Luke 4: 14 – 21
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
January 20, 2019
A few years back, a friend said to me, “I don’t understand how you can still be a Christian.”
I replied by saying, “I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus teaches about God’s radically inclusive love. And I believe in radically inclusive love.”
She said, “Well, I don’t have a problem with Jesus or radically inclusive love. It’s all the stuff that happened after Jesus that makes me so mad.”
We get exactly what she was saying. In Luke chapter 4, we read Jesus’ mission statement. Jesus proclaimed, “God’s Spirit is on me; God’s anointed me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to the bruised, deliverance to the captives, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’” Listen to this list of words in Jesus’ mission statement – healing, liberty, deliverance, to set free. These are radically inclusive words, especially in the “social world” of the first century in which the poor, the blind, the captives, the debtors and a host of other folks just didn’t measure up to the holiness code that marked the insiders from the outsiders. The very folks that society throws out, Jesus welcomes back in!
So, what in the world happened? How did the religion that began with Jesus leave countless people out? What happened after Jesus – oppression, inquisitions, witch hunts, religious wars – the very things people do in Jesus’ name often contradict his teachings/ his own mission statement. No wonder my friend said to me, “I don’t understand how you can still be a Christian.”
What happened? Where is the disconnect between Jesus and Christianity? Many historians point to “the conversion of Emperor Constantine” in 312 AD. Emperor Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky and the cross had an inscription of three words: “Conquer by this”. The upright beam of the cross in Constantine’s vision was a spear. Ironic that the very instrument of Roman torture used on Jesus is now used to instill fear and terror, not merely in the name of Rome but in the name of Jesus himself. From Constantine to the Conquistadors to the Colonizers, an imperial religion of superiority, conquest and domination has been created – a religion with an identity far different from the one proclaimed by Jesus in Galilee.
Brian McClaren invites us to imagine a different kind of conversion, one that never happened but could have. “Instead of a spear-cross with the words, ‘Conquer by this,’ imagine that Constantine had seen a vision of a basin and a towel with the words, ‘Serve by this,’ or a vision of a simple table with bread and cup with the words, ‘Reconcile around this,’ or a vision of Christ’s outstretched arms with ‘Embrace like this.’” (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road, pg. 83).
But it was not so. Constantine saw a cross with a sword which said, “Conquer by this”. Could it be that Roman-Imperial Christianity actually betrays the life and teachings of Jesus? Absolutely. We see it over and over again from the Crusades to the Holocaust to the KKK to hate crimes committed against LGBTQ folks. It is time for the Church to confess its sin. And its sins our many!
While Jesus’ mission is about inclusivity, hospitality and bridge building; Christianity’s mission has often about exclusivity, hostility, and wall building.
In fact, speaking of walls (since it has gotten a lot of press in recent times), I read an article this week (in the United Church of Christ news) about a pastor from the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Robert Jeffries. Rev. Jeffries affirms the building of a wall on the southern border stating that Heaven itself will have a wall around it according to Revelation. Not everyone is going to be allowed into the New Jerusalem says Jeffries. He goes on to say, “If we are calling the wall immoral, then we are calling God immoral.” To that I say, let’s not forget that the book of Revelation also states that the gates of the city will never be shut. That is, the gates of heaven will be thrown open to welcome everyone regardless of race, language and place of birth. After all, Jesus’ mission statement as we heard today is to heal, to deliver, to liberate, and to set free.
Fortunately, there are have been some denominations and congregations which have seen the huge discrepancy between Jesus and his followers, between Jesus’ mission statement and what happened after Jesus’ died. I give thanks for those congregations, like RUCC, who seek to embrace the radically inclusive love of Christ. We don’t always do it perfectly. I still have a lot to learn about how to practice the inclusive love of Christ, but if I am going to call myself a follower of Christ or we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ then the mandate of inclusivity is clear.
In 1998, this congregation adopted the following vision statement. Will you read it with me once again?
RUCC Vision Statement:
As the Redlands United Church of Christ,
We are called by God to follow the
Life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
We are an Open and Affirming Community
Of faith, who value all people as the
Family of God.
We love, nurture, support and give hope
To one another on the journey of faith,
Seeking God’s will for our lives.
Led by the Holy Spirit, we reach out to
Serve, and to help heal the hurts of
Humanity and the world with caring
And justice to the Glory of God.
We welcome all into the full life and
Ministry of this church.
This is a fine vision statement. We are an Open and Affirming Community. We value all people. We love, nurture, support, give hope, serve, heal. This is our vision. I am grateful for those of you who crafted this Vision Statement – some sitting in this congregation right now. Thank you.
In the last couple of years, a few us began to talk about a Mission Statement, which is different from a Vision Statement. The general guidelines of a mission statement are as follows: 12 – 15 words in length, comprehensible to a 12 year old, and it can be easily memorized. The Board decided that 2018 was the year to craft our first mission statement. We gathered input from you the congregation. What words describe RUCC? Here is the word cluster – those words in bold were used frequently. It appears that the number one word used by the congregation is “Inclusive.” Excellent! Other words include “Love/Loving,” “Community,” “Compassion/Compassionate,” “Caring,” “Welcome,” “Openness,” “Accepting,” “Action.” Yes, these are words that describe the kind of faith community of which I wish to belong.
We gathered input from the Board. What words describe RUCC? “Community,” “Church,” “Spirit/Spiritual,” “Welcoming,” “Service,” “Supportive,” “Generosity,” and “Family.” Wonderful!
We saw that some words overlap:
Inclusive, Community, Loving, Compassion, Supportive, Progressive
Over the year, the Board took the congregation’s word cluster, their own word cluster, the overlap of the words, and the Vision Statement to create RUCC’s first mission statement. As we dialogued about the wording of a mission statement, some Board members advocated for the word “inclusive.” Other Board members leaned more toward the language of the Vision Statement of “Open and Affirming.” Open and Affirming is code language in the United Church of Christ denomination for the LGBTQ community. An Open and Affirming congregation tells me that even I would be fully welcome into the life of the congregation. These words “Open and Affirming,” however, were very important to both gay and straight board members. In fact, three board members who are straight said that they joined RUCC precisely because it is Open and Affirming. Others argued that the word “inclusive” is much broader than “Open and Affirming” – it means that we are inclusive of all people, not only to the LGBTQ community. And as I was listening to persons share their arguments for the use of the words “Open and Affirming” or the use of “Inclusive,” I laughed and said, “Isn’t this great that we are trying to decide whether we want to use ‘Open and Affirming’ or ‘Inclusive’ to describe ourselves in our mission statement? How many other church boards are having this same dialogue? Not too many.” Wouldn’t you know that in our desire to be radically inclusive, we, the Board, decided to use both descriptions in our mission statement! “We are an inclusive, Open and Affirming faith community…” Some may argue that we are being redundant in using both sets of words…I say that we don’t want to leave any doubt about who we truly seek to be. Inclusivity is important to Jesus and it is important to us, too.
What other words and values made it into our mission statement? I invite you to our Annual Meeting next Sunday where RUCC’s very first mission statement in its entirety will be unveiled. Amen.