A sermon for Epiphany 3: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
Every now and again, well ~ more often than not, well ~ the point is we just don’t get Jesus. We know his story, birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. We know that our baptism through his baptism celebrates that we are God’s children. We even give lip service, and sometimes some thought to grace, unearned and unmerited which is all true. And when pushed, we might even relent and agree that grace is for everyone; terrorist, the scary old couple in the rickety house in the woods, Darth Vader and the followers of the Dark Side; even our own shadow side. But we still don’t get Jesus.
Listen again to the opening line of this morning’s Gospel: Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit. Filled with the power of the Spirit. What images popped into your mind?
- grand preaching on the mountain?
- flipping tables over in the Temple?
- a person swooning then falling out having been slain in the Spirit?
- the staccato rhythm of someone speaking in tongues?
Maybe it’s me, but I expect most images were grand and glorious, full of vigor. I imagine Jesus while actually making sense topping all the candidates in the presidential debates. I mean that is what Jesus is all about, being at the center of such wonder by which all people are drawn to God.
But this doesn’t fit the rest of the story. Jesus is home. He goes to the synagogue, just like he has always done. Maybe it’s his turn, or maybe the honor is extended to him because he is home, it’s no matter Jesus is given the scroll, a book in Jesus’ day, of Isaiah to read. He reads what roughly comes from Isaiah 61:
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.
He returns the scroll and then sits down. Where’s the Spirit? Where is the blazing call for righteousness? Where is the vim and vigor of a Spirit-filled, window shattering, foot stomping fire ’me up for God let’s go save the world inspired preaching? Where is the power of the Spirit?
It is there. It is just not exactly like we tend to think about it. When we read from the beginning of Luke, and we will see the Spirit in several people Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Mary (Reese). All of whom follow the Spirit’s lead by quietly doing what they are asked, or revealing something of who Jesus is. There is also John, who can get all fired up, remember “You brood of vipers!”? But that is not about Jesus; when speaking about Jesus his language is less “Go get ‘em.” and more “look over there.” It seems the Spirit in Luke invokes quietly serving God, at least for the most part (Hoezee). But we should not be misled, for there is a deep disruptive message in Jesus’ reading.
The Good News Jesus’ neighbors hear, is about God, finally, restoring Israel (Reese). The Romans et. al. will be thrown out, and David’s House will, once again, rule. But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus’ promise is to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. None of whom would be in the synagogue, because good Jews scorn them, and generally excluded them from life in the community. The Year of the Lord’s favor, is somewhat economically and socially Sabbath; it refers to a break every seven days, for everyone – slaves and aliens included; a break every seven years, for debt relief, and to fallow the land; a break every seven times seven years, when all leveraged land is returned to its owner (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). No proper Jew would object to a religious observation, a day of rest and honoring God; but all this social and economic justice stuff; well Jesus has gone from spirited preaching to meddling. The truth is, like Jesus’ neighbors, we have as much in common with the oppressors as we do with the oppressed (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
We are not alone in not getting Jesus. This morning we read again from one – no not one – first Corinthians. The church there is very different from what we experience as church. They, like us, are small. They are socially diverse, hence the problems of differentiating between people of differing social status. They are a minority sect, the followers of Jesus, in a minority religious sect, the Jews. There is probably more than one home church, but we can’t be sure (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
What we do know, is that they are divided over gifts of the Spirit and social status. The short version of what Paul says is everyone helping to make Jesus known, is what identifies them as Jesus’ followers. Unity in the midst of great diversity is how Christians are different; it is how we make Jesus visible (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).
Paul can be maddeningly convoluted, and we’ve been reading snippets, so let’s cover some key points. Paul says they/we may not fight over Spiritual gifts or over ethical, social and economic differences, about who’s in and who’s out. He does not say unity is the same as conformity. The diversity in the church in Corinth, and here is a divine gift to be celebrated, in itself, it is a sign of the Spirit (Peterson). In unity in diversity, everyone is connected to everyone else; your well-being is connected to the community’s well-being; your well-being is connected to the well-being of every single person in the church. In such a connection, the least of these can assist just as those of higher social or economic standing.
Let me share a story a friend posted on Facebook. A beautiful, expensively dressed lady complained that she felt that her whole life was empty, it had no meaning. She went to visit a counselor to seek out happiness. The counselor called over the old lady who cleans the office floors and told the rich lady “I am going to ask Mary to tell you how she found happiness. All I want you to do is listen to her.” The old lady put down her broom, sat on a chair and told her story: “Well, my husband died of malaria and three months later my only son was killed by a car. I had nobody – I had nothing left. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I never smiled at anyone, I even thought of taking my own life. Then one evening a little kitten followed me home from work. Somehow I felt sorry for that kitten. It was cold outside, so I decided to let the kitten in. I got it some milk, and the kitten licked the plate clean. Then it purred and rubbed against my leg and, for the first time in months, I smiled. Then I stopped to think, if helping a little kitten could make me smile, maybe doing something for people could make me happy. So the next day I baked some biscuits and took them to a neighbor who was sick in bed. Every day I tried to do something nice for someone. It made me so happy to see them happy. Today, I don’t know of anybody who sleeps and eats better than I do. I’ve found happiness, by giving it to others.” When she heard that, the rich lady cried. She had everything that money could buy, but she had lost the things which money cannot buy. The happiness in life does not depend on how you are; but on how happy others can be because of you” (Jokers).
Next week is our annual meeting. We plan to elect a couple of people to Diocesan Convention, look at some financial information and talk about possibilities for our future. As important as they are they are no more than organizational questions. What I pray we can get to is the power of the Spirit. I pray we can get to prayerful discernment of how in our diversity, together we can quietly show how the kingdom of God is right here right now. And by ‘we’ I mean not only those who belong to St. Stephen’s, but those who belong to other followers of Christ, those who belong to followers of all Abrahamic faiths, and those whose seek spiritual awakening, but are put off by the organizational puff and stuff. I pray we discern how we and the whole world may perceive and proclaim the Good News; may perceive and proclaim the glory of his marvelous works. Then finally, we may actually get Jesus.
Ellingsen, Mark. 24 1 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Hoezee, Scott. Advent 3C | Luke. 13 12 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon- starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 24 1 2016.
Jowers, Phoebe. 22 1 2016. <https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=expensively%20dressed&em=1>.
Kesselus, Ken. “Parts of the whole, Epiphany 3 (C) – 2016.” 24 1 2016. Sermons that Work.
Lose, David. Epiphany 3 C: A Peculiar Power. 24 1 2016.
Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 C 1 Corinthians. 24 1 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
Peterson, Brian. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 24 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 24 1 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.