It all began with Vacation Bible School . . . .

Third Sunday of Epiphany / January 27, 2013

Gospel:  Luke 4:14-21

In the synagogue in Nazareth, early in his ministry, Jesus opened up the scroll and read from the Prophet Isaiah, a message written many years before for the nourishment of God’s people.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus read,

“because God has anointed me:

To bring good news to the poor

Proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind

To let the oppressed go free

And to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Good news for those who are limited by economic challenges, release for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for those who are being mistreated, proclaiming that today is the time God will act:  these action items are the heart of Jesus’ ministry.  And they’ve always been the heart of any ministry that follows Jesus where he’s leading.

When planning for the future here at St. Mark’s, you might well “open the scroll” and read Jesus’ own mission statement.  Those who take Jesus’ mission statement as their own open the door to those who are beaten down by difficult economic circumstances, those who are imprisoned, and those who have been wronged.[1]

Early in January, I opened up (not a scrosll!) but my email and found a message from someone I hadn’t heard from in many years.  Her message is intended for all of us not just for me.  She gave permission for me to share it with you this morning including her name.

“It has been ages since our paths crossed, but you likely remember me as Joanne.

I once lived across the street at King’s Towers.  St. Mark’s was so kind to bring me a Christmas Hamper way back.  It must have been about sixteen years or so.   I felt prompted today by the Spirit to write you this letter to tell you just how instrumental St. Mark’s has been in setting souls free from the bondage of addictions; from AA to Alanon and all the many groups that meet (at St. Mark’s) on a regular basis.  I know of no other church in this area that has been so receptive to recovery 12-step programs and has such a heart for the lost and the broken.

When I got sober, I always felt that [you folks] had been praying for me all along and I want to say thanks!  I continued to attend AA at St. Mark’s. Not only did I get very active in AA, I founded a group at the Stanley Park Community Church.  We outgrew that church in two years, moved to Hope Lutheran  and have been going strong ever since.

It all began with your awesome Vacation Bible School I would gladly drop my kids off for a couple hours so I could go to the liquor store in peace (or so I thought it was peace).  The kids would come home and talk to me about Jesus!  Apparently the tremendous efforts of your staff paid off. Kids who wind up at places like your bible school are there for a purpose only totally understood by God.

So on behalf of all the AA groups and the Cool Friendship Group of Alanon, I want to say a heartfelt thanks.  I have witnessed so many miracles within the walls of St. Mark’s.  That humble picture of Jesus has been a visual cue for many to step forward into the light.  The very ones you would think would never give their whole lives to him–the scoundrels and sick housewives–at the end of their ropes.   I am beyond gratitude to the church for the work Christ is doing.

You have made an unspeakable difference in the lives of so many.  You have no idea what respect our groups have for your church.  That picture of Jesus hangs up above our heads, always reminding [us] of who our “Higher Power really” is!“

So my question for you is this:  Can you see it?  Can you see the grace and sense of purpose active in Joanne’s life?   Can you see the light of Christ that has been shining in the church . . . (given our upcoming anniversary maybe you think I’m going to say for 100 years but that would be way too narrow of a view!)  Can you see the light of Christ shining in the church for more than 2000 years?  Can you see comfort and hope and good news becoming flesh for those who are in trouble?

Sometime in the future, if you or I or one of our children or grandchildren were to suffer with an addiction, or a mental health challenge or poverty or a loss of direction, would there be anybody close by, steeped in God’s grace, “opening up the scroll” to hear the summons of Christ?

Christ is still calling us, whom he loves, to work with him to fulfill the mission he announced long ago in the synagogue.  May he continue to open our ears to hear our true calling in him.

To bring good news to the poor.

To proclaim release to captives.

Recovery of sight to the blind.

To let the oppressed go free.

And to proclaim the year of God’s favour.

Let us praise our gracious and loving God who is still breaking the darkness with a liberating light.[2]   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


[1] Interpretation commentary on Luke by Fred Craddock, 62

[2] The hymn that followed this sermon was Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness.  My blessing has its roots in the first line of this beautiful hymn.  Text:  Rusty Edwards.  Music, Repository of Sacred Music, Part II, 1813.  Text c. 1987 Hope Publishing Company.  # 843 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

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