Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday after Epiphany, year C
texts: Luke 4:14-21; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s a great way to begin a sermon. Unfortunately, Luke only gives us the start, what Jesus “began to say.” In the next verse, which we’ll hear next week, we’re already on the crowd’s response.
Jesus makes a powerful claim, but Luke already made it. Today he introduces Jesus after his temptation as “filled with the power of the Spirit.” So we readers already know the Spirit is upon him. We expect he will do all these wonderful things.
Still, it’s a great sermon we never get to hear. Except we do. If we read Luke carefully, Jesus’ chosen text is woven into everything he did and taught. This really was fulfilled in their hearing, in this person who brought God to us. And if we read the sequel, Acts, we’ll find much interesting about us.
But let’s start with the Scripture he read. We’ve neglected these words too long.
Somehow this monumental declaration of the point of his ministry didn’t catch on with the Church as much as his words at the ascension.
The Church called those words in Matthew 28 “the Great Commission” and ran with them for centuries. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” These have shaped Christian mission and theology since the beginning.
But what Jesus says today has been largely ignored by the Church’s power structures for most of the Church’s life. Yet this declaration is much more embedded in Christ’s teaching and theology than Matthew 28. It’s central to his understanding of his role as God’s anointed, and to his view of his followers’ role.
At the dawn of his ministry, Jesus says: “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.”
Jesus claims these words from Isaiah 61 are fulfilled in him and he does live them. He is good news to the poor, he gave the blind their sight, he freed many from oppressive lives, he declared the Good News of God’s favor and love for the world.
So far so good. Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah, and is filled with the Spirit. We believe this. But we’ve not been eager to follow Jesus’ path ourselves.
Making disciples is fine. But how did we decide these words didn’t apply to us?
Here’s what we miss: Luke believes as it goes with Jesus, so it does with us.
Read Luke and Acts side by side. In Luke, this is the first great scene we have in Jesus’ ministry, and he begins his ministry filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the Good News. In Acts, the first great event is when the Church begins its ministry by being filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the Good News.
For Luke, the Church is the Christ. The Spirit is upon us, and we are anointed to do these things. We’re very comfortable seeing Jesus in this role. But we have not done very well to live as Church into the same role.
We don’t get any help in our avoidance from Paul, either.
Paul agrees with Luke: in the one Spirit we were baptized into one body, he says.
And we are all given gifts for the sake of the whole body, for the sake of the world. It’s a powerful description of the varied gifts each of us has, and how important they all are to the calling we have to serve each other and the world.
But again, we seem to miss the big picture: we are all baptized in the one Spirit, Paul says, into one body. The body of Christ. We are, once again, Christ. The anointed. The ones who are now called to bear Christ’s ministry into the world.
We all have different roles in that ministry, that body. But we can’t avoid that in our baptism we are not what we were, we are now all anointed, together, to be Christ in the world.
Why is it easy to imagine Jesus full of the Spirit and doing these things, but not us?
Why do we seem to regard Pentecost as a past event, unrelated to us?
Is it fear? Are we afraid of reaching out in the world to change real problems, to work on God’s greatest concerns? God cares about the poor, the oppressed, the captives, the sick, and calls us to do something for them, to declare in our bodies, voices, hands, that God has come to set them free. Are we afraid that we might fail?
Or is reluctance? Maybe we just don’t want to do these things. We’re happy to give them to Jesus, to pray for the healing of the world. But believing that we have been anointed, together, made Christ, together, that we might bring good news to the poor and oppressed, the captives and the blind, is that just something we don’t want to do?
We don’t have much wiggle room to avoid this if we call ourselves Christian, though.
The words of Isaiah Jesus repeats are clear: the Spirit is given us for a specific purpose. To do these things. Jesus said, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Spirit has anointed me to do these things.”
The Spirit’s gifts are given for a purpose. That we follow Jesus’ great mission here in Luke 4 and change the world. There’s no point in talking about gifts of the Spirit without also talking about and remembering they are given so they can be used to heal the world God loves so much.
This is who we are, Spirit-filled, this is our job. To bring good news to the poor. 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. Because we are anointed, we are Christ.
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.”
What would it take for each of us to say that today? What do we need to know to say it? What do we need to remove that is blocking us?
We should ask such questions, but let’s not waste too much time on them. Better to simply say what Jesus said and see what God does. To say out loud to each other: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, upon me, for the purpose of bringing Good News to the poor, and oppressed, and blind, and captive.” And then to say, out loud: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.”
Then we’ll see what the Spirit is up to. Because she’s already been giving birth to this in us. Pentecost is an ongoing reality in our lives. Claiming it, declaring it, opens our eyes to see it is true. That it is fulfilled in us, today. The more we look, the more we’ll see this fulfillment.
And the world will never be the same. Neither will we.
In the name of Jesus. Amen