Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
January 1, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
One of my favorite movies is The Blues Brothers, starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. In that movie John Belushi’s character Jake Blues has just been released from the Illinois state prison at Joliet (which is why he is called Joliet Jake). He discovers that the Catholic children’s home where he grew up is about to close unless it can raise some significant amount of money in short order to pay off a tax lien. So he sets out with his brother Elwood, played by Dan Akroyd, to put his old band back together and make some money for the children’s home. The brothers have a whole string of misadventures, running from the law and from a mysterious woman who is out to get them played by Carrie Fisher. They encounter Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, and others. The movie has a sort of happy ending. The orphanage is saved, but the Blues Brothers and their band end up in prison back in Joliet.
What interests me about this movie today is the way that on several occasions in the movie Elwood Blues/Dan Akroyd exclaims: “We’re on a mission from God!,” pronouncing the word God as a nasal “Gahd.” I thought of that repeated line from the movie as I read our Gospel passage this morning, the one that ends with the text saying that the child Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.” I was struck by how this ending of Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth echoes the very beginning of that story. There the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you.” I looked up the Greek original to make sure I wasn’t dealing only with a translation issue, and I found that the word “favored” that the angel speaks to Mary and the word “favor” that Luke says was upon Jesus at least have the same Greek root. They are closely related words, and I got to wondering what God’s “favor” might mean as Luke applies it to Mary and to Jesus at the beginning and at the end of his story of Jesus’ birth. Luke seems to connect them through the way he uses the Greek word charis for Jesus and another word that has charis as its root for Mary. They have that word in common in Luke, so I wondered if they have something in common in the story that Luke is pointing to with the words he used.
It turns out that they do, or at least it seems to me that they do. They both enjoy God’s favor—the word can also be translated as “grace,” which is why the Catholic tradition renders the annunciation text “Mary full of grace”—and in both cases that favor of God seems to bring with it a “mission from God.” The angel comes to Mary because there is something important that God wants Mary to do. God wants Mary to bear God’s son Jesus. Becoming the mother of God, as the Christian tradition has long called her, is Mary’s mission from God. She is God’s favored one yes; but that favor comes with an assignment, the assignment to give birth to Jesus.
Jesus also grows in God’s favor, as Luke tells it; and certainly God had a mission for Jesus too. Mel Gibson may think that that mission was simply to die, but that’s not it at all. Jesus’ mission was to bring the world the good news of the Kingdom of God and of God’s unfailing grace. His mission is to teach us God’s ways and to show up the evil of so many of the world’s ways. His death has great meaning to be sure, but it wasn’t his mission. His mission was to reveal to us as much as we are capable of understanding about the nature and will of God. The favor of God was upon him, which meant that God had great work for him to do and would be with him as he did it.
The lesson to learn seems then to be pretty clear. We say that we live in the grace of God. In Jesus we know God precisely as gracious, compassionate, and forgiving. We could say with Luke that God’s favor is upon us. We, and all people actually, are God’s favored ones. We get that, I think; but we so often don’t get the corollary of God gift of grace. We so often don’t get that God’s favor comes to us with an assignment, just as it did to Mary and Jesus in Luke’s birth story. God’s favor, God’s grace isn’t conditional, but God has expectations of us. When we really get what God’s grace, God’s favor, is all about we realize that we too are on a mission from God. Or at least, we have to acknowledge that God calls us to be on a mission, the mission of continuing Jesus’ work in the world, the mission of building the Kingdom of God here among the kingdoms of the earth.
Jake and Elwood Blues were on a mission from God, and they encountered all kinds of obstacles along the way. Maybe it’s a stretch to see Jake and Elwood really being on a mission from God, although saving a home for orphaned children certainly is good work. But we know that people who truly are on a mission from God face obstacles all the time. The world resists. The world not only resisted Jesus, it killed him; and as Simeon foretold a sword then pierced Mary’s heart too. Being favored by God doesn’t mean that things are going to be easy. It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a happy Hollywood ending. There wasn’t for Jesus. There wasn’t for a great many of God’s prophets over the centuries. But Jesus, Mary, and all the prophets who came after them knew that they were indeed on a mission from God. So they persevered in their mission, even when it cost them their lives.
God calls us to be on a mission too. The specifics of that mission may be hard to discern. There’s always the risk that we’ll get it wrong. But God’s favor, God’s grace, sends us out on a mission from God. Are we ready to go? Amen.