Compassionate Outreach

Luke 4:14-22
Series on Peace’s Goals
Elizabeth M. Deibert

When I came to interview for position of Organizing Pastor of a new church development in the Lakewood Ranch area several years ago, I was handed a video about a local Presbyterian Mission called Beth-El. I had never heard of it, but I was told by the early founders that we would be involved there. And not long after starting worship, Peace began to collect food and school supplies and angel tree gifts for Beth-El families. When I came here, SW Florida was still reeling from Hurricane Charley and then Katrina hit and the nation turned toward New Orleans and the little church called Peace with no more than forty participants, began spending one Saturday each month in Arcadia rebuilding houses. That was after spending several months working on Habitat houses.

But when we went to Mr. McIver’s house in Arcadia, it was big moment for Peace because we knew the repair of that house was all up to us, unlike at Habitat where many others were involved. And we developed an authentic relationship with Mr. McIver and we wanted him to have sturdy walls and windows with glass and a functional kitchen and bathroom. And we wanted him to know that the love of Jesus Christ was what inspired us to help him. We would not ask him a lot of questions about his faith, but we wanted to share ours by word and by deed. A couple of years later, we would begin to make our weekly trips to bag food at Beth-El and our quarterly weeks of hosting homeless children and their parents through Family Promise, serving primarily at Westminster Presbyterian. We would grow in our sensitivity to the endless struggle of poor families to dig out of poverty and find some stability and hope.

Meanwhile we would be inviting our neighbors to make Halloween donations of real food for the hungry. We would host Peace in the Park, a ministry of peacemaking for elementary school children, held once or twice each year. We would deliver postcards of welcome to Christmas and Easter services to our friends and neighbors. We would go to the Main Street Snowman Night to carol and pass out bells with invitations to worship the Prince of Peace. We would post signs around the area, encouraging folks to worship with us and sending them the simple message: Peace to you! We would be trying to live our lives so full of God’s love, joy, and peace, that folks might wonder, what makes them tick. That’s compassionate outreach (it is mission and evangelism) is our subject for today.

Jesus embodied in himself, the perfect humanity. He was the Word who became flesh. He was God in the most supreme act of compassionate outreach in the history of creation. He was the Deed and the Word rolled into one. You can see in the first words of proclamation, that Jesus came to announce good news and be good news for those in need.

Hear the Gospel of Compassionate Outreach in Jesus’ words in Luke:

Luke 4:14-22

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee,

and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 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:

18 "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,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20 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.

21 Then he began to say to them,

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed

at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

(NRSV)

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit. First fourteen says it and then Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” That’s the first point is that being filled with Holy Spirit is crucial to having a compassionate heart and a desire to reach out. One weakness of the Presbyterian Church historically is that we named ourselves the “frozen chosen” to describe how uptight we were about the Holy Spirit. Now Holy Spirit does not just mean we are emotionally driven in worship to clap our hands and greet one another affectionately. To be filled with Holy Spirit means to have the fruits of the Spirit in you – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This takes some devotion, some work on your part.

First of all, you need to know what the fruits are…say them after me. Love, joy, peace/ patience, kindness, generosity/ faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. Secondly, you have to spend time building these in your lives. I’ve been sorely lacking in fruits of the spirit lately. Funny enough, when one goes, they all seem to go. I got myself over-worked and over-wrought in the process of this move, and little-by-little bad attitude, impatience and irritability with people starting creeping into my life. Instead of valuing people for their uniqueness, I was dwelling on every little thing in them that bugged me. This includes many of you, I’m sorry to confess. So in the last week, I made a new commitment to pray more and read Benedict’s Rule, as interpreted by Sister Joan Chittister. I am trying to stop criticizing people, stop dwelling on negative thoughts, and be renewed in God’s love for myself and others. I’ll never perfect a life in the Spirit, but I will not stop trying.

Secondly, Jesus’ words captivate people. He is healing people, but also speaking the truth about God, the good news. They are amazed not just at what he does, as we see in so many Gospel narratives, but they are surprised at what he says. He began to teach and was praised by everyone. He knows the Hebrew Scriptures and gives them a new interpretation. If we are to share good news, to teach people about the love of God, we need to be acquainted with the Holy Word, just as much as we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Spirit without Word is dangerous. It is power untamed by truth. Jesus impressed people with what he knew, but what impressed them most was the grace with which he spoke. He was not puffed up with knowledge but used his knowledge to impart the truth of God’s loving mercy. They were so amazed, they asked, isn’t this the carpenter, Joseph’s son? And of course, the irony is yes, he is Joseph’s son, but not just Joseph’s. No more importantly, he is the Son of God.

Thirdly, Jesus shows preference to those who are suffering – good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. Those words roll right off my lips and into your ears without our taking notice of how remarkable they are. Stop and think for moment about the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed people of our day. We cannot ignore the ones Jesus puts as top priority in his ministry.

The mission of the church is to bear witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. This mission takes a wide variety of forms, including evangelism, work for social justice, and ministries of care. Yet the center is always the same: Jesus Christ. In every case the church extends mercy and forgiveness to the needy in a way that points finally to him. And who are the needy? As our Study Catechism of 1999 states it: The hungry need bread, the homeless need a roof, the oppressed need justice, and the lonely need fellowship. At the same time – on another and deeper level – the hopeless need hope, sinners need forgiveness, and the world needs the gospel. On this level no one is excluded, and all the needy are one. Our mission as the church is to bring hope to a desperate world by declaring God’s undying love – as one beggar tells another where to find bread.” (#49-51)

Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Its aim was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." It began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta; today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine. (Wikipedia)

I do not need to tell you that this is hard work, messy work, work that few people want to do, but to do this is to be like Jesus – to care for those at the bottom rungs of society. But I would say that it is equally challenging to find creative ways to reach out to people who are repressed by materialism and blinded by worldly success, people who think they have no need of God or certainly no need of an imperfect church.

By the way, when daughter Emily and I were touring Atlanta last Monday night, we saw it. I’ve been looking for a long time and have never seen it before. We saw “The Perfect Church” Yes, that was the name, right across the front face of the church in plain lettering – The Perfect Church. Well, we don’t make such a far-reaching claim about ourselves. We readily acknowledge we are not the perfect church and certainly not the church for everyone, but we are a compassionate church seeking to make God known by growing as disciples, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. Our goal is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with enthusiasm and with respect for persons of differing views, and to embody the lifestyle of Jesus Christ by compassionate service to those in need.

We are reaching out with compassion because we believe the love of God in Jesus Christ needs to be known by all people. Last night at Family Promise, the matriarchs of both families approached Richard and me to say thanks for the support they have received from Peace. They talked about the stability they and their families feel now, having spent a number of months in the program. They feel confident they can make it now as they move out into apartments and self-sufficiency. For them this is the year of the Lord’s favor, a year when they could have ended up on the streets, living out of cars and under bridges, but instead they have been fed, housed, and given second a chance to complete degrees and find employment. Good news.

As I conclude I want to challenge you with the oft-quoted words, attributed to St Francis, “Preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.” Sue Seiter mentioned this at our Ideas for Reaching Out gathering two Sundays ago. It is a great quote. Yet, for our day, when many of us are nervous about speaking about our faith, when some folks think that social justice is the only Gospel we need, I will also quote a modern day Christian writer and editor, Mark Galli, who turns the old phrase around, “Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.” The Gospel is defined by the One who brought it, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. So it’s always both – word and deed, talking and walking, saying and doing, practicing what you preach. Being the light because you have been given the light. Just like the Chilean miners, brought up from the darkness of despair, so are we. So friends, Arise, your light is come, the Spirit’s call obey. Show forth the glory of your God which shines on you today.