A Big Enough Gospel
Rev. Donnell T. Wyche — January 17, 2021
Big Enough Gospel – The Gospel of Liberation
Wow! What a distressing time in our nation right now? There’s uncertainty, there’s fear, and there is confusion. What are we to make of what’s unfolding? I’ve had a lot of conversations about the events of Wednesday, January 6th. I’ve talked with congregants, friends, and family near and far. And the fact that the insurrection took place in my hometown, it hit me in a specific way.
One of the most surprising things I heard was, “Who could have imagined this would happen?”
I must confess I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised at all. I was sadden. I grieved the lost of human life. I was concerned for my friends and family who live and work in the area. But I was not surprised.
As I continued to have conversations throughout the day, last Wednesday, and throughout the week, I was reminded of the sermon series we had on Acts back in September where we discussed the need for those of us who follow Jesus to cling to Christ and his faithfulness. Effectively to remember of baptism. That in being baptized into Christ, we broke solidarity with sin; we change our status, and enter the kingdom of God where we are no longer subject to the rule and reign of sin and death. I remember offering that something was in the way, and I named it, nationalism.
Nationalism rejects a picture of the world where we belong to each other, and care for each other, and instead focuses on borders and bodies. The borders help identify who belongs and who doesn’t. The bodies get caught up in these conflicts over borders and are not affirmed as sharing in the imago dei (image of God). Our baptism threatens what nationalism promises: stability, security, opportunity. Because our baptism reminds us that we are our brother or sister’s keeper. Nationalism distorts and corrupts. Nationalism asks us to partner with evil today in order to prevent tomorrow’s evil. When we give ourselves over to nationalism, we no longer see our responsibility to each other, we only see competition with each other over scarce resources, dividing ourselves into borders along our gender, cultural, racial, and economic differences. Nationalism requires violence and that violence touches us all.
God rejects nationalism. God has rejected nationalism in all of its forms, including Christian nationalism, and especially, the form that took shape on Wednesday, January 6th. Why? Because nationalism is idolatry and it makes a mockery of God. Because nationalism is communion without God.
And today saints, I am reminded that violence always threatens the root of the tree of liberation. The events of Wednesday erupted just a mere five hours after the nation learned that for the first time, Georgia, a former slave-owning state, had elected its first African American and Jewish senators, then this violence unfolded.
Friends, whenever we see liberation, there is also violence.
If we turn to scripture to makes sense of what’s unfolding, we will soon discover that there are always violent actors who are hell-bent on disrupting the liberating activity of God. Whether you start in Exodus when Pharaoh couldn’t accept God’s vision of enough in the world and forced the Israelites into slavery because of his scarcity mentality and refused to release the Israelites when God demanded their freedom. Or whether you read the prophets who one after another call the people of God to surrender their idols and turn back to God. Or the story of Jonah which is a sort of reversal because it was the oppressor that God wanted to liberate and Jonah wanted no part in God’s liberating activity. Or when the Magi appeared before Herod to announce that God’s long-promised Messiah had been born, Herod didn’t join in with the Magi to worship this new king, instead, Herod turned to violence and ordered every child 2 and under to be murdered because there was already a king in Israel and he didn’t have space for another. Or whether you follow Paul and his companions as they travel around Asia minor announcing the Gospel and what happens almost every time, some form of violence.
Because when the Good News of God’s liberation is preached, announced, and demonstrated, there is always a violent response.
Today, we are continuing our sermon series, Big Enough Gospel. Today, I want to focus on the Gospel of Liberation. At the core of the Vineyard movement, which our church is a part of, is this dramatic theological undercurrent: a deepened understanding of the Gospel informed by signs and wonders, the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, the theology of the in-breaking Kingdom of God, a faith community’s social engagement, especially among the poor, and the message of God’s liberation.
Jesus in his regular religious activity, attending the synagogue and participating in the worship of Israel, reaffirms God’s liberating activity in creation.
Would you join me in Luke 4, starting in verse 14,
14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16He 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, 17and 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.”
The poor were liberated.
The blind were liberated.
The oppressed were liberated.
The prisoners were liberated.
The work of the Holy Spirit was to anoint Jesus to liberate those held in bondage, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. If you were to go back and read the original passage in Isaiah 61:1-2,
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
you’ll notice that that Jesus makes two changes, first he leaves off “the day of the vengeance of God” and second, he adds physical healing to his liberation theology.
After Jesus makes this announcement, how do the people respond?
They rejoice in God’s coming liberation, sign up to join Jesus in his ministry effort, and get to work.
Nope. Not at all!
They try to kill him.
28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:28–30)
When God announces liberation, it is often met with resistance and violence.
Sit with that.
They try to kill him because he announces God’s liberation, those held in bondage. What the people that day missed was they thought Jesus was favoring the wrong people, they didn’t realize that their liberation was tied up with those held in bondage. That when those held in bondage were liberated that would be too. Because what Jesus was going to need were people who were committed to God’s announcement of Good News to go out and free those held in bondage.
I love this passage in Luke 4. I love it because it is clear what the task is. We need the same anointing of the Holy Spirit that empowered Jesus’ ministry in order to announce new theologies of liberation for the communities that we serve and minister to. Friends, the church needs the same anointing of the Holy Spirit to activate our prophetic imagination and proclaim good news to the communities that we serve because they are suffering, broken, and despairing. Our community needs us to believe, engage, and enact Luke 4:18-19, offering freedom to those of us held in captivity and welcome to those of us in exile, allowing us to return home again. Our community need us, the church, to be kingdom people imagining a reality that does not yet exist, a world “beyond violence, war, greed, poverty, disease, exploitation, the tyranny of economic self-interest, and beyond the wreckage of ruthless competition.”
Jesus has a proven ability to speak to, heal and empower our experience of the human condition, what we might call “life.” His invitation to partner with the Holy Spirit matters today as it did when he promised to pour out the Paraclete on all flesh because what the Holy Spirit brings to us ordinary human beings, living our ordinary lives, coping daily with all of the ordinary ups and downs of life is what we all desire: wholeness and purpose. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is able to do this because he has shared in our weakness. As we follow him, remembering our baptism, he gives us strength to endure, strive, and thrive in life as we learn to trust and obey him. As we join him, he leads us into the very heart and life of God.
Friends, we are invited by Jesus to preach the Gospel, to announce God’s liberation. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love your enemies too. Develop deep empathy for others because you have been deeply loved. Develop self-awareness, so that you can see yourself soberly as someone who needed to loved; some worthy of love. When you fail, which you will, do not be afraid, God still loves you. Admit your wrongs, your missing of the mark, your sins and repent, make amends where necessary and seek forgiveness aways. When you are wronged or hurt, don’t seek revenge, instead work to forgive, as you have been forgiven. Trust in God, seek humility, and be faithful. We become people of intersection, people who overlap the presence of heaven in the reality of earth. Friends, this is how we are changed and incrementally how we join with in God in his mission to restore what was broken and to help and change the world. All of this requires the Holy Spirit.
I want to close with a reflection and encouragement.
If you have been around our church for a while, you might have discovered that liberation is important to our church. We want to partner with the liberating presence of God to announce good news, our exile is over. And we want that announcement to compel us to act.
This vision fuels weekly ministry to our friends in the homeless community. Many who know by name and whose stories help inform our understanding of God. There is something incredibility humanizing when you learn someone’s name. When you listen to their story. It reminds you of your shared humanity. Our church won’t be able to end homelessness in our community, but we are committed to serve those who have invited us to become their friend.
Pastor Marissa has been inviting us as a church to get proximate. Basically, she has been inviting us to get closer to those in our community so that we might hear how God is already at work, so that we might join in. I’ve been listening to Pastor Marissa and I hope you have been too. We have been getting proximate to our friends in the homeless community for over a decade. We started work, which we had to suspend because of the pandemic, to open a free pre-school in Ypsilanti. If you attend Cultivate Vineyard back in September 2019, you know that we were discussing new ways to get proximate in our community.
But there are also things that God has seeded within all of you that will allow you to preach the Gospel of God’s liberation. Whether that the work you do at the women’s shelter, the child that you sponsor monthly, the decision to say yes and run for PTA president, whether it’s the faithfulness of staying connected with that difficult family member, but you are the one who calls, remembers their birthday, and lavish kindness and mercy on them. Or you are the one who is foster a child. Or maybe you have decided to transition from foster care to adoption because you want to create a forever home. Then there are some of you who are looking at some of the more difficult crises and inflection points in our present age and you are wading into those troubled waters. Friends, when we announce the Good News of God’s liberation, we are preaching the Gospel. And our Gospel needs to be big enough, it needs to be concerned with just people’s sins, but with their whole lives. Their whole-selves in the presence of a God who is says, “The Spirit of the Lord” is here to anoint you to announce freedom, liberation, restoration, healing, and the end of exiles.
This Christmas I received a kind note and birthday wish from a family in our church, and I just wanted to share what they said to me, because their praise is yours.
“Thank you for your clear and prophetic voice addressing the issues of racial inequality and injustices. We are thankful that Vineyard is a diverse church and that you are seeking to grow its diversity. God’s Kingdom is diverse and we are grateful for opportunities to live in community and to learn in love within a church that more fully reflects God’s Kingdom. In these times that are so divisive, we are thankful to be a part of a church that is bold enough to proclaim truth, caring enough to protect the vulnerable, and personal enough to be reaching out to all who call the Vineyard home.”