If you read the teachings of Jesus and observe what the Gospels claim that he actually did, you must conclude that he lived a radical life. This conclusion appears especially evident when you stop to compare his lifestyle and expressed values with the ordinary, run of the mill U. S. Christian.
Luke 4:16ff reports on an early speech that Jesus delivered in the synagogue in his hometown. Many consider these words the basis of his first sermon. During that address, Jesus outlined his understanding of his personal mission in life. It is quite the litany, especially when compared to the apparent mission understandings of most churches and most church members these days.
Here's the mission statement Jesus shared with the crowd who gathered in the Nazareth house of prayer:
"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 favor."
I've been pondering during the past few days how the church has rewritten that mission statement in America. Here's what I believe is an accurate mission statement for many congregations in the mainstream church today and for typical members of such congregations:
"The requirements of common sense are forced upon me to bring a word of direction to the disaffected middle-class materialists among whom I live and with whom I identify so strongly. God has sent me to proclaim release to those imprisoned in unsatisfying relationships and held captive by basic negative self-images; to unlock the chains of self-imposed limits and open every eye to the possibilities bound up in a life lived to the full, to set free slaves to unrestrained debt by means of creative 'work outs' and to proclaim the year of infinite possibilities, especially for our children."
I'm certain that there are other ways to rewrite the mission. But this one will have to do for today.
There is a reason why most churches don't act as if they share Jesus' concern for the poor, the impoverished, the economically distressed, as in "po folks."
There is a reason why most churches don't reach out to the prisoners, those locked up in need of compassion, love, mercy and liberation.
There is a reason why the church is not positioned near the blind, and by implication the unhealthy, the uninsured and the cast offs of our culture.
There is a reason why most church members don't know what the "year of the Lord's favor" is all about; why they don't really know what the Year of Jubilee involved or why Jesus embraced it as his defining mandate for his entire life.
It's all about mission and self-understanding; purpose and reason to exist.
Of course, there are exceptions to my critique. You easily can prove up the fact that your church falls into the exceptional category. Just check this year's budget.