January 31, 2013


Space Shuttle on Mission

Sermon for Year C, The Third Sunday After the Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
January 20, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

You just heard the mission statement of Jesus, Incorporated,
  Doing Business As The Lord’s Fish Company (slogan: “Fish for People”).
You heard it from the president himself:
  To bring good news to the poor,
    Proclaim release to the captives
      And recovery of sight to the blind,
    Let the oppressed go free,
      And proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When I was employed at American Water Works in Denver,
  We had all-hands meetings usually once a month.
You could grumble about these meetings, but I found it didn’t do a lot of good.
If you ducked out or suddenly took sick and couldn’t make the meetings,
  You’d get the stink-eye and the longer it went on the more your job would be in danger.
Partly because new policies and procedures would be rolled out at these meetings.
These were also occasions for hearing about the mission and vision of the organization.
And they would tell us, in no uncertain terms,
  That if we didn’t think we could support those things
    Or work according to the new norms,
  Then really, for the best interests of everyone,
  We should probably start looking pretty seriously at the want-ads,
    Because this is the way it’s going to be.

There are legitimate business operations in this country that do vital work everyday,
  And then there are those that in the grand scheme of things don’t add up to much.
But all of them strive to make profits. That’s how things work.
They all accomplish that by maintaining a system of expectations and boundaries:
  Clear policies and procedures.
That’s how they survive. That’s how they propagate products to go into the market.

Even more than that, though, this simple business law:
  If your company doesn’t know what it is or what it does,
    It will waste money and fail.

If your company knows what it is and what it does –
  A mission and a purpose articulated with passion and clarity –
  A important statement of Why We Exist –
  It stands a better chance of sticking around.
No one has time for something overly vague.

Keeping all this in mind, then, let me ask you:
  How important does the following corporate mission statement sound to you?
1.  Bring good news to the poor;
2.  Release the captives and recover the sight of the blind;
3.  Free the oppressed, and
4.  Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I know this much:
  Jesus is our Lord and King, and it was his total concern, agenda, overriding passion.
He attacked every part of it with absolute ferocity.
It wasn’t just some intellectual proposition –
  Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we brought sight to the blind?
  And it wasn’t some thin statement you work on for a while and admire
    Before you go stick it in a drawer.
Read Luke. What he says today that he has come to do in chapter four,
  He does in the rest of the gospel.
He has no time to be vague.

I suspect that at least once in our lives, many of us
  Have run into those mealy-mouthed corporate mission statements you sometimes see.
These can be absolutely dreadful if they aren’t carefully worked.

You’d never want to go to work for these outfits.
You wouldn’t have any idea how to do your job!

“We can be relied upon to revolutionize ethical services
    To meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace” …
 “Our company exists to authoritatively enhance resources” …
 “Our vision is to pursue emerging assets
    That provide key differentiators between us and our competitors” …
 “We have committed to completely leveraging
    Existing world-class paradigms.”

Fly-by-night companies! Dime-a-dozen corporations!
These are flukes that come and go.
The best organizations know with absolute certitude who they are and what they do,
  And they don’t waste time doing the things that don’t add value.

Back to Jesus.
Jesus’ voice is cutting across the clutter and noise this very morning,
    Come with me; this is urgent.
    Bring good news to the poor.
    Release the captives and recover the sight of the blind.
    Free the oppressed.
    Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
    Just because I did it, he says, doesn’t mean it’s done for all time.
Now that is concrete and specific,
  Yet it also leaves room for each and every one of us
    To get in and claim a stake in the process, to actually get some skin in the game:
    Not because it’s necessarily comfortable,
      But because it’s world-changing, and don’t you want to be a part of that?
That’s the magic of going to work for Jesus, Incorporated, DBA The Lord’s Fish Co.
Everyone is absolutely needed immediately;
  There isn’t a one of us who’s somehow extra.

Yet I wonder. It may be easy to take this with a bit of a jaundiced eye, eh?
To want to take things too literally? Give ourselves a pass?
In other words despite what Jesus may have said about freed captives,
  We all know you can’t just march up to the jail
  And throw open the doors; that’s a crime.
We all know you can’t just stick vision back into a person’s who’s gone blind,
  And besides I’m not an eye doctor.
I think I’m gonna call in sick today.

(Please don’t think I’m not preaching to myself right now, too!)

I don’t know how my New Testament professors would react to this,
  But it seems to me
    That each point of Jesus’ mission statement says essentially the same thing:
  Someone was trapped and now is free,
    And someone stops long enough to say so:
      That we announce this good news as well as perform it.
That which was restricted by the world, with God’s help, is now liberated.
That which was sick has been made well.
We help the ones who are getting a raw deal.

And, importantly, that this doesn’t all happen miraculously on its own:
  But that we, with God, are co-creators;
    And that what we are co-creating
    Is this new reality called the Kingdom of God.
And we can all do that: in our homes, in our work, in our schools, in our daily lives.
Look, with big open eyes, for all those moments where life is restricted
  And because it’s in the mission statement, step in and restore life.
Oh, and you know –
  Sometimes it will miraculously be an actual prisoner who is actually set free,
    Or a blind person whose sight is truly restored,
  In which case we do our part and praise God for the rest.

See, the Gospel is a mission statement that emerges up out of yesterday,
  But it has new relevance every time the sun comes up.

I want to be faithful to God with my life:
  I know you do, too.
I want to know and abide by the established policies and procedures:
  That God through Our Lord Jesus Christ has set down
    And paid for with his life;
    I know you do, too.
I want to be in relationship with a living, crucified and risen Lord;
  I know you do, too.
Living and working the mission statement every day is a chance to do that.

Can I therefore challenge us?
Would we please take our bulletin inserts home,
  Cut out the mission statement,
    And put it in our purse or wallet?
And furthermore, will we ask ourselves each night as we prepare to go to sleep
  This one quick question:
    How did I live Jesus’ mission statement today?
We may get sick of thinking about it or – who knows – maybe we’ll be enlivened by it.

Either way, it will start to go to work on us, I’m sure,
  And it will change our thinking for the better.
Thanks be to God.

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