Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year of the Lord's Favor

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

                        Matthew 4.18-19

A Changed Man

After Jesus’s decisive triumph over the Tempter, He wends His way home to from the desert, stopping off in various places to astound people with His teaching. News of His impromptu sermons precedes Him. Lifelong friends and neighbors pack Nazareth’s synagogue, expecting to be dazzled by their new local hero. As Jesus stands up, someone hands Him the scroll of Isaiah. He opens it to chapter 61, reads the first two verses, and sits down. All eyes fasten on Him and no one moves. Jesus breaks the silence: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He continues, and the eloquence of His message enthralls the people, who ask one another, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

By every indication, in word and demeanor, Jesus returns to Nazareth a changed man. His wilderness experience and time abroad have given Him authority and assurance. The boldness of His text and audacity of His announcement surprise everyone—as does His comfort to speak such things without fear of reprisal or criticism. Indeed, He’s so confident of His words He breaks the silence in His listeners’ hearts. “I know what you’re thinking,” He says. “’Do some of the cool stuff we’ve heard about.’ But what if I did? You wouldn’t respect me any more than your ancestors did Elijah. Their disbelief tied his hands and though Israel was starving from famine, he could only help outsiders.” The congregation turned into a lynch mob. They herded Jesus out of town to throw Him off a cliff. “But,” Matthew writes, “he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (v30)

No Time for Foolishness

Did they not hear what Jesus said? Did they not believe He meant it? He had just proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor, saying God had anointed Him for this time, to reach the poor, free those found guilty and unacceptable, enlighten those unable to see, and liberate those oppressed by social and legal taboos. There was a lot to do in this first year of ministry. He needed to act swiftly, taking full advantage of these early moments before fame and recognition triggered interference from critics and leaders. Jesus had no time for foolishness. That’s why He called His own people on their nonsensical desire to see a show rather than their willingness to support Him. (Note: other than His brothers Andrew and James, none of Jesus’s disciples hailed from Nazareth.) In their frenzy of indignation and confusion, they lost complete sight of Jesus. When they got their act together to dispense with Him once and for all, He was long gone.

Greater Things

“Yes,” we say to ourselves when reading this, “that’s so like Jesus to speak authoritatively and elude time-consuming, self-defeating controversy.” What we implicitly mean is, “He’s a special case. We can’t be expected to do everything He did like He did it.” We’re right in a sense, but our thinking is gravely wrong. We’re expected to do more. “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” Jesus tells us in John 14.12. Falling short of Christ’s example is inexcusable and merely replicating His accomplishments falls short. When we act on His promise, He guarantees our success. We will do more because He sees we can do more.

The authority and assurance He displayed in Nazareth is ours for the taking. We, too, can boldly declare the year of the Lord’s favor. And it seems there’s no better year for it than 2009. Poor people must be reached. Outcasts must be freed. Restored sight must come to blind victims of bigotry and fear. Oppression must end. God anoints each of us for these tasks. The home crowd will demand a show of some kind before believing the legitimacy of our call. We don’t have time for foolishness. Being under the radar gives us a prime opportunity to get things done now. We can’t get bogged down trying to justify our calling. Let those who doubt waste their time on controversy and backlashes. If they won’t hear us, many beyond their circle will. We need to find them and leave the others to look for us long after we’ve moved on. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it,” 1 Thessalonians 5.24 reads. That’s how great things get greater.

 

May God bless us to make 2009 the Year of His Favor.

(Tomorrow: Find Something to Do

Postscript: New Inroads for the New Year

Two days ago, I got an email from James Hipps, the project manager for two prominent gay sites, www.GayAgenda.com and www.BestGayBlogs.com, asking permission to feature Straight-Friendly as a blog of note. Both sites are comprehensive, meaning they cover the entire spectrum of online gay culture, from sociopolitical topics to “mature content.” I couldn’t have been more pleased or honored by the invitation, and immediately accepted. The recognition is terrific. But more than that, the offer puts Straight-Friendly right where it needs to be—a place providing new inroads to a wider audience of GLBT people struggling with religious rejection. God be praised for this blessing (as well as earlier inclusion on a similar, Chicago-based site, lifelube.org, which already has generated considerable traffic here). And a hat-tip of gratitude goes out to James Hipps and lifelube’s editors for supporting gay spiritual health along with other concerns and interests.

Ironically, James’s note came on the heels of another I didn’t intend to share. But I must, simply as a testimony to God’s grace and His marvelous sense of timing. Last week, I submitted Straight-Friendly for link consideration at another Christian blog hub. I received a gracious note declining the application. “It’s what I think of as an issues blog,” the editor wrote. “Nothing wrong with that”—“Seinfeld” fans, you know what that means—“but it’s not something we normally work with.” I took it on the chin; in fact, after spending more time with some of the bloggers gathered there, I’d already decided to withdraw my application. But it stung, nonetheless. And then, the very next day, here comes God, opening a new door to a place far better suited to our focus and efforts. He truly is a Wonder!

When you pray, remember Straight-Friendly and ask our Father to guide those who open Best Gay Blogs, Gay Agenda, and lifelube in search of spiritual comfort and community our way. And join me in thanking Him for these outstanding resources and opportunities.

2 comments:

FranIAm said...

Prayers for you always, always.

Glad to read of this as you had shared some of the other thing via email.

You are a light, shine brightly always.

Tim said...

Don't you love how God works, Fran? And the blessings are already coming--new hits from new places, and not all window shoppers. Several readers via the sites are reading at length! God be praised.

Your love and support are so dear. Thank you.