Saturday, January 26, 2019

The better angels of our nature


About three years ago, I had the great chance to live in New York City. I was working at the headquarters of my religious community and living in lower Manhattan near Little Italy. While I would not want to live in the city forever, it was a great place to live for a time. There is an energy in New York City like no other place and there are always new experiences around every corner. One of the great experiences of my time there was the discovery of a new musical that no one had heard of at the time called Hamilton. Today, you can barely get a ticket to see it and it will cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get in. But, if you can imagine, there was a time when it was new and no one had really heard of it yet. I first saw it when it was still in previews in the summer of 2015 and a friend tried to get me to go. I asked him what it was about and he said, “Well, it’s about the guy who founded the treasury, oh, and it’s all done with rap and hip-hop music.” It wasn’t the greatest description, but seeing this show and hearing the music, it was immediately evident what a genius its creator Lin Manuel Miranda is. Like any true wordsmith, he has created something that is not only well done, but his words are inspiring. This amazing experience was one that not only entertained, but it also presented such an inspiring vision of our nation at its founding and what it can and should be today.

Just think about how words can move us and inspire us. Think of some of most well-known words in our American history. Like Abraham Lincoln’s first Inaugural where he said, “We are not enemies, but friends. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Or Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 when he said in the midst of the great depression, “This great nation will endure…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or the inaugural words of John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he said, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. As what you can do for your country.”

I bet you, too, have words that have inspired you and had an impact on your life. Maybe they are some of the famous words of famous people that we’ve all heard. Or maybe it is simpler things said by people you know – a simple “I love you” at the right time, or someone who reached out to seek forgiveness and healing in the midst of a broken relationship. Words have meaning and power in our lives.

I was thinking of the power of words like these because our Gospel passage from the beginning of Luke today describes a similar speech. Luke is writing to someone named Theophilus (a name that means in Greek, “one who loves God”). He is likely a Roman official and Luke is telling him what Christianity was all about. That’s why Luke finds the incident in the synagogue in Nazareth important. In this moment, Jesus makes a solemn declaration of his mission in the world. It is, in fact, His inaugural address at the beginning of His mission as Messiah and Savior. And, it is filled with inspiring and memorable phrases – as every inaugural address is.

Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” The words of this inaugural are filled with hope – hope for the poor, for the helpless, for the captives, hope for the sick and for the oppressed.

And like most inaugurals, they outline a vision that cannot be carried out by one person alone. They must be carried out by everyone working together. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians today, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” In other words, we must work together and share the responsibility of making the dreams of our Leader, Jesus Christ, come true. We must be the ones to carry on His agenda if it is to be made a reality.

The dream that Jesus sets forth is a dream that can be realized only if we make it our dream too. And so, if victims of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in today’s world are to hear the Good News of Jesus, then we have to be the ones to tell them about it. If those who suffer with blindness, cancer or other illnesses are to recover their hope, then we have to be the ones who bring that hope to them. If the victims of violence and oppression throughout the world are to be set free, then we have to be the ones who raise our voices for their cause. And, if the darkness of our world is to be lit up with the Light of Christ, then we have to be the ones that have shine that light and make it happen.

An man was walking along the beach after a big storm one day. Fifty yards ahead of him was a young woman. She was picking up starfish that the storm had stranded on the beach, and was throwing them back into the sea. When the man caught up with her, he asked her what she was doing. She replied that the starfish would die unless they were returned to the sea. The man said, “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are thousands of stranded starfish. How can your small effort make a difference?” Picking up a starfish and holding it lovingly in her hands, she said, “It makes a big difference to this one.” And with that, she returned it to the sea.

This is the mission that Jesus today invites us all into. When we wonder how our small efforts can make a difference in a world filled with so many crying out for help, we need to remember simply that it makes a big difference to the ones we help. If we give generously of our own loaves and fishes, Jesus will find a way to multiply them and feed the multitude. Imagine what our community, our world, could look like if we took this inaugural of Jesus to heart and carried His mission into our homes, our school, our workplace, our world? It would look like His Kingdom.

My brothers and sisters, today we are Theophilus – those who love God – and Jesus is inviting us to help Him accomplish His mission. He wants us to be the ones who go from this place and “bring glad tidings to the poor… proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

This is the kind of faith that will inspire others to join us and indeed shine the Light of Christ to dispel the darkness of our world. May we make the dream of Jesus, our dream and our mission as well.

May the Lord give you peace.

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