We as Lutherans don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. For some, even the words Holy Spirit conjure up images of Pentecostals, holy rollers and so on. My own journey has taken me from being a nominal Roman Catholic by way of the charismatic movement to the Lutheran church where I have seen the Holy Spirit’s work through Word and Sacrament, in our worship together, in the community of faith, and in our outreach.
In Luke, we first hear of the Holy Spirit as Gabriel makes the promise to Mary that she will be the mother of Christ. The Holy Spirit is also on the scene at Jesus’ baptism descending upon him like a dove. Once full of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Today’s gospel reading occurs right after that temptation. Strengthened by his time of testing, Jesus is now ready for his public ministry and the Holy Spirit is at work once again.
After his baptism, he had begun teaching in Galilee, the starting point of his ministry, in the surrounding synagogues and everyone loved his words. Do you know why? Listen again to the beginning words of our passage, “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…” (v. 14). The Holy Spirit filled Jesus was returning home and His reputation preceded him. Now he has arrived in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.
We may think Accident and Friendsville are small towns, but in Jesus’ time, Nazareth was just a Jewish settlement of 200-400 villagers—perhaps only a dozen extended families. We may think our church is small, but in Jesus’ time, a town could start a synagogue with just 10 men (NET notes, Bibleworks). We do not know how many or how few were in the congregation.
Jesus went to synagogue “as was his custom,” just like we go to church on Sunday. Jesus read from the scroll, just as we read the lessons in the service. That was the common practice of his day. Then following reading, commenting about the passage was the common practice. Why is this different?
He was claiming to be the One the prophets promised would come—the Messiah.
Jesus brings the word, and interprets it in the midst of the people: today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. He is the interpretation; the time is now. God is at home in them. He is the anointed servant, set apart for special service by the Spirit of God...
One scholar has noted “…both the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry and his return to his hometown are under the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit” (Dennis Bratcher). The Holy Spirit’s role is central to Luke. “And it is clear that Luke is greatly concerned with anchoring this new work of God in the world through Jesus in the work of the Holy Spirit” (Dennis Bratcher).
Further, the passage Jesus read began, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (v. 18). It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit that all the freedom mentioned in Isaiah, incarnated in Jesus Christ, takes place. It is one thing to say who you are and what you believe, but it is another to show it. Jesus not only said he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, he showed who he was by his works: bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting people free, and by proclaiming God’s favor.
Now this is all well and good, but what about us? What about our small congregation, other churches growing and ours shrinking, our needs here, the needs of the world??? Of course, Jesus could do all those things because he was God’s Son! But that’s not what Luke says!! Jesus did all of his works through the Holy Spirit.
Today, Pentecostals talk about the Holy Spirit and receiving the Spirit all the time. How do we as Lutherans receive the Holy Spirit? Luther says we received this in baptism:
Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. (Large Catechism)
The baptized people of God already have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives through us each day. But we need to “believe firmly what it promises and brings…” What will lives look like when we do just that?
In my time with you, I have witnessed God’s Spirit at work. The other day at a funeral, one of God’s children hugged a woman who was mourning the loss of her mother. The few words this Christian said were the right words at the right time. She was there and the Holy Spirit was working through her.
When we volunteer at Good Will we are proclaiming the good news of release to those imprisoned by their financial problems, unable to purchase items at the store. The Holy Spirit is working through us.
But how do we get more people to come to church? Let the Holy Spirit work through us as we share what God has done in our lives, through evangelism. Kent Knutson writes:
…evangelism is the communication of the whole gospel.... It is...to show love both to the body and to the soul… [Ending] racism is the work...of the gospel. The [wiping out] of poverty is the work...of the gospel.... [Evangelism] is the thrusting forth of the gospel. Evangelism is everybody's business. No Christian is excused. Evangelism is making the gospel alive in both word and deed.
God’s work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ yesterday and today is good news—for everyone, everywhere.
And for the baptized people of God, who have also been anointed by the Holy Spirit, who have also been set free from captivity to sin and guilt, this text is a commission—to go, hands open wide, to share the good news in word and deed. (Ann M. Svennungsen)
Let us pray:
O Holy spirit, enter in,
And in our hearts your work begin,
And make our hearts your dwelling.
Sun of the soul, O Light divine,
Around and in us brightly shine,
Your strength in us upwelling.
In your radiance Life from heaven
Now is given Overflowing,
Gift of gifts beyond all knowing.