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.
No.
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.
Why?
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


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