The year of the Lord’s favor

Published: March 7, 2015

For my blog post this Holy Week, I’ve chosen to share the text of the short sermon I preached at the conclusion of the service of Lament, Confession and Commitment at AMBS on March 22, 2015. For more glimpses of that service, including statements offered and a video recording of spoken segments of the service, you can visit the Reunion, Listening, Confessing page on this website. To view the video of this sermon, follow this direct link to the YouTube recording.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor
AMBS service of lament, confession, and commitment
March 22, 2015

Isaiah 61:1-4The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

We’ve all seen graphic images of bombed out buildings,
entire city blocks blown to smithereens,
homes and lives shattered by violence.

What we’ve been slow to see, 
more like, deliberately avoided seeing,
is the devastation of sexual violence.

It’s an insidious, stealthy, often invisible devastation that creeps in to
dismantle lives, destroy reputations, shatter families,
and poison entire communities with its ruination.

But we’re here today, in the good company of Isaiah,
and of Jesus and the Spirit,
to testify with joy that ruination is not the end of the story.

Isaiah declares: “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

Who are these builders? Seriously.
Who is it builds up the ancient ruins, that raises up the devastations,
even the devastations of many generations?
Well, it’s not the high and mighty, the successful and powerful
who come back with their big earth-moving machines to set all to rights.
It’s the broken hearted.
It’s those who’ve been oppressed.
It’s the ones who know what it is to be held captive.
Yes. Yes. This is what astonishes us.
    This is the dumbfounding good news of the gospel.
It’s those who mourn, who have been faint in spirit—
   It is they who will be called “oaks of righteousness.”
Oaks of righteousness.
A planting of the Lord.
To display his glory.

The wonder of it all—the year of the Lord’s favor—when all is set aright…
    from ruined cities to the planting of beautiful, strong, stately oaks.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

When Jesus returned to Nazareth, his home town, near the beginning of his
public ministry, he took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
and read from the very passage we heard earlier:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he said. “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” (Lk 4:18-19).

And then he said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And everyone cheered. Right?
No. Not right. Not anywhere close to right.
Jesus’ hometown folks suddenly turned into a lynching mob.
Apparently the year of the Lord’s favor had nothing to do
with party favors for privileged insiders.

In fact, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor got Jesus into serious trouble with those who led the religious institutions of their day: the scribes and Pharisees.

They regularly got Jesus riled up:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, he said, who sit on Moses’ seat.
Woe to you, who lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.
Woe to you, who are like whitewashed tombs.
Woe to you, blind guides.

And yet look at this—
After his most scathing, extended critique of the religious authorities, Jesus moves into lament:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate (Mt 23:37-38).

Ruination. Devastation. Why?
Because the religious authorities, institutional leaders were not willing.
Because Jerusalem as a whole, the children of Jerusalem,
were not willing to acknowledge their sin, their illness, their failures.

Jesus laments.
It is Jesus’ lament that shows the way.
And I believe it is Jesus’ lament that shows the way for us today.
All of us.
Those who directly suffered abuse
and those of us implicated directly or indirectly
by the sin of abuse—
All of us… if we are willing.
If we are willing to be gathered together under his wings.

AMBS faculty and administrators are surely among the religious authorities
of our day.
Are we willing?
I submit to you that we are…

We are willing to profess our unreserved longing to be gathered as sinners
together with all God’s children,
under Jesus’ wings.

I can’t speak for each of you.
But I hope that all of us together are willing.
Because that’s where we come alive again. Together.

That’s where, next to the warm, beating heart of Jesus, our spirits quicken.
It dawns on us: we are being saved together.
Under the wings of our fierce, protective mother hen
we are being saved by the sheer gift of her grace-filled embrace…
Saved to tell the world that there is safety in the company of the Beloved.
    There is wholeness and health and abundant life.

What joy! What surprising joy.
Jesus wants to gather his children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

If, as I dearly hope, many of us here today are among the willing,
let’s proclaim this as a day of the Lord’s favor.
Let’s imagine the smile of the Lord’s favor on us;
and the goodness of release, restoration, and freedom.

Together, let’s give glory to God.

When all gather as children saved by grace, under the wings of our mother hen, (together) we give glory to God.

When the truth is publicly declared and sets us free, we give glory to God.

When the brokenhearted and faint spirited tell their stories and show the way to rebuild our communities, we give glory to God.

When prophetic women stand as oaks of righteousness calling the rest of us toward  repentance and salvation, we give glory to God.

When powerful men protect, dignify and empower vulnerable women and children, we give glory to God.

When children are unafraid and no one hurts or destroys on God’s holy mountain, we give glory to God.

When despite the pain that still threatens to undo us, the Holy Spirit joins us in groanings too deep for words, we give glory to God.

When even those who massively failed can receive mercy, we give glory to God.

When what is good and praiseworthy endures despite our massive failures, we give glory to God.

In the strong love of God—where nothing is wasted, nothing is lost,
we are given a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

In the strong love of God—where nothing is wasted, nothing is lost,
    we use what was broken to rebuild the ancient ruins,
    we become builders who repair the devastations of many generations.

In the year of the Lord’s favor, nothing is lost
but is gathered and known in its goodness.
To the glory of God.

Sing the Story #121: Nothing is lost on the breath of God

Wilma Ann Bailey receives AMBS recognition

Published: July 30, 2014

Mary E. Klassen

Wilma Ann Bailey is a scholar who gives her gifts to the church and for this AMBS honors her this year with the annual AMBS Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition.

Bailey earned a Master of Divinity degree from AMBS in 1979 and followed this with a Master of Arts and PhD from Vanderbilt University. For 14 years she has taught at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. In 2010 she was awarded the title “Minnie Vautrin Professor of Christian Witness” in recognition of her work related to peace and justice issues.

Prior to this she taught at Messiah College, Grantham, Pa., and taught and directed the James Lark Leadership Program at Goshen College. She was licensed for ministry in 1980 by Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, becoming the first woman to be licensed by the conference. She has served on boards of the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Central Committee, Philhaven and Eastern Mennonite University.

Bailey is a prolific writer of both scholarly materials and Bible studies for the church. She is author of the Lamentations volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series to be released this fall, of “You shall not kill” or “You shall not murder”: The assault on a biblical text (Liturgical Press, 2005) and many more books. She also has published seven volumes and has another forthcoming of Adult Bible Study Guides through Faith & Life Press, in addition to numerous articles, essays and book reviews on topics related to peace and justice, women in ancient Israel and laments, and the environment.

In addition, she has taught in other world contexts, including four concentrated courses at Christian Theological Seminary in Chunnakam, Sri Lanka, a seminary reviving its program after nearly 30 years of civil war. She participated in an agricultural project sponsored by the Brethren in Christ Church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and lectured on land and land use in the Bible and theologies of the land in the Bible in 2009. Also that year, she spoke at the Mennonite World Conference in Asuncion, Paraguay, on “The earth belongs to the Lord.”

Bailey will return to AMBS two times this fall. At the Rooted and Grounded conference, Sept. 18–20, she will present a paper, “Who gets to eat in the Garden of Eden?” In October she will receive the alumni recognition and share with the campus community about her ministry.

Don Klassen receives certificate and gives AMBS a gift

Published: September 29, 2012

Mary E. Klassen

Don Klassen gives a carving, made from a salvaged piano sound board, to AMBS at the break on September 25 when he was honored as the 2012 Alumni Ministry and Service Award recipient.
Don Klassen gives a carving, made from a salvaged piano sound board, to AMBS at the break on September 25 when he was honored as the 2012 Alumni Ministry and Service Award recipient.

Don Klassen, recipient of the 2012 AMBS Alumni Ministry and Service Award, received the certificate honoring him from AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk on Tuesday, Sept. 25. He had opportunities at a morning break and in chapel to share vignettes of his study at AMBS 40 years ago and of 32 years of ministry in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Don also presented a gift to AMBS–from the sound board of a water-damaged piano, he crafted the message “Jesus is Lord,” reminiscent of the same words that were above the chancel area in the Goshen Biblical Seminary chapel when GBS was still on the Goshen College campus.

The ministry to which Klassen devoted almost half of his life was matching inmates of the South Dakota State Penitentiary with friends on the outside. For more than 32 years he coordinated the M-2 (man-to-man) program, a part-time role that was sponsored by different inter-church organizations.

Klassen began in the coordinator role in 1978, but he reports that since 1972 when the program began, more than 4,000 matches have been established. The program has received state and national recognition and has resulted in an annual recidivism rate of less than one percent annually. Since 2005, Klassen has been adapting the concept to include county jails, and thus also to include women and youth.

“In prison, I have seen God in the forgiving, healing and blessing business. God is also in the rescuing business and the salvage business,” Don said.

Don explained, “Years ago the pastor at my home church in Kansas said, ‘We either build community or we break down community.’ Inmates were sent to prison because they allegedly broke down community. My job was to rebuild community. Jesus led me where I would not have chosen to go: past gun towers and razor wire, through stone walls and steel bars to look for volunteers who would come to befriend inmates. Because prison codes nationwide forbid staff to “fraternize” with inmates, I was asking M-2 sponsors to do something that staff cannot do.”

Each year, AMBS gives the Alumni Ministry and Service Award to someone whose ministry has been marked by distinguished accomplishment and those who have served their Lord faithfully and effectively over the years