Witnessing to the mind, body, and soul

Luke 4:16-21

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

Back when I was a junior in college I started dating the woman who would soon become my wife. The summer between my junior and senior years was quickly approaching and I had lined up an internship near my hometown. The problem was that Sonya would be staying in Columbus, two hours away, working and taking a class over the summer.

            I didn’t need the internship. It was a way to make a little money and build some relationships with people who might be able to help out my career in the future (or so I thought at the time). So one day I went to my advisor, who had helped me line up this internship and I asked him if I needed to stick with my commitment to work at this job or if I could possibly back out. He helped me to think through the details, but he never asked me why I wanted to turn down this internship. So I just blurted out, “I’ve got a girlfriend, Peety.”

            Never before had I even called him by his first name, Pete. I had always called him Dr. Smith. But for some reason, Peety came out of my mouth. And yes, I did apologize.

            Dr. Smith was not offended. He said he had figured it out already.

            When we are young and in love everyone knows it. And sometimes they are made sick by it. You see, there are certain things that happen to us that we just can’t hide and everyone is able to see that something big has happened.

            Today we continue our series on Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan. This week we come to priority number three, which is “Holistic Christian Witness.” If that is a new term to you, don’t worry, you are not alone. When I did a search engine inquiry about Holistic Christian Witness, the first four items that popped up were from Mennonite Church USA. Here we go again, inventing new words and phrasesJ! It seems like the missional thing to do.

            Even if you don’t know the phrase Holistic Christian Witness, I believe that you do know what it is. You just didn’t know what to call it. You know what it is because you, the people of Staunton Mennonite Church, already participate in Holistic Christian Witness because you minister to people, mind, body, and soul.

            From MCUSA’s website we read:

The church exists for the task of bearing witness to the coming of Christ’s kingdom in the world. As missional communities we will share the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed, reproduce ourselves in new communities of faith and reflect the reign of God by striving for peace and justice.

 

            Holistic Christian Witness (HCW) is the bringing together of word and deed. MCUSA lists five different responsibilities of the church in a YouTube video on HCW: peacemaking, service, justice, evangelism, and church planting. Often churches split these duties up and some congregations become evangelical churches, focusing on sharing the gospel, planting churches, and sending missionaries to places that have not yet heard the good news. Is that a good thing? Yes! Other churches become peace and justice churches, focusing on serving the poor, working for reconciliation, and reducing the incidence of hatred and war. Is that a good thing? Yes!

            So you have these two kinds of churches and they attract two different kinds of Christians. Conservative Christians tend to go to one kind of church and Progressive Christians tend to go to the other. So which is the correct emphasis? Holistic Christian Witness calls us to participate in all of the responsibilities listed above.

            Our scripture text for this morning comes from Luke 4. This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He has just recently come out of the wilderness where he was tempted during a forty-day fast. He walks into the synagogue on the Sabbath and he sits down to give his first recorded sermon. He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and reads these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

            Jesus said that God had anointed him. That is meshiach in the Hebrew, christos in the Greek. We would translate those words as Messiah and Christ. God has messiah-ized, Christ-ized Jesus for this purpose. Proclaim good news to the poor and freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim Jubilee on the nation. Sounds like Jesus knows a thing or two about HCW! His first message was about ministering to the whole person, mind, body, and soul.

            That was Jesus’ first sermon. Let’s move on to another one of his messages, this one we often call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus tells his followers that they are a city on a hill that cannot be hid. They are the light of the world. It is clear that I am not the only person who tends to mix metaphors. The idea that Jesus is trying to get across is that the church is supposed to be out there and active, not hidden and unnoticed. They, we, are to be doing things in our community. And Jesus says that others will see your good works and they will glorify the Lord.

            Now here is a problem. If you turn just one chapter further in Matthew you will find Jesus discouraging people from doing good works so that others will see them. So which is it? Are we to be a city on a hill that cannot be hid or are we to hide the good deeds that we do?

            Jesus is clearly encouraging his disciples to be active in their communities. But he warns them to not do it to get attention for their own good. Do it because it brings glory to God. If you don’t get the attention for doing it, that’s fine. It isn’t about you. If you do get some attention for doing it, that is okay too. But that isn’t your motivation. We are to be a city on a hill and because we are sharing the love of Jesus to people in public, other people may see it. Everything, everything, everything that we do is to be a witness to people of the love of God and his kingdom. If there is something that you are doing that isn’t acting within the parameters of God’s love, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it!

            This language of being a city on the hill would not have been new to the disciples. The elevation of Jerusalem is about 2,490 feet above sea level. This makes is just shy of being the ½ mile high city. You could see it from a distance away. So anytime that the disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, they always knew where they needed to be going. They understood what direction that they need to be traveling.

            But this metaphor wasn’t just for the Israelite people who had been traveling away from Jerusalem. This was also for the gentiles, all people from all other nations.

            In Deuteronomy 4:5-6 we find Moses giving the law (again) to the Israelites. Moses says, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

            The teachings and the laws that Moses is speaking of here are not the things like animal sacrifice or ritualistic washings. These are the ethical teachings. In the next chapter we find the 10 Commandments, which shows how the people are to love God and love their neighbor. Moses is saying that the Israelites should love God and love their neighbor so that all of the other nations will see the wisdom in doing these things and they will come to know God as well.

            This seems to be one of the primary purposes of God having called out his people, Israel. They are to be a witness to all of the world. They are to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations. This is made abundantly clear in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 60:1-3, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

            Isaiah 42:6-7, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

            Isaiah 49:6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

            Isaiah 51:4, “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.”

            This is a large part of God’s missionary efforts in the Old Testament. The people of God are to love God and love their neighbors in such a way that all nations will see that these people have something special going on and they too will learn what it means to love God and love their neighbor. And as Christians we believe that this can only be done when someone recognizes Jesus as lord.

            As followers of Jesus, we believe that we are moving toward something. We are moving toward the day when Jesus returns to rule as king and he establishes his kingdom here forever. When that day comes there will be no more sickness, no more hunger, no more sadness, and no more violence. And as followers of Jesus, we are not just called to wait for that day to come. We are called to live like that kingdom is already here.

            Look at Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus healed the sick, he fed the hungry, blessed those who mourned, and he taught the way that leads to peace. But those who he healed, fed, blessed, and taught surely got sick, died, became hungry, and angry again. So why bother doing these things? Because Jesus used his life here on earth to witness to the kingdom that he established on earth through both his words and his deeds. He healed the sick because there will be no sick in heaven. He fed the hungry because there will be no hunger in heaven. He blessed those who mourned and taught the way of peace because there will be no sadness and no violence in heaven. The kingdom that Jesus established here on earth is a foretaste of and a witness to the kingdom that is to come.

            About a decade ago I heard James Krabill, who is a leader in one of our denominational mission agencies, speak about the role of the church. It was 10 years ago, so I really can’t recall much about his presentation. But what I do remember is that he had this phrase that he repeated throughout his sermon. He would share something that he is seeing the church actively involved with and he would ask the question, “Is that service or evangelism?” He would follow up his rhetorical question with an emphatic “Yes!” That is what HCW is. It is the tearing down of this false dichotomy that we have between service and evangelism.

            You will find in our bulletin this morning an announcement for an opportunity to donate some money toward the local free clinic. We as Christians have for a long time seen it as our responsibility as followers of Jesus to help care for the sick. If you look at some of the hospitals that have been around for a while, you will notice that many of them have the name of denominations and saints in their names. There is so-and-so Methodist hospital and St. somebody’s hospital. The place where my in laws are working right now, doing voluntary service, was begun by people who saw a need for a hospital in a poverty-stricken part of Colorado. So they started one. Through the initiatives of these Christians, thousands, perhaps millions of people have been cared for during their times of illness.

            We care for the sick because Jesus cared for the sick. There are many times in the Bible when people came to Jesus to be healed. Lepers, paralytics, a woman with a bleeding issue, and even a few dead people were brought to Jesus for healing. And Jesus didn’t just say, “God be with you. You will die soon and be with Him in heaven.” No, Jesus healed people. And because Jesus healed people, we do what we can to care for the sick. Is this service or is it evangelism?

            Yesterday was the last day for apple butter boiling and the annual Virginia Relief Sale is coming right up where this fine commodity will be sold along with other foods, woodworking products, and quilts. All of the funds raised over the cost of the event will go toward Mennonite Central Committee, the relief organization of Mennonite Church USA. Because of these efforts people around the world will not only be offered a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, they will learn how to provide clean water for themselves and for their neighbors. Is this service or is it evangelism?

            We heard this morning from a group of women who are planning to work with the Valley Mission to provide after-school tutoring for children in our community. They will be donating their time and energy to trying to prepare these young men and women to lead productive lives, contributing to their communities, contributing to our community. Is this service or is it evangelism?

            Every year Virginia Mennonite Conference gives out a peace mug. This is a way of recognizing individuals and groups that are doing something to bring forth the shalom of God. This year the award went to Oasis of Hope, an organization based in Newport News, VA.

            Oasis of Hope is a community of people dedicated to serving veterans who are struggling with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They seek to bring peace of mind to those who have seen the terrors of war and helping them in their process of reintegration into their homes.

I think that this is especially beautiful because Oasis of Hope is made up of pacifists, people who believe that war is always wrong. They could sit back and judge the people who are suffering from PTSD, saying, “You got what you deserve.” But Jesus calls us to help people regardless of who they are or what they have done. Is this service or is it evangelism?

            We are called to be a city on a hill and a light to the nations. Jesus calls us to share our faith through word and deed. When people see you working for the kingdom they will want to know why you do the things that you do. And you can then tell them that we serve a God who is seeking to redeem the world, not just our souls. There are certain things that happen to us that we just can’t hide and everyone is able to see that something big has happened.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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