"Ministry in the Moment"

Date Sunday January 27, 2019
Service Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text Luke 4:14-21
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "The Baptized Step Out in Faith"
Next Sermon "Love, Walls and the Christian’s Conundrum"

     Some people excel at living in the moment. I am not one of them. Those who live in the moment focus on what’s happening right now. If they are talking with someone, that individual has their full attention and feels heard. If they are taking a walk, they notice the color of the sky, the snow crunching under their feet and changes in the landscape since last passing that way. Or, if they are eating a snack, the plump raisins and chewy texture of the cookie is not overlooked.

     When someone is not in the moment, he or she is focused on yesterday’s challenge or what’s on the calendar for tomorrow or events that could or should be happening in the future and miss out on helping somone feel special, or the fact that creation is awe-inspiring or that a cookie really was worth the calories.

     I confess that the calendar and future planning keep me out of the moment; I like my lists and feel more secure if I plan, and those things can be positive, BUT they also may cause me to miss the here and now, which could end up being what’s truly significant.

     That’s certainly true of what happened “in the moment” in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is in his hometown, Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath and Jesus was that day’s speaker (teacher) in the synagogue. It wasn’t uncommon for someone who was not a formal religious authority to assume that role. Having been handed the scroll he read from the Prophet Isaiah: “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.” Then, he interpreted what he read.

     As Dr. Diana Butler Bass points out, there were a number of things Jesus could have addressed. He might have talked about the trials of that the time, the Roman occupation, the oppression of the empire. He could have reviewed the past and spoken about the ancestors’ vision of a world of justice, freedom and healing, promised in God’s covenant with Moses. Or, he might have elaborated on the future and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. “How we long for that glorious day”, he could have said, “How slow it is in coming!” (1)

     But Jesus does none of that; instead he lived in the moment proclaiming, “TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just think of that: TODAY ... in this MOMENT .... at this TIME ... THIS scripture is fulfilled.

     You know, it’s tempting, especially in the church, to look back with nostalgia at “the good old days” or to focus on what could or should be in the future. I learned this week that that's not just a phnomena of the church.

     I serve on the Board of St. Luke/Portage Lakes which provides nursing care and an assisted living residence. One morning this week we were interviewing candidates for a new administrator and a question that the CEO asked each one was how, as administrator, that individual would bring about a change in the culture of that setting. In between people I asked about the reason for that question. It turns out that this is a concern in a long-established facility like St. Luke because, while long-term employees are a blessing, they also have the tendency to say “this is the way we’ve always done it” even when change is a positive thing. I told him I know nothing about that sort of situation – HA!

     The fact is that embracing today is somewhat threatening because it means we are directly involved. So, back to the Gospel reading; in a sense, what Jesus was saying that day was, “Today is the day it all comes true.” The good news is brought to the poor, the captives are released, the blind see and the oppressed go free. In other words, those who are not powerful, the discarded, the forgotten and ignored people are now claimed, loved and cared for by and through Jesus. Jesus is proclaiming his mission; it’s for NOW, he said.

     And, that’s still true. And, we are directly involved. Pastor Janet Hunt raises this question in her blog on this passage: What if each day, one day at a time, our individual and collective energies were directed to that which Jesus proclaimed 2000+ years ago is now a reality? (2)

     Let’s go through the list again:

     Bring good news to the poor. Did you know that 25 percent of people living in Akron have incomes below the poverty line?

    Proclaim release to the captives. Drug and alcohol addictions hold people captive, not just the addicted person, but their loved ones. Did you know that in 2017, 2,300 people in Summit County came to emergency rooms due to overdosing and 270 died?

     Offer recovery of sight to the blind.Did you know that 8.2 million people in the world are going blind when a simple surgical procedure could prevent it?

    Let the oppressed go free. Racism is still at the root of much of the poverty, violence, and illness in our country and the world.

     Each of these statements are realities today, and we have opportunities to address them. Yesterday our first group of volunteers went to help at the DLM Food and Resources Ministry at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron; there were 18 of them - 18! That's great when you consider that it was a rather last-minute situation and Bob, our Outreach Director, only contacted 20-some people, those who said they were available on Saturdays.

     They were trained about the ministry and then helped clients collect food, served lunch, worked in the clothing room and accomplished tasks that there had not previously been enough people to do. In addition, they took bags of clothing and winter wear that had been collected from FLC. One of the regular workers was heard saying, "Faith Lutheran Church is the bomb!" I guess we can take that as a good sign!

     Here's the most important information, though: 38 families were served, 22 of which were new the the DLM ministry. There were 134 people, of whom 61 were children, 65 were adults and 8 were seniors. Their graciousness touches the hearts of all who served. We will be at the DLM Food and Resource ministry on the fourth Saturday of each month; the next date is February 23; be sure to sign-up to help! 

     So, today let’s consider this: what if every church mission statement, including the one that is being developed as we speak for our congregation kepts us in the moment and began with this word: TODAY! Here’s an example using Holy Trinity’s mission statement (which is impressive in its directness, which is why I like it.): “TODAY, Praising, TODAY Loving, TODAY Serving, in Jesus’ name.”

     TODAY! Let’s do ministry in the moment. AMEN


(1)   “The Power of Today” by Dr. Diana Butler Bass, Luke 4:14-21, January 24, 2016, www.day1.org

(2)   “Today” by Janet Hunt, Luke 4:14-21, www.dancingwiththeword.com