This week and next week, we’re going to be looking at two halves of the same story—this week, we’re focusing on who Jesus is and what his mission was and is here on earth. Next week, we’ll hear how the people who knew him best—his hometown crowd—reacted to him.

Just before this, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness, and then faced temptations of grand proportions: fame, fortune, power. He fell for none of them, though, and instead, begins what he was sent to do.

Scripture: Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

 When 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, 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,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

And 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. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

This is not Jesus’ first time in the synagogue. Each man in the community had the opportunity to read the Scriptures aloud on the Sabbath and comment on them, not unlike what I’m doing right now. He had likely been doing this every Saturday for years. But there’s something different about this time. There is anticipation in the air.

He stands up to read, and he’s handed the scroll of Isaiah. He chooses this passage, reads aloud, and hands the scroll back to the synagogue attendant. He sits down to teach, and they’re all staring, waiting.

“Today,” he says, “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke places this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because this is the lens though which he wants us to see Jesus. This is the center of who he is, and the plumb line he will follow for the rest of his life. This moment in Jesus’ hometown, where he is first embraced and then rejected, where he announces what the Spirit is calling him to do and who he will be—this single narrative is the framework for all of Luke’s gospel.

These few verses of Isaiah are the ones Jesus claims as his earthly mission—to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

This is not a sermon, where someone who has studied Scripture examines part of it and thinks out loud about what it might mean for the people gathered. This is an announcement. It’s the ancient equivalent of a press conference. It’s a proclamation that things are about to change, so watch out. In this particular person, in this moment in a Galilean synagogue, with this word, a divine future is dawning—today.

Jesus is on a mission, and this is it.

And out of the entire Hebrew Bible, the fact that Jesus chose this verse to explain what he was doing here has two particular implications for us:

First, this tells us that Jesus became human not only to die and rise for us, but to show us how to live.  

Second, Jesus’ presence is not just about individual faith or a someday salvation—it’s about making the world a better place. Some call this ‘social justice’ or ‘the social gospel.’ I prefer to call it ‘following Jesus.’

As one commentator puts it: “insofar as we measure our lives against this, we are following Jesus’ ministry.”

Last weekend, when I had a captive audience with the elders and deacons at our Leadership Retreat, I asked each of them to do an exercise that helps us define our core values – the things that are most important to us. It’s an exercise that’s not so much about what we do, but how we do it.

My three core values, the things that define who I am and how I live in the world, are compassion, curiosity, and connection. I don’t think any of you will be surprised by that—and that’s exactly the point. Those three things are at the core of who I am, and I do my best to live out of that.

But each elder and deacon in that room had different core values: one person named responsibility as one of their core values, someone else named flexibility, another person said empathy.

The Holy Spirit has gifted each of us with particular gifts, and guides us towards these particular ways of being in the world—for the sake of the world, and for the sake of the gospel. Some of us will value justice, some acceptance, some grace, some honesty, some kindness. All of us will have a different combination of core values, and that is right and good. But the better we are at articulating those values, the closer we will get to knowing what it is God is calling us to do with them—not just as individuals, but as a community.

Our core values offer us a center to work from – a way to filter when to say yes and when to say no, to prioritize our lives and our ministries. That center will determine how our faith is lived out—or not lived out.

Many of you know that I was originally ordained by a different Christian denomination—a cousin of sorts to the Presbyterian church—called the Reformed Church in America. At my ordination, after I answered all of the questions and knelt for the ordination prayer (in a dress, by the way, without a kneeling bench) I was asked to read aloud from a document called the ‘Declaration for Ministers,’ which summarizes all of those promises.

I want to read for you the part of that declaration that I’ve come back to over and over and over again in the years since:

“Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life to preach and teach the good news of salvation in Christ, to build up and equip the Church for mission in the world, to free the enslaved, to relieve the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted, and to walk humbly with God.”[1]

Everything I do as your pastor and as a person walking around in the world revolves around that promise. From fighting with technology to advocating for just systems to sitting in meetings and in hospital rooms to preaching and teaching and praying—it’s all there. That is my mission. Thankfully, I didn’t have to come up with it on my own, because that’s way more articulate than I probably would’ve gotten.

Jesus’ mission is right in front of us, and we can see the ways he acted on it in his life and his teaching: feeding the hungry, blessing those who were hungry for God’s presence, forgiving those in need of grace and proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near.

Now the question is: what’s your mission? What’s at the center of your faith, and how is that lived out?

I can’t give you that answer, but we can help you find it. That’s part of what we’re doing here—loving one another into the best versions of ourselves, for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I want to leave you today with a quote that hangs on my living room wall at the manse, from Saint Therese of Lisieux. She says:

“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

[1] RCA Declaration for Ministers.