Manifesto at Nazareth

EPIPHANY 3C – 26th January, 2013 – St Matthew’s, Guildford

Here in Western Australia, we face a year of elections. Along with the rest of the nation, we will be going to the polls three times in 2013.

Six weeks from yesterday, on 9th March, we will be voting for the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council of Western Australia.

In October, we will be voting in elections for councillors in our local City, Town or Shire.

And by October at the latest, we will have to vote again for member of our Federal Parliament.

Not forgetting that we will also possibly need to vote for Churchwardens and Parish Councillors at our Annual Meeting of Parishioners.

Enough to make us feel overloaded before we even get out of our pews this morning! 

Something common to most elections – but hopefully not to the Annual Meeting! – is the canvassing of voters and our being bombarded with a whole series of promises and policies. Our television screens and our newspapers will be filled with pictures of smiling would-be members of our governments and councils; our shopping-centres will be visited by baby-kissing men and women and our schools and nursing-homes will be bombarded with those who promise a better deal for students, parents and senior citizens.

For each election, major and lessor political parties will present their policies, usually with a big “launch” event. We saw the WA Greens do this a week or so ago, complete with a large green carpet rolled out on the steps of Parliament House. And the Liberal, Labor and National Parties will do theirs as soon as the writs for the election are issued.

Each party’s list of promises and goals is their “platform”, their “policy position”. Another word for this – although less used – is “manifesto”. It’s a statement of all that the party intends, aims, wishes and/or hopes to achieve in the next three or four years in power. Most of us are fairly sceptical of the likelihood of all that is promised being accomplished. But we do our best to decide which party offers the best deal for the State or nation. And, if we’re honest, we are usually trying to decide which party or candidate will look after ourselves best.

Wikipedia defines a manifesto in this way: “A manifesto is a written public declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds.”

In this morning’s Gospel reading from St Luke, Jesus comes to his home town of Nazareth and, come Sabbath, is found in the synagogue service, where he is asked to read from the Scriptures. And here’s what he reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
This is Jesus’ “manifesto” as he begins his public ministry as “Messiah”. In Wikipedia terms, Jesus accepts a previously published opinion (the words of Isaiah) and promotes a new idea – that he is the one who is to bring about the changes outlined in the “manifesto”.

“Today”, he says, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And you could probably have heard a pin drop! The prophecies of Isaiah have been read in Jewish religious gatherings for over eight hundred years by this time, but never with such conviction and never with such immediacy.

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Our lectionary compilers, in their wisdom, have cut the reading at this point, and we have to wait a week to find out the reaction of Jesus’ hearers. So today we can focus on the manifesto itself and what implications it has for the followers of Jesus the Messiah.

Many, if not most, of us here this morning have been hearing the Scriptures read Sunday by Sunday for most of our lives. Many of us have read the Scriptures at home and in Bible Study or fellowship groups or many years. But rarely do we hear them with the immediacy which says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

We are usually not ready for such a shock or such a challenge. Nor were Jesus’ hearers – but, as I said, more of them next week.

When we were baptised in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we took on the name of Christ – that’s what “Christian” means, after all! St Paul calls it “taking on Christ”.

Some years ago, I joined a major political party. Having voted for them for many years, I felt it was time to “put my money where my mouth was”. So I signed on the dotted line, added my personal and credit card details; and a few weeks later, I received a membership card and a detailed list of the values and goal of the Party, with most of which I concurred. I still do hold with much of the Party’s “manifesto”, but have resigned my membership over some strong disagreement with statements made by some of the senior leadership. The Party will still get my vote in the State and Federal elections this year; but only because they are, in my opinion, not so bad as other parties in the field.

One of the challenges for me in being a card-carrying member of a political party, was that it was not really appropriate for me to declare my political allegiances in public – especially in church. Being a dedicated Geelong Football Club supporter at St Matthew’s and in W A in general is challenging enough. But to declare myself a member of Liberal/Labor/National/Green or any other party would probably divide this or any congregation in an unhealthy way.

One of the challenges I observe amongst Christians is that it is embarrassing and even divisive to declare our faith, our allegiance to the “Party of Jesus” in our everyday world. Some folk regard us as a bit odd, others as mad, others as dangerous. It’s sort of OK to come to church on Sunday morning – most people are busy enough with their own lives to notice our gathering.

But let a Christian speak out in the media about matters of justice, immigration, the environment, sexuality or equality, then watch the opposition. Let the Church take a stance on any of these issues and you’ll hear all that claptrap about the separation of church and state, and letters to the editor will be three or four to one against the church. How much easier is it to sit quietly in church and let the world go hang?

But this is not to be for Jesus nor for those who bear his name. We, too, have been anointed

“to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

In 1990, the Anglican Consultative Council, the body which brings together representatives of all member churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion, produced a statement entitled “The Five Marks of Mission” which has been adopted as our “manifesto” in the Diocese of Perth. It has been on the notice board in the porch here at St Matthew’s for some time. It reads:

The Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

Recently, the Anglican Board of Mission, Australia has revised the Marks of mission somewhat and here they are:

1. Witness to Christ’s saving, forgiving, reconciling love for all people
2. Build welcoming, transforming communities of faith
3. Stand in solidarity with the poor and needy
4. Challenge violence, injustice and oppression, and work for peace and reconciliation
5. Protect, care for and renew life on our planet

I have put a copy of these in every pewsheet this morning, so that you can take them away to reflect on them, use them as a measure of your living out of Christ’s call to you and to reflect and pray about how we as a parish are meeting up to that call.

Jesus stands before us this morning, declaring his mission and calling us to join with him to
“bring good news to the poor.
to 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.”

Next week, as I have said, we’ll see the reaction of Jesus’ hearers. What will be yours and mine?