Sermon For January 27, 2013

Luke 4:14-21


Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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ClassificationLivingThingsWhen we were young and in school, we learned a lot about our world.  One of the things we learned was that there are different categories that things in creation fell into, such as plants, animals, and minerals.  And underneath each of these headings there were subdivisions.  For example when we look at plants, we can name algae, flowering plants, conifers, ferns and mosses and more.  Same with the animal world.  I won’t go into all the technical names (I don’t know them!), but generally we learned there were birds and insects, mammals and reptiles, and an amazing assortment of things that look, for all intents and purposes, as something from another planet that are somehow still related to us humans!

Rose, photo by Allen V. Harris

Rose, photo by Allen V. Harris

Aristotle was the first person to officially divide the living world up in this sort of way.  Later, Carolus Linnaeus, in the 18th century, became much more intentional about this work, especially in looking at the two great kingdoms, Animalia and Plantae (originally called Vegetibilia).  Now, I am no scientist, but I cannot help but wonder how these scientists, and so many after them, decided which creature or thing went where and under what classification?  It took an awful lot of thought as to what made this different from that!  For example, an early designation, long since rejected, held that if it moved, it was an animal; if it stayed put, it was a plant!

And that has been our lot ever since, asking the question “How does this differ from that?”  It isn’t such a bad question.  Now, you might be thinking it strange for a pastor of a congregation so committed to unity, hospitality, inclusiveness, and diversity, where we look more for what we have in common than what separates us, to be talking about things that differentiate, and therefore divide us.  But stick with me for just a moment.  Let me ask you the question, what makes us human?  What is so different about us that makes homo sapiens different from the rest of the animalia kingdom?

[relatively large brain, bipedal, abstract reasoning/symbolic communication, use of tools, social norms/culture, desire to manipulate the environment…]

Leonardo da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man (c. 1485) Accademia, Venice

Leonardo da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man (c. 1485) Accademia, Venice

So, I think it is safe to say that we would acknowledge all of us here sitting in these pews are human, barring some grave disagreement you may have with another church member – God forbid!  Now, here’s the point to which this long quasi-scientific introduction has brought us: Given that we are all human, what makes you different and unique from other humans?  What set of characteristics, experiences, and skills do you have that make us singular, matchless, distinctive, exceptional?  I want you to really think about this.  Start with the easy things: height, weight, skin color, eye and hair color, age.  Then think about your life experiences, such as where you born, your family structure, your education and jobs you’ve had.  Now ponder the deeper things, such as the great joys of your life, and the great sorrows, the wisdom you have learned, the mistakes you’ve made and the successes you’ve accomplished.  Finally, think about your unique set of skills, talents, perspectives, gifts, and graces.

When you chart all of that, and more, each and every one of us are amazingly different from every other human that is living, has lived, or ever will live.  Given all these factors, you are even more unique than your own fingerprint.  Out of this comes the question:  What are you gonna do with it?  What do you think God is calling you to do, be, think, experience?

Yes, you are going to breath. Yes, you are going to think.  Yes, you are going to eat, pee, and poop.  I’m not asking you what we all already know!  I’m asking what are YOU, amazingly unique and wondrously irreplaceable YOU, gonna do with what God has given you and you have managed?

Jesus answered this question in our scripture today.  He, being profoundly grounded in holy scripture, pulled from the book of the prophet Isaiah what he saw as his own unique statement of mission and ministry.

Christ in the Synagogue . Ge, N. N. (Nikolaĭ Nikolaevich), 1831-1894

Christ in the Synagogue .
Ge, N. N. (Nikolaĭ Nikolaevich), 1831-1894

“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.”

I like the way Rob Lacey says it in his earthy, street smart version of the Bible, The Word On The Street:

The Holy Spirit of God is coursing through every part of me.  He’s commissioned me to announce the breaking news – top news for the poor: He’s sent me to mend broken hearts, to liberate those slammed in dark prisons, to announce the news – that this is the era of God going gentle on his people. (p. 272)

Jesus understood that as a person of faith there was much that identified him as such… worshiping God, doing good, praying.  He knew these things, and everyone knew he knew these things.  But when the moment came, early in his career, for him to clarify what his unique purpose and mission was… he planted it solidly in a rare set of emphases: bring hope to the poor, self-determination to those held captive, healing to the hurt and hurting, freedom to those bound, and to preach in such a way that folks knew that God was with them, and not against them.

This self-understanding didn’t come out of nowhere.  In fact, Jesus’ profound awareness of what he was called to do in life was born from an immersion in scripture and in passionate conversation with others who cared about the power of the biblical text.  He chose a selection from Isaiah 61 after having known, meditated upon, and vigorously debated the entirety of scripture, including the Law and the Prophets.  We would do well in seeking our own understanding of our distinctive mission in this world to have similarly marinated ourselves in scripture!

But this dramatic designation of his Mission Statement, if you will, likewise drew from much more recent strains of self-awareness and personal revelation.  Can we remember not too long ago another person singing the song she had discerned as God’s call touched her life:

Magnificat, artist unknown

Magnificat, artist unknown

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Of course!  The proclamation Jesus makes about himself in the synagogue after reading from Isaiah echoes so very much the Magnificat his mother, Mary, prayed after learning she was with child!  Jesus drew on both scripture AND his own family’s sense of purpose in order to help determine his distinctive vocation in life.

In the coming year we are going to hear a lot about discerning God’s Vision for this congregation for the coming decade.  At it’s January 13 meeting the Official Church Board commissioned the creation of a New Visioning Team, which is being called as we speak.  They are not going to be called to decide what a church is supposed to be and do, any more than we as individuals are expected to decide what a human is supposed to be and do.  We know what Church is!  What we don’t know is what is the unique and urgent calling for what Franklin Circle Christian Church, on the corner of Fulton Rd. and Franklin Boulevard, is called to do and to be in 2014 and beyond!

As this team gets formed and begins its work, every single one of us will have our own work cut out for us.  Perhaps this presents itself as the right time for you, personally, to assess your mission in life.  Who and what is God calling you to right now?  How does that flow from your understanding of scripture and your own people’s history?  But you will also be asked, really at every step along the way, to help the team craft a visionary document that will help the leaders of this church to make real decisions.  This New Vision will guide everything from how budgets are crafted to what staff we will need for the coming decade.  It will help us in deciding how much money, time, and passion to spend on buildings, programs, and investments.  Your perspective is not just requested, it will be required.  This cannot be just my vision as your pastor, nor can it be simply the views of a small group of elites, no matter how faithful they are.  If it is going to work, this process is going to have to be our understanding of God’s vision for this church, this community, in this time.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????We need to focus.  Yes, it may feel a little odd at times, like a scientist trying to pick apart the differences between an octopus, a dandelion, a protozoa, and a volcano.  But we will need to look at our differences, our uniqueness, our particularities in order for us to see what it is that makes this community of faith so unique that no other community can do what we are called to do unless we do it!  That is what brings unity and wholeness, when each part of the whole understands and lives out its singular place in the grand scheme of things.  And each of us will at the same time focus on what makes us as individuals so wondrously exceptional that if we set ourselves to being and doing exactly who God calls us to be and do, the world will be a much better place and the Beloved Community of God will come ever more quickly for our having done our part.

Won’t you join me in this quest?