Luke 4: 1430
July 27, 2014
Rev. Grant Lowe
In the little village of Nazareth an old woman who has just finished her
breakfast is standing looking out her window as she wipes her hands on her
apron, and she sees that Jesus boy walking down the alley behind her house
to go play with his friend as he often did. Jesus, the six year old snotty nose
kid, and she hollers out at him “Hey Jesus, wipe your nose of goodness
Did you ever live in a little town like that? Professor James Strange at the
University of south Florida estimates the population of Nazareth at the time
of Jesus was probably less than 500. It’s a village where everybody knows
everybody, and where all the adults share the role of parent to all the kids.
Jesus may have apprenticed with his father to learn to be carpenter, but he
was struggling with what God wanted him to do with his life, and he went
down to the Jordan where his cousin John was preaching, and he listened.
Eventually he was baptized by John, and then wrestled in earnest with his
sense of call and all the temptations to avoid what God is calling him to do.
Then, after spending his time in the desert he taught his new understanding
of the faith in the synagogues around Galilee and then went back to
Nazareth. The elders of the synagogue invite him to be the preacher of the
day at Sabbath services.
As Luke tells the story, the people in Nazareth have heard about him and
they listen with great expectations as he reads from the Isaiah scroll: “The
spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to 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.” At first they were
pretty amazed at his gracious words. “Wow, is this Joe’s boy?” But then
Jesus said the good news is for everyone, that God has an invitation to
radical hospitality, and it extends to all, even nonJews, gentiles. They
thought of themselves as God’s pet, but Jesus said, no, God doesn’t have
pets. He reminded them of the great drought and famine in the time of
Elijah. There were plenty of widows in Israel, yet God sent the prophet Elijah
to none of them but to a foreigner, a widow of Zarephath in Sidon. There
were also many lepers in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them
was cleansed except the Naaman the Syrian.’ Jesus said God cares as
much for gentiles, including Syrians, and Phoenicians, as he does for the
Jews. That’s revolutionary. That’s upsetting. They were upset, angry, mad
enough to kill him, Luke tells us.
Here, at the beginning of his ministry in Luke’s gospel Jesus said he has
good news for the poor. At the end of his ministry in Matthew he says when
you fed the hungry you fed me, when you clothed the naked you clothed me,
when you cared for the sick you cared for me. The good news is that God
cares about people in need, and the better news is that God calls us to serve
God in this ministry. God calls us to make a difference in God’s world, to be
a part of Jesus’ revolution of love and justice.
Many of you have responded to this call in many ways, mostly unknown and
unsung. This congregation has many people reaching out to folks in need in
our community and beyond our shores. We recently heard from a couple of
our young people who travelled to Guatemala and Haiti. This morning I want
to mention just a couple of ways we can make a difference.
(BETHEL PICTURES) One way we respond to this call is the BethEl
ministry to migrant workers which was started by presbyterians in 1976.
Since then it has grown and become a major migrant ministry attracting
attention and support from all over our country, offering counseling, legal
advice, clothing, food and more. The school for migrant children this past
year had the highest FCAT scores of any school in Hillsborough County. Not
easy with migrant children. You can be a tutor there. You can make a
difference. We have a bunch of folks who go there every week to support
the food program. Junie Miller is the lady to talk to if you want to make a
difference this way.
While BethEl is a ministry of compassion, we also deal with the root causes
of poverty. This gets more risky because it means asking questions about
our economic system.
(CIW PICTURES) Today people of many faiths here in Florida have
supported the Coalition of Immokalee workers as we change, the system
that keeps migrant workers impoverished. And we are having success!
90 % of the growers in Florida have agreed to the Fair Food program,
agreeing to provide adequate hygiene in the fields, forbid sexual harassment
as well as physical abuse, and many other protections the rest of us are
used to. A dozen of the largest tomato buyers in the world, including
McDonald's, Burger King, Whole Foods, Aramark, Trader Joe’s, Subway,
Chipotle, Taco Bell, and WalMart have all agreed to buy tomatoes only
from growers who agree to these protections for their workers. Publix has
refused, and we want them to come on board. Wages have increased for
30,000 workers. They receive a penny more for every pound of tomatoes
they pick. The picture shows Walmart representatives John Amaya and Tom
Leech signing the agreement to support the Fair Food Program with
representatives of the CIW.
“This is the best workplacemonitoring program I’ve seen in the U.S.,” said
Janice R. Fine, a labor relations professor at Rutgers. Beau McHan,
Pacific’s harvest manager said, “We’re trying to run a business and make a
profit, yet everyone wants to know they’re changing the world for the better.”
A former New York State judge, Laura Safer Espinoza oversees the
inspection apparatus, which interviews thousands of workers, audits payrolls
and conducts indepth interviews with farm managers. There are lengthy
trainings for crew leaders, and six of them were fired after her team
investigated allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment.
“Supervisors have gotten the message, and we’re seeing far fewer
allegations of harassment than three years ago,” she said. “It is a model for
agriculture across the U.S. If anybody is going to lead the way and teach
people how it’s done, it’s them.” She was with us for our recent march from
Immokalee to Lakeland to appeal to Publix to join in supporting the fair food
program. There Fair Food program has received awards for its effectiveness
by the State Department and the United Nations.
(PICTURE OF POPE FRANCIS) In spite of Jesus words to the contrary,
there are those who question the role of the church of Jesus Christ helping
the poor in any way that calls for change in a system that keeps them poor.
One of those who has called for change is Pope Francis. He is Time’s Man
of the Year but that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" —
every day. As Jim Wallis put it, Francis is just doing his job. The pope is
meant to be a follower of Christ. Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following
Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day,
millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They don’t
attract attention, but they keep following Jesus. Pope Francis is not asking
us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ. Pope Francis reminds us of
Jesus, calling us to a deeper relationship with Christ. Out of that deeper
relationship with Christ we begin to see the world from Christ’s new
perspective, and we find the courage and strength to join Jesus revolution of
love and justice. When he invites homeless men to have breakfast with him
on his 77th birthday, or provides a chair and food for the Swiss Guard
outside his room, he reminds us of Christ. When he kisses the feet of Muslim
prisoners, he reminds us of Christ. When he chooses a simple place to live
and simple clothes to wear and when we hear rumors of his going out at
night in disguise to minister to the homeless, he reminds us of Christ. His
intention is to impress on all the world, Christian and nonChristian alike,
what it means to follow Jesus.
But Christ’s kingdom goes beyond acts of charity; Christ’s Kingdom is meant
to change everything, and Pope Francis reminds us of that. In his recently
published Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), he points to the kingdom
of God, which is more than generous acts of compassion; it is
establishing justice in the world. Let me quote a few sentences which
are worthy of quiet reflection as you consider how Jesus is asking you to
make a difference in God’s world:
“Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to
safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’
to an economic system of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
“Some people continue to assume that a free market, will inevitably succeed
in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion,
expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding
economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic
We dare not give our economic system a sacred value which rightly belongs
only to God.
When pundits Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck called his words “Marxist,”
Pope Francis again offered a Christlike and humorous response, “The
Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are
good people, so I don’t feel offended.” The Pope offers food to the poor and
they call him a saint. He asks ‘Why are hard working people so poor?’ and
they call him a communist. Jesus calls you as his disciple to make a
difference in the world as citizens of Gods kingdom. How will you respond to