without loving God or worship, we have no encouragement to serve and we give up and are in dis-ease. Without embracing the Holy Spirit or prayer, we have no direction, no hope, and no relief from the dis-ease. Without living the love of Christ with others we are without ministry and we are distracted and are in a world in dis-ease. With these three, we can see and participate in the year of the Lord’s favor. We can be anointed with Christ, saturated with Him to be instruments of ease in a dis-eased culture. With these three disciplines of faith we can see the kingdom of God emerging all around and in each one of us. It is the year of the Lord’s favor and he is calling us join in.