Mission Statement 01/27/19 (Epiphany 3C)

MISSION STATEMENT
REV. HEATHER M. HINTON
Texts: Psalm 19; Luke 4:14-21
January 27, 2019
Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C)

We must all efficiently
Operationalize our strategies
Invest in world-class technology
And leverage our core competencies
In order to holistically administrate
Exceptional synergy.

Those aren’t my words. They’re the opening lines to singer and satirist “Weird Al” Yancovic’s 2014 song, “Mission Statement.” Perfectly mimicking Crosby, Stills and Nash’s folk-rock style, Weird Al pokes fun at modern mumbo-jumbo corporate jargon. In the video, he sings impenetrable lyrics while an animated white board illustrates whatever the heck it is that he’s supposedly saying.

“I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life,” Yankovic said. [1]

And he does it so well.

Transitioning our company
By awareness of functionality
Promoting viability
Providing our supply chain with diversity
We will distill our identity
Through client-centric solutions and synergy.

How’s that for a vague but important-sounding yet meaningless mission statement?

People often claim that they don’t read the Bible because it’s confusing. And you know what? That’s true. It is. Or, at least, lots of it is. But not Jesus’ mission statement. Unlike so many modern corporate nonsensical mission statements, Jesus’ declaration of purpose is clear and vivid, and today we get to listen in as he reads it straight out of his (and our) holy scripture.

He stands up to read (as was expected), and the attendant hands him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads 62:1-2a:

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 Jesus sits down and everyone looks at him with expectation: this is the time for the teacher to teach. And he begins by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is not vague, meaningless, mumbo-jumbo jargon. This is a very clear, concise, powerful mission statement.

Bring good news to the poor.
Release the captives.
Recover the sight of the blind.
Free the oppressed.
Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Oh, it’s clear and concise, but there is so much to unpack there.

Who are the poor? Well, we live in the richest nation in the world, but every year hundreds of thousands of people die from man-made conditions of poverty and suffering, millions are denied access to affordable healthcare, millions live in vast “food deserts” where fresh food is hard to find and too expensive to purchase, and millions must choose between buying their own medication or buying food for their kids. Millions. In this country alone.

And millions more live dangerously close to the edge of poverty. Or think about the 800,000 government workers who missed two paychecks in the last 35 days, who will have to wait to be paid for the time they worked. A huge percentage of those folks make barely enough to live on as it is; two missed paychecks is no small thing to be scoffed at and dismissed out of hand. Not to mention the over 40,000 people who depend on SNAP food assistance – which the government has not decided how to fund beginning in March.

Who are the poor? Certainly they are among us.

What would good news look like for the poor? Or taste like? If you are poor – financially or in spirit – what is it you need most? What would good news sound like for you?

What about proclaiming release to the captives? Was Jesus going around opening jail cells? Is that what he expects us to do too?

Not really. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the captives referred to are probably debtors in prison for nonpayment. People got into debt for all kinds of reasons, just as they do today. And for many of them, debt had dire consequences. They often couldn’t repay their debts and were either forced into work for their creditor until the debt was deemed paid, or they wound up in prison. Release from prison depended upon their relatives paying a “ransom,” either by paying the debt themselves or selling the debtor’s property to do so. Either way, the debtor left prison even more poor than they were when they went in. [2]

Just like those 1st century debtors, many of today’s convicts come out of prison only to discover that they are still locked into a cycle of poverty. According to scholar Michelle Alexander, “nearly every state allows private employers to discriminate on the basis of past criminal convictions. In fact, employers in most states can deny jobs to people who were arrested but never convicted of any crime.” [3]

In addition to the extreme difficulty of finding work,

Upon release from prison [writes Alexander] people are typically saddled with large debts – financial shackles that hobble them as they struggle to build a new life…

Throughout the United States, newly released prisoners are required to make payments to a host of agencies, including probation departments, courts, and child-support enforcement offices. In some jurisdictions, ex-offenders are billed for drug testing and even for the drug treatment they are supposed to receive as a condition of parole. [4]

The list of pre-conviction and post-conviction fees listed by Alexander is astonishing, and I won’t list them all here. Suffice it to say: even after the “debt to society” has been paid, most former convicts remain tightly imprisoned in a jail of debt – a jail that seems to have no key.

Or consider the 250,000 Americans who filed personal bankruptcy last year. [5]  And how many people are crushed by student loans – loans they had to take in order to earn degrees that would allow them to get jobs that still wouldn’t be enough to pay back those loans? And how many Americans are drowning in credit card debt? Some estimates state that roughly 38% of American households live under the weight of revolving credit card debt. [6]

So who are the captives in our day? What would release look like for them? What would it feel like? If you are captive – imprisoned by financial debt or perhaps by some other shackles – what would release feel like to you?

Do you see what I mean when I say that Jesus’ mission statement is concise but there’s a lot to unpack? We could go on. Who are the blind, and what would recovery of sight mean? In what ways is your own vision – literal, imaginative, spiritual – hampered? What would it feel like to really see?

Who are the oppressed? Are we doing everything we can to free them from their bondage? Have we allowed our blind eyes to be opened so that we can see who the oppressed are, and understand the nature of their oppression?

And yet Jesus’ mission is clear: release the captives; recover the sight of the blind; free the oppressed; proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – that is, the Jubilee year, the year commanded by scripture which is to come every 50 years. The Jubilee is, according to Leviticus, the year when slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. That is the year that God celebrates and longs for and wants us to honor.

These texts come to us on the Sunday after we observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He, too, considered them and wondered what meaning they held for him and his parishioners in 1966. I offer to you two excerpts from his sermon entitled “Guidelines for a Constructive Church.”

This morning I would like to submit to you that we who are followers of Jesus Christ, and we who must keep his church going and keep it alive, also have certain basic guidelines to follow. Somewhere behind the dim mist of eternity, God set forth his guidelines. And through his prophets, and above all through his son Jesus Christ, he said that, “There are some things that my church must do. There are some guidelines that my church must follow.”…The guidelines are clearly set forth for us in some words uttered by our Lord and Master as he went in the temple one day, and he went back to Isaiah and quoted from him. And he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

…And then the church, if it is true to its guidelines, must preach the acceptable year of the Lord. You know the acceptable year of the Lord is the year that is acceptable to God because it fulfills the demands of his kingdom…I say to you this morning that the acceptable year of the Lord can be this year. And the church is called to preach it.

The acceptable year of the Lord is any year when men decide to do right.

To do right. Not put together a bunch of fancy-sounding but ultimately meaningless words that no one understands, let alone lives into. And to be clear: it’s not just the corporate world that resorts to empty mission statements; lots of churches do too.

But Jesus’ mission is the church’s mission. It’s your mission and it’s my mission; it’s what we agreed to when we were baptized or confirmed; it’s what we commit to when we pray “thy kingdom come”; and it’s what we’re fueled for by the bread and cup.

Jesus’ mission statement is our mission statement too. It’s about actively fulfilling God’s law. And here at 2CC we’re already working on just that! Next week at Annual Meeting we’ll see all of the ways in which we are already concretely and actively living out Jesus’ mission statement, and we’ll celebrate those activities and ministries. And then we will ponder, too, how we might continue to work for God’s kingdom and make this the year of God’s favor.

Psalm 19, which Neil and I read and which the choir so beautifully sang, gives us all kinds of words for God’s law – or, as King put it, the guidelines for the church: law; decrees; precepts; commandment; ordinances. That law is the mission of the church, and it is declared by Jesus that day in the synagogue in Nazareth.

And as we’ve seen, the work of the church, the mission of God, is hard and it’s long. But it is also a source of joy. The psalmist can hardly restrain himself when telling us what the law does: it revives the soul; makes the simple become wise; it rejoices the heart and enlightens the eyes. Indeed, the ways of God are more desired than gold, even much fine gold; they are sweeter than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb.

For that, we can join with all of heaven, telling the glory of God and rejoicing in all that God has made. As we do so, we can work for the kingdom of God, that time and place and state of being where all have enough to flourish. And we can do that work, we can live out that mission statement, with gladness of heart.

Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Ryan Reed, “Weird Al Takes on Crosby, Stills, & Nash for ‘Mission Statement’ video.” Rolling Stone, 21 July 2014.

[1] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, “Debt.” Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. p. 349.

[1] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. p. 149.

[1] Alexander, p. 154-5.

[1] https://www.abi.org/newsroom/bankruptcy-statistics

[1] https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-debt-statistics-1276.php

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