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Summary: Sermon for World Communion Sunday 2007

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In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides tells of a dramatic mission during World War II. On January 28, 1945, hand-selected Army Rangers and Filipino resistance slipped 30 miles behind enemy lines to rescue 513 American and British POW’s who had spent three years in a hellish prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan.

The first effects of liberation as chaos and fear. Having faced brutality as well as illnesses the prisoners were brittle, mentally and physically to comprehend a rescue was actually taking place.

Sides describes one particular prisoner, Bert Bank, who refused to budge, even when a Ranger walked right up to him and tugged his arm.

"C’mon, we’re here to save you," he said. "Run for the gate."

Bank still would not move. The Ranger looked into his eyes and saw they were vacant, registering nothing.

"What’s wrong with you?" he asked. "Don’t you want to be free?"

A smile formed on Bank’s lips as the meaning of the words became clear, and he reached up to the outstretched hand of the Ranger.

The Rangers searched all the barracks for additional prisoners, then shouted, "The Americans are leaving. Is there anybody here?" Hearing no answer, they left.

But there was one more POW Edwin Rose. Edwin had been on latrine duty and somehow missed all the shooting and explosions. When he wandered back to his barracks, he failed to notice the room was empty and lay down on his straw mat and fell asleep. Edwin had missed the liberation. But there was a reason why. Edwin was deaf.

Four Americans died in the rescue; two Rangers in the firefight and two prisoners who perished for reasons of poor health. The freed prisoners marched 25 miles and boarded their ship home. With each step, their stunned disbelief gave way to soaring optimism. Even Edwin Rose made it. He finally woke up and realized liberation had come. [1]

I mention this story because Jesus’ purpose for coming was to bring freedom. In the gospels, Jesus heals a crippled woman and calls it "freedom". The woman who "touches the hem of his robe" is pronounced "free". Jesus proclaims that He is the source of freedom. In Romans, four times we’re told we are "free" from sin or the law of sin. In Luke 4, which will be an overarching theme between now and Thanksgiving, it seems that we have a five-fold purpose for his coming.

• to preach good news to the poor

• to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

• recovery of sight for the blind

• to release the oppressed

• to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

I don’t think that’s the case. I believe what we have here one purpose explained, shown, demonstrated, laid out with four various examples that would be known to the Jews in Nazareth and Jerusalem. Those in Nazareth new about poverty. They had seen what it meant to be a prisoner. The harsh Middle-Eastern sun made blindness not all that rare. And when it came to oppression, they had Rome as a constant reminder. The "year of the Lord’s favor" was a hope that seemed far away, if not impossible.

It is almost impossible to read these verses without translating them into 21st century thought. Today’s poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed, at least in our nation, have little in common with those of Jesus’ day. So it’s a temptation to dismiss the importance of this statement of Christ.


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