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Faithful Words

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Faithful Words

By Dr. Kenneth Faught

 

Christ’s ministry . . . and ours   “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . . .” (Luke 4:18-19). We often speak of “the ministry of Jesus” and then, in the next breath, speak of “our ministry” or “the church’s ministry.” Truth is, they are one-in-the-same. The Christian ministry was begun by Christ himself, and is continued through his followers, the church. To the extent that we are carrying on with what Jesus began, we are doing genuine ministry. To the extent that we are pursuing the latest fads and trends in religion we are betraying our calling. This should not suggest that the church cannot be innovative, but that we must always be true to our essential identity with Christ. The criteria for ministry is addressed in the inaugural sermon of Jesus in Luke 4:18-19. There we discover two principles. First, Jesus was guided by the Spirit. Second, Jesus was faithful to God’s Word. John Wesley saw in these verses a reference to the Trinity, when Jesus mentions “the Spirit”, “the Lord,” and “me.” It is a reminder that ministry is a partnership, and that “we are laborers together with God”. The two best measurements of everything we do then become (a) Are we led by the Spirit? and (b) Are we faithful to God’s Word? The content of Christian ministry is also addressed in Jesus’ brief sermon. Two elements are central. First, all real ministry has a “preaching” element. Specifically, Jesus mentions declaring “good news” (the Gospel). Preaching may be a sermon delivered upon some particular text, or a children’s choir singing the good news, or a conversation in which the grace of God is conveyed. The story is crucial: “For God so loved the world….” The other aspect of ministry is “reaching.” Jesus mentions the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. As a result of his reading of this passage, Wesley began ministries with the poor, prisoners, the sick, and widows. This is where the Spirit and the Word lead us. In this day of consumer Christianity we must realize that we are not here for ourselves, but for Christ, and for others. We are to offer a “Welcome!” in God’s name to everyone, regardless of race, class, sex, age, income, or nationality. The difficult challenge of Christian ministry is presented in the verses following Jesus’ sermon. Though his message met with approval and astonishment from the religious leaders, when Jesus began to remind his audience that the “Good News” is for everyone (Luke 22-30) their support quickly turned to outrage. They were not ready to move beyond their “comfort zone” and include others, especially Gentiles and those they considered “unclean.” This is our challenge, too. We are led by the Spirit and the Word to reach everyone with the good news of Jesus.    (Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.)