Fill in the Blank (Luke 4:14-21)

This one may be best listened to, but here’s the manuscript:

Sermon:  January 24, 2016
Luke 4:14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to ________”.  Fill in the blank.  If you were asked to finish that sentence, what would you say?  What is it that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed you to do?  I want you to think about that question…which I will come back to in a minute.

This story in Luke is Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism.  We read it during the season of Epiphany, in which we are keeping our eyes open for those moments of revelation where God lets us know just who Jesus is and just what God is up to in the world.  So, last week we read about Jesus’ first public appearance in John—the wedding at Cana.  In John, the wedding at Cana locates Jesus’ miracle smack dab in the middle of daily life.  The message from that story has something to do with how sometimes what Jesus does in the midst of our daily life goes fairly unnoticed, but it almost always enriches the community.

Luke, too, locates Jesus’ first public appearance in the middle of ordinary life—Jesus goes home and, as was his custom, goes to worship.  So right away, as we reflect on the reason of Epiphany, we learn that God breaks through and shows up in the middle of the ordinary patterns and rhythms of life—whether it’s part of a community celebration or part of a community’s pattern of worship.

So my question is this:  are you looking for Jesus in your life?  Would you notice the subtle ways Jesus is enriching your community?  Would you notice if Jesus said something interesting in the midst of your regular patterns and rhythms of life?

Which leads to another question:  What exactly does Jesus do?  What would we notice that would be the work of Jesus in our lives and communities?  That’s where this text from Luke is helpful.  These words from Isaiah become the summary of Jesus’ ministry.  Many people see this passage in Luke as a summary of the whole Gospel.  And specifically in Luke, this text from Isaiah that Jesus reads out loud in the synagogue outlines the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry.  This is what Jesus does:

  • Jesus brings good news to the poor
  • Jesus proclaims release to the captives.
  • Jesus recovers sight to the blind.
  • Jesus lets the oppressed go free.
  • Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

This text from Isaiah becomes for Jesus the best way he can articulate what he feels called to do and be about.  I wonder…what scripture would you point to that sets the course for your life in Ministry?  And yes…you have a life in ministry.  As a baptized child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  You are a member in the body of Christ, and therefore part of what God in the world looks like these days.  More importantly, we together as a community have been anointed and sent to be the presence of Christ in the world.  Karoline Lewis, from Luther Seminary, says that “throughout the centuries of God’s dealing with human beings, the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that we do not live in God’s presence as individuals, but as a community, loving and serving one another as we love and serve God.”  So let me ask again…what scripture or themes from scripture define your life and ministry?

In my life, I have resonated with different passages of scripture at different times.  I want to share some of those passages with you today, not to say that my journey has been better, right or superior compared to anyone else’s, but to show you how I have learned what Jesus learned that day in Nazareth—that the words from scripture DO continue to speak into present reality, that the Spirit HAS anointed each of us for something, and that following God is mostly about being faithful in the regular rhythms and patterns of life, family and community.

In elementary school and junior high, when my spiritual life really began coming alive, I was frequently drawn to Isaiah 41:10—“Do not be afraid.  I am with you.  Do not fear, I am your God.  I will strengthen you and keep you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  At that time in my life I was going back and forth between boarding school and home and struggling with the complexities of making friends, fitting in, and establishing relationships with my brothers.  These words from Isaiah were comforting to me—that I didn’t need to be afraid because God would uphold me.  Later, in high school, I felt compelled to make a public commitment to my faith through adult baptism.  I chose the verses from Romans 8:37-39 as the verses that described my faith journey at that time.  These verses speak to how “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  As a teenager, feeling fairly unlovable, I desperately needed to believe that there was a foundation of God’s love for me that would stay steady—even if I couldn’t imagine it to be true.  Then, fast forward 10 years to when I was being consecrated as a Deaconess.  As I pondered who I understood God to be and what that meant for who I wanted to be, I chose a passage from 2 Corinthians 5 as my consecration verse:  “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  I saw my role as a Deaconess being to let people know what God has already done through Christ to reconcile the world to himself, and then through my life, faith and actions, to hopefully draw people closer to experiencing that reconciliation for themselves.

Those 3 passages really summarize what I hope my life is about, and what I hope those impacted by me will hear and experience:

  • Do not be afraid. I am your God.  I will strengthen you and keep you.
  • Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
  • Be reconciled to God, and be about the ministry of reconciliation.

 

In some ways, I hope that because of my life and faith, I could read those scriptures and then say, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I think that’s some of what was going on with Jesus.  Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is unique in that it includes these stories of Jesus early life that show him being carried to worship by his parents, and then sitting among the adults as a young person, and then coming back to worship when he’s in town as a young adult.  So we see Jesus immersed in an intergenerational community, but gradually finding his own voice as it relates to his thoughts on God and scripture.  As a young adult he is compelled to leave home and go discover for himself who God is and who he’s supposed to be in response to that.  He has some significant experiences of both revelation and temptation that solidify in his heart that this is now what his life will be about.  So when he comes home and goes to the synagogue, and is invited to read this passage from Isaiah, he himself has an epiphany—THIS IS IT, he realizes.  THIS IS WHAT GOD WANTS ME TO SHARE WITH THOSE AROUND ME. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled,” he says.  But that revelation…that ability to make the connection between what the prophet was saying in Isaiah and what God was saying to Jesus that day in Nazareth, was a result of a lifelong relationship between Jesus and God that impacted Jesus’ daily decisions and how he made sense of his life.

So what does this look like today?  I’m not saying that your story has to be like mine or like Jesus’ story.  And I’m not advocating for picking random verses from scripture—totally out of context—and using them to define or defend your decisions or doctrine.  Unfortunately, some of us may be able to point to situations where Christians have done that and ended up causing more harm than good.  What I am talking about is responding to the invitation to follow Jesus into a relationship that has a rhythm and depth that strengthens our ability to see the wisdom of the prophets, the gift of revelation and truth in the life of Jesus, and the connections to who God is for us today and what God is saying about our life and ministry.

This week we remembered another prophetic voice gripped by this same message from Isaiah.  Martin Luther King, Jr. committed his life to the same themes that defined Jesus’ life:  proclamation of good news, release and restoration.  People like Jesus and MLK, along with countless people whose stories are not well-known, have been so gripped by the power of God’s Word that their lives have been transformed.

I don’t know where you are today or what your experience has been.  And I am not prescribing a “one size fits all” way of following Jesus.  But based on my reading of scripture, and my understanding of God and God’s desire for God’s people, I think I can make a few observations to think about this week:

First, God has been, is, and always will be, interested in release, restoration and reconciliation.  That’s really the Gospel in a nutshell.  Karoline Lewis explains that Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth is not for those who want to make their lives better, but for those who need to be set free to live the life God wants for them…the life God sees possible for them.  God’s work is always about release, restoration and reconciliation.

Second, the Spirit has anointed each of us—individually and as a community—to be so compelled by God’s Word…whether it’s the written Word, the spoken Word or the lived Word…that it influences our regular patterns and rhythms of life.  When the Word of God is a regular part of our life, we can see the connections and identify where God is fulfilling God’s Word in our midst.

And finally, in our baptism, each of us receives a life-changing call.  Whether or not you become a pastor or a deaconess, your call to follow Jesus is a life-changing one.  And this call is not for the sake of improving yourself, or having somewhere to go on Sunday morning, but for the sake of uplifting the other.  The reading from 1 Corinthians reminds us that we are ALL part of the Body of Christ, and we ALL have a role in that body.  That means that it’s not just my job or Pr. Marie’s job or Pr. Dave’s job to do God’s work with our hands…we TOGETHER are called to that…and each one of us has a vital role in what that looks like.  And what is this “God’s work” that we are called to do with our hands?  It’s the same work that defined Jesus’ ministry:  to preach good news to the poor, to release the captives and let the oppressed go free, to restore sight to the blind and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.

So let’s go back to where we started.  Fill in the blank:  The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to ________.  Fill in the blank.