This past Monday President Barak Obama delivered his second inaugural address. This is an event that happens every four years. And it is in these addresses to the nation that – whoever it is that is the president – tells us what his – and someday I do believe that I will be able to say his or her – but for now – tells us his vision for the next four years for our country.
So let’s do a little presidential trivia here. See if you can guess who gave the inaugural address that contained the following. Use your playground voice to shout it out – and quite frankly – you history buffs are going to recognize these right away. Here’s the first one:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” - Abraham Lincoln, 1865.
“This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” - John F Kennedy, 1960.
Okay, yeah, those were softballs. How about this one?
“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.”
Yes, you’re right. That wasn’t any of our presidents. That was Jesus – quoting the prophet Isaiah. Last week I told you that when Jesus turned water into wine, it was the first of his miracles. And I said that we might think of that event as his inauguration – or the beginning of his public ministry. Today's reading from Luke’s Gospel we might think of as his inauguration speech.
And just like the presidents’ inauguration speeches lay out a vision that a president will have for our nation – I want you to see that in Jesus’ inauguration speech – he lays out a vision for his ministry – a vision for people who – well – for people who know their need for God.
I hope that when you hear these words of Jesus – I hope that you do indeed hear them as Good News. Because that is what they are. Good News for you and me.
Listen again. “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.”
Now – if you hear what I’m hearing – you’ll hear that this is Good News for you. It’s Good News for the poor – release for those who are captive – sight to those who are blind – freedom to those who are oppressed.
SO how do you hear those words today? On the one hand, there isn’t a one of us who can’t use – who doesn’t need – to hear Good News. On the other hand – if you’re in a situation where you don’t need any Good News today, well then, perhaps you won’t need to hear what Jesus has to say today. But – I gotta tell ya – I don’t know anybody who has enough Good News, do you?
So whether you consider yourself poor – or not. Whether you are captive to something – or not. Whether you feel oppressed – or not – these are Good News words from Jesus. And I know that for the most part – for most of us – most of the time – life is good.
But I know that all of us have struggles – I know that you have struggles – with some thing or another at one time or another. I – like many of you – have struggled with finances – especially at those times of my life when I was living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes we struggle with health issues. Or relationships. I suspect that we’ve all had to struggle with difficult people in our lives at one time or another.
You’ve heard me say this before. When you ask most people how they’re doing – the most common answer is, “Oh, I’m fine. Just fine.” I have come to learn that when people say they’re doing fine – they’re not doing fine.
We are under so much pressure – from ourselves – from our relatives – form our teachers – from our bosses – from the culture at large – to put up this front that says everything’s fine – just fine. We want the whole world to know that we’ve got it all together. When in reality – there are those times – sometimes – when we just don’t.
In fact, I think we try to convince ourselves that everything is just perfect. Except for one thing: the stories we tell ourselves about being perfect, the commercials we pay attention to telling us that we really can have it all, the ads that promise us that if we just purchase this product we’ll never feel insecure again – these are all false. And deep down we know it.
Therefore – the news that Jesus brings us today – is indeed Good News. And it is Good News because it comes to us at those times in our lives when things are going well – yes – but it is especially Good News precisely at those times when things aren’t going so well – and we know it. Even when we say things are fine – but they’re not.
In fact allow me to suggest that sometimes it might even feel to you as though God has abandoned you. The way I hear it, it usually sounds like this, “How could God let this happen?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” To that first question – I don’t always have an answer. To the second one – most often my reply is, “You probably didn’t do anything,” to deserve whatever it is that has happened. Sometimes things just happen that are beyond our control.
But let me tell you that it is precisely at those times – even when if might feel as though God has abandoned you – that the words of Jesus come to us as the Good News that they really are! God does not abandon us.
Let me share with you a story. It’s the story of “…a commencement speech that was addressed to Harvard's Senior Class. On the morning of their graduation, seniors gather in Memorial Church to hear the minister offer words of solace and encouragement as they leave ‘the Yard’ to take their places in the world.
“The 1998 senior class heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible. Doctor Gomes took no prisoners that day.
“He began: ‘You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren't ready to go. The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women and, (and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis) you know just - how - dumb - you - really - are.’
“The senior class cheered in agreement.
“‘And worse than that,’ Doctor Gomes continued, ‘the world – and your parents in particular – are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best. But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That's a fact - no exceptions, no extensions.’
“‘Nevertheless, there is reason to hope,’ Doctor Gomes promised. ‘The future is God's gift to you. God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to ABANDON you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.’”
What Doctor Gomes did for the senior class at Harvard, God in Jesus Christ does for you. No matter how difficult or challenging life may be for you right now – or has been in the past – or perhaps will be in the future – I hope you hear Jesus’ inauguration speech – as Good News for you. God has not brought you to this place to abandon you – or to leave you here alone and afraid.
You see, the Good News of Jesus Christ is all about grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. It’s about mercy – and forgiveness and love. It is help in time of need. And this is not only the Good News that Jesus declares to us – it is the Good News that Jesus brings to us. And it is what this church – this gathering of the Body of Christ at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm Street – it is what we stand for – and what we are all about.
For those who are lonely – or feeling discouraged – I don’t know – just struggling with whatever it is you’re struggling with today – I want you to hear Jesus’ words to you today as Good News. This community of faith in Jesus Christ is committed to being the means by which the Good News of Jesus Christ can somehow make a difference in your life.
It is our job – it is our duty – it is our calling to gather together – as the church – to encourage one another – and to support one another with this Good News. Quite frankly – it’s why church matters.
Touching hearts – changing lives – making a difference – in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen