Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for Choral Eucharist on Sunday 12th May 2024

Title: The message of hope to the poor.

I would like to kindly invite you to forget who you are for a moment. Please, forget that you are living in Geneva! In silence, please think what you can do if you have to live with no more than CH 85 per month. Now I would like to ask you the same question if you have to live with just CH 52 a month. We are going to talk about a message of hope to the poor!        

Our gospel passage today, refers to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in the region of Galilee. Luke describes that Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit for his teaching. It is interesting to reflect that the Gospel of Luke speaks about the Spirit in relation to Jesus more than the other evangelists.

Jesus began to teach in the synagogues and the initial reaction was very positive, although later he will face rejection and hostility in his own town Nazareth.

Jesus used to regularly attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and following the normal practice, he could stand up, select, and speak about one passage of the Prophets. Jesus selects a particular text. For his first Nazareth sermonhe reads Isaiah 61:1-2 -which was our first reading today- and probably Isaiah 58:6, declaring himself to be God’s Messiah and proclaiming the nature of the salvation that God is bringing through him. 

`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 of the captives and recovery the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free´

This verse 18 of the Gospel is a very important message of freedom and hope. I would say that above all, this first message is an extraordinary announcement and a sharp invitation of hope to the poor- both  to those who are economically and those who are spiritually poor. This is considered one of the most important verses for Liberation Theology, with the mission of the church at the service of the poor, understanding Scripture through the lens of the oppressed. The Gospel according to Luke includes at least ten verses in eight different chapters, referring to the poor. I will return to that point!

The verse includes the God’s commission -`sent me´- to release to the captives, which can be the prisoners, but also understood to release from sin and the spiritual captivity. To recover the `sight to the blind´, which is not only referring to the physical aspect, but also it is a message to help people living in spiritual darkness. The sermon is very significant because it plays out in miniature the story that will unfold in the gospel and Acts. 

The end of the passage is extremely powerful! With all the attention on him, Jesus sat down and said: `Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing´.Jesus gave a brief but extremely powerful declaration; he proclaimed its fulfilment, the dawn of a new era.

Let us briefly return and reflect about Christ’s church mission to bring good news to the poor in the world today! 

In 2015, the leaders of the 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG N° 1 is to “End poverty in All Forms Everywhere”, with the aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and to reduce by half the proportion of people living in poverty.

Poor people and poverty are traditionally associated with lack of financial resources, affecting basic rights like food, housing, water and sanitation, medical care, employment, or education. A poor person in a rural area is not the same as one living in the city, or a poor person living in Switzerland is different to one living in a slum in another part of the world. Indeed, there are very different manifestations of poverty, such as that coming from addictions, problems with drugs, or even gambling. We also know about spiritual poverty.

These 193 countries committed to take coordinated actions to address the problem through the universal access to basic social services; the development of social protection systems targeting the most vulnerable; or the intensification of international cooperation focused on poverty eradication. However, the reality is that the State’s efforts are not enough!

According to the last figures of the World Bank, in 2023, the world still has over 700 million people living in extreme poverty (living with less than U$S 1.9 per day -CH 52) and around 20% of global population being affected by poverty (less than U$S 3.10 a day – CH85).

In addition to the efforts of the governments, several organizations, charities, philanthropic, human rights  NGOs, or church-based social action projects are working to combat poverty at national and international level. Just to name one familiar to us, Christian Aid, chaired by the Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, works globally to combat poverty, by responding to humanitarian needs in cases of violence and political intolerance, conflicts and displacement, natural disasters, and climate change. 

For us, the principles of the SDGs are reflected in the Anglican Five Marks of Mission. The fourth of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission promotes `To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation´. The questions that we can ask ourselves in Geneva are: Should the church confront and transform the structures of social injustices? Or Should the church pursue to change “individuals” within the structures that they serve?

Jesus preached to people, he did not speak out directly against political structures or leaders. Jesus was aiming to create a new community of people and to change individuals!

The challenge is massive; the global numbers are shocking! It resounds to me the chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mathew, `The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few´. What can we do?

Jesus’s teaching is an invitation to each one of us and to the church to further express love, compassion, solidarity, and truth to all, but with a special focus on the poor. He called us to follow his ministry, seeking justice and giving loving service.    

Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit in all that he did. We can commit to prayer, listening and discernment in the power of the Holy Spirit in us, to find ways to transform individuals and to take care of the needy.

We certainly can pray for the Spirit to work in hearts and minds to those with the power to transform unjust structures, so that the message of the gospel can act with love to embrace the most vulnerable. We can use the power that each one of us has, particularly in Geneva, to work directly for good social and societal change.

We can welcome them, we can listen to them; we can guide them, or we can continue supporting them with our involvement in actions like Jardin de Montbrillant and Samedi du Partage and many other individual or ecumenical initiatives.

Sometimes, …just sometimes, we can lose perspective of those in need because we are living in Switzerland. However, with empathy and determination, we can bring the message of hope to the poor!

Amen.