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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, February 3, 2013


In baptism we are anointed, like Jesus, and filled with the Spirit, like Jesus, to proclaim God’s good news to the broken and weak of the world, with God’s strength supporting us throughout, even when we meet resistance.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, year C; texts: Luke 4:[14-20] 21-30; Jeremiah 1:4-10

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

As I began to read the Gospel just now, some of you might have thought I turned to the wrong page.  Surely that was the Gospel we heard last week?  Well, it was (at least the first half was).  The lectionary divided this one episode at the start of Jesus’ ministry into two weeks, but to understand the second part, assigned for today, it’s important to hear what led up to it.

And reading the whole event together also helps make a deeper connection to the call of Jeremiah which began our words from Scripture this morning.  Because there is both joy and concern, both sending and opposition.  There are messengers of God and the threat of, and even reality of, enemies of those messengers.  Or of the message itself.  And if we’re to consider the one, we can’t ignore the other.

Today we baptize our young brother Felix John, and anoint him, praying the gift of the Holy Spirit on him.  Whenever we do this, we not only rejoice in this new sibling who joins our mission, who joins the ranks of the anointed ones of God sent into the world, whom we will see grow up among us into that call, we quite naturally are reminded of our own anointing and sending.  We speak it aloud in our welcome to Felix and to all whom we baptize in the name of the Triune God, welcoming him and them into the body of Christ and into the mission we share.

But both Jeremiah and Jesus, who also share such anointing, remind us today of what we often let slip out of our conscious thought: being sent by God to bring the Good News to the world is not necessarily an easy job.  It not only might meet with resistance, it almost certainly will, from outside, or from ourselves.

In some ways, we can find ourselves avoiding such resistance by being less active in our mission, our sending, than we could be.  We can be timid in our actions, shy in our proclaiming, quiet in our convictions.  There are often times when we feel a pull to act, to pray, to do, to serve, to get involved in one way or another, when we resist that pull because, either consciously or subconsciously, we are afraid of the consequences that might result.

What God suggests to us by way of Jeremiah is that there is a better way.  Rather than dodge our call or duck from it, we could choose to embrace it.  Rather than fearing what might happen if we did something, said something, acted on something, we could believe the powerful truth that the Triune God who anointed and sent us has not sent us alone, but goes with us, giving us all the love and support, and guidance and direction we need to faithfully fulfill our mission.

So to begin our exploring of this path God offers Jeremiah, and us, we begin as we all began, with Baptism, and the certainty of our own anointing.

Luke is the only evangelist who gives these important details to Jesus’ first visit to his hometown as a rabbi: Luke says that Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and he claims his anointing as God’s servant.  It’s a powerful claim: I am the servant of God Isaiah foretold, he says.  Quite a first sermon for him to deliver to his own people.

He claims that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, which Luke the narrator has already told us.  And that he, Jesus, their kid from the hometown, is anointed by God to bring “good news to the poor,” sent by God to “proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,” and sent to “let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

These were important words to Israel, words of promise that God would come with an Anointed One who would bring about such grace and healing to the chosen people.  So at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declares he is the fulfilling of that promise to Israel, that, as he said, “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

But what’s also important for us to know is that Luke believes the same about the Church, and therefore about us: we are so anointed, we are so filled with the power of the Spirit.  Throughout his Gospel he points to these realities of Jesus, but in Acts he says the same thing about the Church.  The Church, the believers, is filled with the power of the Spirit at Pentecost, a power that continues to be poured out on new believers as they are baptized.  So throughout Acts, more and more people are anointed by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was.

And from the beginning of Acts to the end, the Church is called to the same mission, the same outreach Jesus was called to do.  But there’s a twist in Luke 4 and in Acts, a twist Jesus now shares with his fellow Nazareth residents: this mission is not just to Israel.  It is to all people.

This causes problems for him, as we’ll see in a moment, but for now let’s recognize that the dual mission of Jesus after being anointed by God and filled with the Spirit, a mission both to Israel and to all the Gentiles, is precisely the mission of the Church in Acts.  This message of healing to the broken of the world is for all people, both for Jesus and for us.

But as Jeremiah would learn, and Jesus learns in this very story, being the anointed of God, bringing Good News to poor and downtrodden folks, Good News which also applies to outsiders, can rile up the insiders, even the less than powerful ones.

As we’ve already seen, though we’re early in our year with Luke, there is no secret in Luke’s mind about Jesus’ identity or his mission.  From the start he is identified as Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.  And from the start, his mission is both to the Jews, the chosen people of God, and to the Gentiles, the rest of the world.  It is comprehensive.

Luke doesn’t follow Matthew and Mark in this, who tell a story of a meeting Jesus had later in his ministry with a foreign woman who wanted healing for her daughter.  In that encounter, Jesus seems to have his mind opened to the possibility that his mission is beyond just the Jewish people.  Luke doesn’t tell this story.  As we heard in Nazareth today, Luke believes that Jesus understood this expansive mission from the very beginning.

And so Jesus launches into a bit of a rant which marvels at God’s goodness in healing foreigners over Israelites.   Though there were many starving widows in Israel in the multi-year drought that happened during the time of the prophet Elijah, the only one we know who was fed by God was the foreign woman from Zarephath, Jesus says.  And though there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha, the only one we know was healed was Naaman the Syrian.

It’s as if Jesus is forcing the people of Nazareth to face his anointing as for all the people of the world, not just them.  So the good news to the poor, the release to the captives, the sight to the blind, the freedom for the oppressed, all these things are for all God’s people.

And for Jesus as well as for us, that’s not always going to be well-received.  Any time people speak out for the voiceless, for the outsider, for those for whom God has a particular love and care, there is resistance.

In our politics, people who claim to be concerned about spending and don’t want the government to offer help to the least of our society don’t blink an eye when the government spends billions to subsidize corporations.  But those who speak to the powerful about the powerless are often pushed aside, ignored, even ostracized.

To free the oppressed, heal the wounded, release the captives, welcome the outsider, requires a great deal of courage.  Consider just the immigration debate.  For years compassionate cries to care for real human beings who have lived among us and contributed to our society for years have been met with by angry shouts and outcries of “keep those people out.”

And standing up for those who are most in need can often be uncomfortable, risk friendships, cost time and energy, and put us into situations where people misunderstand or even hate us.  Jesus’ own people wanted to kill him.

Maybe that won’t happen to us.  But lots of people get death threats in this country for doing the right thing, for speaking up.  For witnessing to God’s love where it needs to be said.  Even if we aren’t threatened in this way, which both Jeremiah and Jesus were by the way, we are threatened by the costs to our lives that such witness and work would bring.

We can measure those costs in lots of different ways, and their impact on our lives.  But sometimes the cost is just taking time to do something rather than staying silent.  How many of us regularly, or ever, contact our state representatives to express concern or support for legislation that will make a difference in other people’s lives?

We’re sending letters for Bread for the World today, as a part of an ongoing effort to effect societal and legislative changes that will have a direct impact on reducing hunger and poverty.  How many of us walk past the tables every year that we do this at Mount Olive, thinking, “that’s not for me”?

There seems to be a fear inside us to actually live fully into this call, this anointing.

In our rite of baptismal affirmation we always promise to strive for justice and peace in all the earth, and to serve all people, following the example of Jesus.  We say this because in baptism we were anointed to do that very thing.  In affirming our baptism, we are saying we’ll do what we’ve been sent to do.

But somehow we don’t often actually do much striving in that way.  Maybe we’re indifferent.  That really can’t be an option, as we make these promises pretty often, and it’s what we’re called to do, what we’ve said we’ll do.  But maybe we’re afraid at various levels of what it will cost to be such an anointed servant.  If that’s the case, then we have some good news.

Our hope is found in God’s word to Jeremiah, which Luke speaks of in his theology of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit: God will be with us.  We are Godsent.

Jeremiah protests that he’s not the right person for this job, and God says, “don’t be afraid.  I am with you.”  Do not fear, God says, and it’s more than we might think.

Sometimes we think all those expressions in the Bible which say not to fear are meant to ease our fear of what might happen to us, dangers that might befall.  Fear of evil, fear of tragedy, fear of the world.

But God’s word to Jeremiah is not about a passive fear (fearing things that might happen.)  It’s about a fear of being active, of doing something and having it all go wrong.  For us, it would be fear of being pro-active in our Christian call and anointing.  Fear of doing, for whatever reason.

And to Jeremiah and to us, God says, “don’t be afraid.  I will be with you.”  Do what you are called to do, what I sent you to do, without fear of anything – reprisal, inconvenience, loss of time or wealth, whatever – do not fear because I do not send you out alone.

Remember, all who are anointed to do God’s call are anointed with the Holy Spirit.  We are filled with the very breath of God to do what we are called to do.  We go with the Triune God moving within us in strength, love, and power.

There’s a common expression, where people say to another, “you are a Godsend.”  That’s exactly what we are.  Godsent.  People who bear in our hearts and lives the very strength of the Spirit of God, to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, healing to those who are wounded or broken.  We can do this because we do not do this alone.  That’s what God says to Jeremiah, that’s what Jesus understood, and that’s our absolute promise.

And though we do not know how our anointed life will play out, and even what adversity we might encounter, we know it is our life.

And more to the joy of our hearts, we know that God goes with us.

There is a prayer which in our last two worship books has been one of the collects that could be used at the ending of Vespers (Evening Prayer).  This has become beloved to many as a result.  It comes from Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs, and has only been in print since the mid-nineteen-fifties, but was already also included in The Service Book and Hymnal, though not at Vespers.  The prayer reads:

“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [1]

Give us faith to go out with good courage . . . knowing only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.  That’s all we need.  There’s much unknown in our calling, much we could fear, but we are called, anointed and sent by the Triune God, whose love and care and strength and guidance are with us always.

And who says to us, as he did to Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.  Now, go.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1] Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs, Daily Prayer, © 1946 Oxford University Press, under the title “The Call of Abraham.”  No author is cited, so it is presumably from the two editors.  (Included in SBH in a list of collects for various needs [this one was “For Guidance”], and in LBW and ELW as one of the collects at the end of Vespers.)

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