Good news to the poor; release to the captives; recovery of sight to the blind; freedom for the oppressed. This is not a file it and forget it kind of mission statement. This isn’t something Jesus put on a PowerPoint or stuck on a webpage somewhere and then never went back to it. In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist brings Jesus back to it. He sent his own disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” And Jesus answers him by saying, in effect, check out my mission statement. He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” [Matthew 11:2-6] How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah? Because he is doing what the Messiah is supposed to do. Jesus gives us the metrics. His mission can be measured. It can be proved or disproved by what we hear and see.
Baptism is an initiation into the struggle. Anyone who has ever tried to live in the direction of God’s kingdom knows what a struggle that is. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist who perhaps more than anyone in recent memory understood both the spiritual and moral implications of John’s baptism. It was his gift, his calling to invite others into the struggle for the kingdom. He even had the name for it. Not until this week did I know that Martin Luther wasn’t King’s original name. When he was born, he was named after his dad, Michael. But in 1934, the Rev. Michael King, Sr., went on a trip to Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, the Holy Land and ended up in Berlin to attend a World Baptist Alliance convention. Adolf Hitler had just become Chancellor of Germany, and the Baptists who gathered in the homeland of Martin Luther responded by issuing a declaration, denouncing “all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world.” Michael King, Sr. came home a changed man and so he changed his name to Martin Luther King and gave that name to his son as well. [Deneen L. Brown for The Washington Post, Jan. 15, 2019]
This is the crazy plan that Paul is commissioned to preach and the church is supposed to teach. This is the wisdom of God in its rich variety. Now, I’m lucky to have a husband who reads the Greek. I ask him, “Hank, what is the Greek that gets translated “in its rich variety”? What is Paul saying about God’s wisdom here? The word is polypóikilos. Literally, it means “many-hued.” Literally, Paul is talking about the multicolored wisdom of God. I love it. If our churches were more multicolored, think how much closer we would be, how much more legitimate our claim to the wisdom of God in all of its rich variety!
All of us are embarking on a journey called 2019. The question is: are we going to be motivated by fear, by our worry about what might happen to us and to our family, friends, church, community, or country in this coming year? Or are we going to be driven by the desire to know what is possible for us, by the longing to experience the joy of meeting Jesus? Like me, you may have nearly flunked Christmas, but we can still ace the new year. The magi say, “Look up. Wise up. Rise up. Your light has come. Your star is waiting. Be on your way.”