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Centered in the Spirit

This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 12/27/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel was Luke 4:14-21.
In the time after Epiphany, we see more revelations of Jesus in the gospel. Today’s is Jesus’ controversial proclamations in his home town. We see the centrality of the life of the Spirit in Jesus’ life of ministry.

The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus after his baptism (3:22), then fills Jesus before he was sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and in this passage of Luke the Spirit fills Jesus with power.

The role of the Holy Spirit is central in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ first public words were “The Spirit of the Lord.” The first three phrases in Jesus’ reading tie his ministry to the work of the Spirit: “The Spirit…is upon me…because [the Spirit] has anointed me…[The Spirit] has sent me.” In Jesus’ repetition of “me,” we hear his claiming of Isaiah’s words for himself.

Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Anointed is the English word that means the same as “Christ” in Greek and “Messiah” in Hebrew. Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name. Anointed points to Jesus as God’s definitive spokesperson, the one who is God’s prophet relating to the ultimate destiny of humanity and the world. Jesus was not anointed literally with oil, as were Israel’s prophets and kings of old, but with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit sent Jesus to do what? A God-sized blessing always comes with a God-sized mission. The Holy Spirit has anointed Jesus in order to bring good news to the poor (not to some, but to all the poor). Jesus factors the poor into his teaching in Luke more than any of the other three gospels. Luke always uses “poor” in a literal sense (6:20; 7:22; 14:13 etc).

Just who are these poor? They are those who for any number of socio-religious reasons are relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people. The poor are outsiders. However, Jesus refuses to recognize the socially determined boundaries, asserting that even such outsiders are recipients of divine grace. God has made the way to include them in the family.

Jesus proclaims release to captives from various forms of demonic, economic, social and political bondage that oppress them. It would include those in prisons, those in bondage to addiction, those oppressed by abusive situations. In Luke, such release includes forgiveness, more than just saying you forgive someone, but the act of forgiveness includes releasing and freeing people. It implies restoration of entry into the community. The mission of release would have important spiritual and social ramifications.

Jesus restores sight to the blind. This is not only physical blindness, but also figuratively reviving the prophetic vision of the year of the Lord’s favor.

In Luke 14, both the “poor” and “blind” are invited to a great dinner. Here the blind don’t see again and the poor don’t become rich. However, they are given the status of being guests in the kingdom of God. Basically, such people are important to God. If they’re important to God, then they should be important to us as God’s children.

To let the oppressed go free and that this action results directly from the will of God, suggests that the kingdom of God is already at hand. In Luke we find stories of inclusion of outcasts and in Acts there is divine release of early Christians in prison.

Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. In Luke’s theological understanding of history, the year of Jesus’ ministry is a special year in God’s plan, the year that the kingdom of God was on earth, embodied in the ministry of Jesus. Luke’s answer to the question “What do you mean by the kingdom of God?” is to look at the ministry of Jesus—good news to the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed; the ministry carried on by Jesus’ disciples through the church. Jesus ushers in a whole new era, including his earthly ministry, but moving beyond that to also include the time that, but also continues until his return.

Here Jesus announces year of jubilee from the book of Leviticus. Debts are forgiven, slaves freed, bad real-estate transactions redeemed—economic, agrarian and even domestic life would be unlike life as most people lived it. This is why scholars doubt that it was ever celebrated. After all, it’s great news if you need redistribution of now alienated ancestral lands, but if you’ve obtained someone else’s land—not so much.

In reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus announces the prophecy’s present day fulfillment—today—it’s me—I’m here. Today is a moment of radical change, an emancipation or proclamation of amnesty—the kind of word that changes things. In “today,” a divine future is dawning—in Jesus’ person, in this moment in the Nazareth synagogue. This today refers to the time of Jesus’ ministry, the time of salvation, not simply to the one day in the synagogue. The ultimate meaning of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus.

God has now entered the world as flesh so that no human can be overlooked. No one can be left in a place of oppression. No one is unworthy of God’s good news (Lewis). As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” – and so does our God.

Some of Jesus’ contemporaries expected the Messiah to bring a cataclysmic victory over Roman powers of oppression, and they expected it soon. When Jesus was crucified, it must have seemed like a colossal defeat, another dashed hope. Later the temple was destroyed, as was Jerusalem. What now? Where was all the deliverance that was promised?

Today is a time of change brought about through an encounter with Jesus. It may involve attitude—rejoicing and praising God or wanting to kill Jesus. The change may involve financial priorities—giving rather than getting. This change may involve finding comfort and hope in the midst of despair and death (Stoffregen).

In next week’s gospel, we find it’s not the theme of liberation per se that offends the people of Nazareth, but the awareness that liberation includes those outside their own circle.

Luke and Acts, both written by Luke contain parallels.The beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke  is parallel to that of the church in Acts. Both are baptized (Acts 2:41), are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:47; 5:13). That same Spirit empowers Jesus and the church. The same God who worked through Jesus is at work in the life of the church.

In our baptism, we too have the Spirit upon us. We have been anointed and sent by the same Spirit that Jesus was. Our baptismal identity is calling us into places we neither expect nor want to go. Miracles and fulfillment of prophetic scripture texts are powerful examples that tune us into the ways Jesus is present today and bringing us together.

Though the ministries of Christ normally require more wisdom, strength and talent than we possess on our own, “the Spirit and the gifts are ours” as an older translation of Luther’s hymn declares. Jesus began his ministry “filled with the Spirit” (v. 14). Why do we attempt lives as Christians without seeking the guidance, gifts and strength that God’s Spirit brings?

So, what is God calling us to do? Who are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed today; those to whom we are being sent? In an immigrant detention center along the Mexican border, in an Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, in a homeless camp, in the dorm of an addiction treatment center, in family rooms and kitchens and dining rooms where unspoken griefs and fears are hidden, Christ still speaks, “Today, I am here” and he does this through us (Owens).

We must take our cue from Jesus, insisting to those bent on division that we belong to God and we belong to each other. In this revelation, grace and healing shine through, connection and hope can flourish.

God’s message of liberation can be a hard message for those of us to hear who live comfortable lives. Economic justice doesn’t sound like good new if we are upper-middle class. What might be the prophetic word from this passage that we can hear? Luke wants us to think about our money. Our possessions and our relationship with them tell a huge part of the story about our relationship with God. Later in Luke, we hear Jesus tell his disciples, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Are we willing to let go of some of our treasure so that those without may live?

If this is indeed a time of revelation, then there’s no better time to open our eyes to the God of grace in our midst and embrace Jesus’ challenging, hopeful call to love and serve our neighbors, whether they are near or far. Is there some way we can help those who have been without work or have had inadequate work for so long? Many people have to work two or three jobs just to barely make ends meet. We feed hungry children through the 5 and 2 Ministry and help those with many needs through Lutheran Disaster Response and World Hunger relief as well as other local agencies.

In recent weeks we’ve heard a number of stories in the news about people that have gone out of their way to help federal employees that were furloughed or worked without pay. Soup kitchens provided for them, restaurants and other businesses. Even the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino was offering free buffets to all TSA workers and Customs and Border Protection Officers.

We may be in good shape financially, physically and in other ways, but much of the time don’t we live in the illusion of our total freedom? What is keeping you “captive?” It may be a broken relationship concerning which you have harbored unforgiveness. Are you in a funk for some reason and you can’t figure out why? Maybe you’re not depressed, but just kind of blah. We all have something keeping us from true joy and freedom in our lives. What would release look like for you? What wilderness in our hearts must we engage in order to emerge filled with the Spirit?

Jesus is saying that the impossible is happening today. The good news is you can start now. You can be part of those miracles today. The bad news is you’ll never finish. If you answer the call to start, it is a lifetime commitment. There will be great, Spirit-filled moments along the way, but there will always be more that needs doing and the Spirit enables us to do so.

Following worship today at our annual meeting, we have a time to look back on what has been accomplished in the last year. We also look to the future. God’s Spirit is upon each of us and has anointed us and sends us. Please stay and rejoice and pray with us as we together conduct the business of the kingdom of God.

Amen.

Resources
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton, Ruth C. Duck, Alan P. Sherouse, Feasting On the Gospels-Luke, Volume 1
Aaron Fuller, livinglutheran.org
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year C
Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke
Janet H. Hunt, “Release to the Captives,” dancingwiththeword.com
David Schnasa Jacobsen, workingpreacher.org
L. Roger Owens, “What is the good news in the season after Epiphany?,” christian century.org
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

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