My 91-year-old mother lives in Portland, OR, in a small retirement home just outside the city. She’s lived in Portland since 1992 and moved there to be close to a sister and brother-in-law, now both deceased. She really has no one left out there and since I am her last living child, I am responsible for her welfare. She has very few needs and rarely asks for anything and when she does, it’s modest.
This week I received a text from her, yes, she has an iPhone, and she asked me to send her a copy of Michelle Obama’s new book, “Becoming,” which Amazon delivered to her on Friday. She’s an avid reader and will likely finish the book before I finish preaching this sermon! We’ll have a phone call soon and she’ll give me her synopsis and assessment of the book. She’s a big fan of the Obama’s so I’m fairly certain it’ll be positive!
I’ll ask her, though, before we go too far into the weeds of the book, to give me the gist in one sentence. Mr. Holt, my 8th grade English teacher, required this of us his students and it became a habit in my family.
It’s a powerful exercise.
What’s Inherit the Wind about in one sentence? In the 1920s, Tennessee schoolteacher Bertram Cates is put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibits public school teachers from teaching evolution instead of creationism.
What’s Charlotte’s Web about in one sentence? The story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte, who, when Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered, writes messages in her web praising Wilbur to persuade the farmer to let him live.
Last one: What’s the Bible about in one sentence?
This is often an opening exercise in Bible studies. Capture the meaning of the Bible in one sentence. So often folks want to know if they should focus on Hebrew or Christian scriptures, or drill it down to one book. Nope. The whole thing. All 66 books. All 31,102 verses. What’s the one story of the Bible?
Here’s my take: The Bible is the story of God’s relentless quest to be in relationship with humanity.
Scholars say that about this section of Luke we read this morning. It’s referred to as the “key note” of the entire ministry of Jesus, the perspective from which the entire can be understood; the center of the Gospel; the overarching theological criterion. What we take as the heart of the Gospel will be the central shaping force of our faith.
“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.”
That’s a lot of Bible jargon – and it begs the question, “what’s Jesus trying to say?”
Not unlike the Hebrew prophets, Jesus is unimpressed with ceremonial displays, of pseudo-righteousness, of grandstanding, and is only interested in acts of compassion and social justice. It’s been said that Jesus replaced an “Ethic of Legalism” with an “Ethic of Compassion.” In short, Jesus sees himself as an “agent of mercy to the downtrodden.”
So, if that’s the center of the Gospel – then it must be the center of the church – and don’t miss what else must be at the heart of the church: the Spirit. Jesus isn’t in this alone – something Luke makes very clear – Jesus is always accompanied and empowered by the Holy Spirit! It’s that power and energy, dunamis, that informs and fuels his baptism, his foray into the desert and temptation, and what compelled him to preach in Nazareth.
We ask, on occasion, “how are we doing as a church?” Maybe what we should be asking is, “As a church, what are we doing for God and God’s people?”
Jesus’ mission was simply this: Filled with the dunamis of the Holy Spirit, he was anointed to bring good news to the poor!
Do we know our mission so clearly? Put another way, what’s the one sentence about First & Central?
Turn a few pages ahead in your bulletin to a page with the heading of:
THE MISSION STATEMENT OF FIRST & CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
First & Central Presbyterian Church is a diverse, accepting, and open-minded Christian community growing to meet the challenges of our city.
The Mission of First & Central Presbyterian Church is to proclaim the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ by:
- Ministering enthusiastically and compassionately to individual, congregational, and community needs;
- Fostering spiritual, ecumenical, and intellectual growth;
- Practicing stewardship of our church, our community, and our world.
THE VISION STATEMENT OF
FIRST & CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
At First & Central Presbyterian Church, we continually strive to become a church that:
- Welcomes without limits
- Supports, affirms and loves all people
- Uses our resources in service to the community
- Demonstrates our commitment to compassion and justice
- Nurtures growth and development of children, youth and adults
- Provides a sanctuary from life’s trials and tribulations for the renewal of our spirits, and;
- Offers an oasis in the city that emphasizes service and ministry to city dwellers and downtown workers
Using Christ as our guide, our worship, music and other programs provide us with the faith and inspiration to reach out and help others in need. We are committed to continual spiritual growth and ever deepening understanding of God’s will for ourselves, our church and our global community. We work and pray daily to make our vision a reality.
The hope is that by focusing on what God is calling First & Central to be and do that the congregation will be able to set goals and direction for the foreseeable future – some of which may be very similar to what we just read and are doing, while others may be new and emerging.
As we all know too well – there are huge problems and frustrations in our country – from ego-driven confusion in the Oval Office to ego-driven politicking in Congress – we can’t do much about that other than lament, pray, advocate, and vote. But we can do much in our immediate context. We can do much in our context when we yield to the dunamis of the Spirit and, like Jesus, seek to be agents of mercy to the downtrodden and counter the complete lack of ethics in the executive branch of our government by practicing an ethic of compassion on our corner of Wilmington.
So…the one sentence about this church?
Our tagline is good: A church without walls that welcomes without limits – but that’s not enough. How about…
First & Central is a diverse, accepting, and open-minded Christian community growing to meet the challenges of the city by ministering enthusiastically and compassionately to individual, congregational, and community needs.
Here’s your homework: What’s the one sentence of your life?
Amen and amen!