"Power of the Spirit"

Luke 4:14-21

January 27, 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“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 to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Prayer.

Today we find Jesus

returning to the synagogue of his childhood

to read from the prophet Isaiah

and to teach

those he had known as a child.

That, my friends,

takes courage.

‘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 to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

It would have been terribly unfortunate for those in attendance

to have expected a great sermon to follow.

The lofty words of Isaiah nearly beg for an experienced preacher, teacher, rabbi

to mount the social justice hi-horse

and to ride it for a lap or two

with great oration bluster

around the gathered congregation.

Yet, Jesus does not.

He delivers his one sentence sermon

in a single, solitary breath:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Sometimes less is more.

Sometimes it’s better to allow words

time to sink in,

to be absorbed by the listener.

Jesus had just started his public ministry.

He had been washed by Jordan’s baptismal waters,

tempted by the devil in the wilderness,

and on his first trip back home

accepted an invitation from his hometown rabbi

- based on favorable reports from other synagogues -

to read the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue.

He was not tenured or greatly experienced;

one could say

he was still wet behind the ears.

He had yet to call his first disciples;

which meant he had no back office support;

no one to assist him in making preparations

to speak and teach

before his hometown

community of the faithful.

Jesus was all alone.

It is the Spirit of the Lord

that gives Jesus the courage,

that gives him the vision

and the means

to make his call to ministry happen.

He was anointed by the same spirit,

the same way a new king

would be anointed to take the throne,

by being born of a virgin

baptized by water and the Spirit

in Jordan’s icy waters,

sealed with the words,

“This is my Son, the Beloved,

with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus had been anointed for a purpose;

to bring good news to the poor.

What is the best possible news

to someone who is poor?

Your poverty is ended!

No more bare cupboards!

No more unemployment;

bouncing from crappy job

to crappy job!

No more bill collectors!

No more bankers, debt,

or high interest loans!

Good news to the poor

is restoration,

not only of money and livelihood,

but also inclusion back into society

and with that

a return of the self-esteem.

Allow me to take an additional homiletical leap.

The poverty spoken by Isaiah and proclaimed by Jesus

is also the poverty in our lives

that is the result of our sinful behavior.

When we plow through life

with a boat of our repeated transgressions

we leave in our wake

people we’ve hurt, harmed, and wounded.

Good news to the poor

is restoration of relationships,

beginning with our repentance,

culminating with our forgiveness.

Good news to the poor

restores us with one another

and with our God.

Jesus had been anointed for a purpose;

to proclaim release to the captives.

This is not a get out of jail free card

to true offenders.

Captives at the time of Jesus

were those in prison

who couldn’t pay their taxes,

terribly inflated taxes,

to support the Emperor’s foreign legions.

Those in prison

included protesters, intellectuals,

students, freethinkers;

anyone who the government

deemed undesirable were

penciled to the black list.

Captives in a system

with ancient jurisprudence

were considered guilty before being tried

were delayed due process

and were denied appeal.

Get thrown in prison

and it was the end of the line.

Allow me to take another homiletical leap.

Release to captives goes beyond physical incarceration.

We are captives to our original sin;

repeatedly bombarded with temptation to

sin some more.

Our primal instincts lead us to do terrible things

and to concoct elaborate justification for our behavior.

Jesus proclaims release to captives

from a synagogue in Galilee

but he makes it happen

on a cross in Jerusalem.

Jesus had been anointed for a purpose;

for the recovery of sight to the blind.

Yes, Jesus worked miracles,

spitting on some dirt

and spreading the mud on eyes,

to give sight to the blind.

For those individuals,

sight was as good as salvation-

from a life of begging,

being considered unclean,

and from exclusion in the community.

Each miracle served to point to

a larger truth

related to the loving benevolence

of a just God.

But blindness also includes

those who can not see the truth,

who can not see

where God is leading them.

Blindness is a metaphor

for Biblical literalist,

who fail to recognize

and understand its deeper

and rich themes.

As the living Word,

Jesus comes to reveal

the Word,

to a world

longing for its every meaning.

Jesus had been anointed for a purpose;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!

Once every 50,

according to Jewish wisdom,

the Jubilee was to be celebrated,

forgiving all debt, and releasing all mortgages,

as a means to remember

the Lord’s benevolent gift

of a promised land

to wandering, chosen Hebrews

(see Leviticus 25:1).

The Spirit that anointed Jesus

is the same Spirit that filled Jesus with power

to go home

and proclaim the word

before his harshest critics,

his own family and childhood friends.

The elimination of

poverty and prison,

the giving of sight to the blind

and the forgiveness of all debts

would not set well with the status quo.

Any personal anxiety he may have had

returning and speaking to his hometown crowd,

pales in comparison to the fact that

Jesus meant to change the world,

and doing so, would expose him

to far greater risks,

including his own death

like a common criminal.

“And he rolled up the scroll,

gave it back to the attendant,

and sat down.

The eyes of all in the synagogue

were fixed on him.

Then he began to say to them,

‘Today this scripture

has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

(Luke 4:20-21)

Amen.