Jan. 24, 2016 sermon
Beginning of God’s Reign
Those of you who have been teachers will be familiar with lesson planning. I would say, the most important part of a lesson plan is the objectives statement. We decide the objectives and plan the lesson accordingly. For example, when I was teaching English to Korean children, I would have an objective statement such as, “In this lesson, students will be able to discuss weather in English”. I would prepare pictures of different weather conditions, and teach the “weather song” that came with the textbook. “How’s the weather? It’s sunny. How’s the weather? It’s sunny. How’s the weather? It’s sunny. It’s sunny today”. Then they would move on to, “It’s cloudy/ It’s windy/ It’s snowy”… and so on. At the end of this lesson, students are able to ask about the weather and answer it.
Objectives are the most important part of a lesson planning because they serve as the backbone of the lesson; everything is planned according to the objectives. Likewise, the beginning is the most important part of any book or movie. I believe that we can judge a book by its first sentence, or first chapter. I go through a very similar process to plan worship services and sermons. Last Sunday, we learned that the author of John’s gospel started Jesus’ public ministry with a miracle story. This is because he wanted his audience to have confidence in their Lord and Savior’s power. Today’s story is Luke’s version of how Jesus started his public ministry. Luke’s Jesus is a teacher, so he goes into a synagogue and teaches. He opens the scroll of Isaiah 61; 1-2 and reads it; “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.”
This is Luke’s Jesus stating the objectives for his ministry; why did God anoint him? So that he can bring good news of liberation to the poor and the oppressed. This is Luke’s Jesus saying to his followers and readers of Luke’s gospel, “Y’all remember this from the very beginning because everything I will do from now on (and everything you will read in this book) will be about proclaiming the liberation for the poor and the oppressed”. Everything Jesus does during his public ministry presented by the author of Luke’s gospel is about preaching the good news for, and working towards brining justice to the poor and the oppressed. Justice for the marginalized of the world is the principle of God’s kingdom, the reign of God.
Actually, unlike Mark and Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus starts his ministry by proclaiming the kingdom of God and urging repentance for its preparation, Luke’s Jesus doesn’t mention the Kingdom of God or repentance. But the fact that he picks up this Isaiah text is an indirect way of proclaiming God’s reign. God anointed him with the Holy Spirit so that he can proclaim the good news for the poor; “release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. This “year of the Lord’s favor” is the year of jubilee when all the debts are pardoned and slaves go free. The idea behind the year of jubilee is that once in a while, all the unequal relationships are reset and everyone, especially the disenfranchised ones, get a second chance and fresh start. God’s reign is about protecting the weak; the good news of Jesus is the good news for the weak. In God’s reign, the rich and the powerful share their riches and other privileges with those without them.
The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make their version of Jesus start his ministry with the message of good news to the poor and the oppressed. This is an objectives statement by which the rest of their stories of Jesus will enfold. The proclamation of good news for the poor is the essence of God’s reign that all three of them preach in their gospels.
We are still in the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany is the beginning of our journey as the Jesus people. We need an objectives statement for our Christian journey ahead. This statement is like the New Year resolution; a principle to live by for the rest of the journey. Jesus in the first three gospels started by proclaiming the good news for the poor, which is the principle of God’s reign and the essence of Jesus’ message. Since this message was everything to Jesus, it should be everything to us too. The good news for the poor, the principle of love and justice should be our objectives statement. Everything we do as the church of Christ is heading towards realizing God’s reign on earth. Our ministry on serving the poor, welcoming the refugees; these are all activities and ministries of God’s reign.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians we read today, the church of Jesus Christ is compared to the body with many parts. Like our physical bodies, if one part of this whole body hurts, the rest of the body hurts too. There is a short story about two fish living in a pond together. One day they fight and one of them dies. The dead body corrupts the water and the other fish dies too. These two analogies teach us that we are living interdependently. If we have cancer in one part of our body but do not remove it, it will spread to the rest of the body and we die.
The Christian church is called the body of Christ and we are many parts of this one big body. But the human race, the global community is also one big body and family. As different parts of one body, we need to take care of each other to be able to survive together; this is why we have to care about other people’s pain and sufferings.
This Epiphany, let us have an epiphany on God’s reign and make it our objectives, our New Year resolution, the principle by which we live our lives as Christians. Christians often ask, “What would Jesus do” but don’t seem to know what standard to use as a barometer. The principle of Jesus, his objectives statement on God’s reign and working for justice should be our barometer because it was the objective of his ministry. While we maintain our relationship with God in our journey, let us be attentive to the people who live in our world. Pay attention to our local and global neighbors, and recognize the poor and the marginalized we should be serving, following the examples of Jesus. Let’s make the ministry of love and social justice our objectives as the church. Let us take care of other members of this global body by taking care of the marginalized for whom the reign of God was proclaimed. Since these days, we as the church and as the town of Kimberley are working to bring refugees to our community, let us do more to support this project and save lives. We are at the beginning of a Christian journey according to the Christian year; let’s make this a good one in the sight of God. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim