Sunday 23 January 2022: Epiphany 3
By God, we’re full of hope, yet trouble!
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Context: a small, low-church congregation in an urban setting, where the sermon is always followed by the Eucharist
Aim: to remind people of the active agency of the Holy Spirit in their real lives
This is my favourite passage, though I worry I’ve not taken it seriously enough, since people who have tend to end up in trouble!
But Luke 4’s familiar, right? We get this language – freedom, hope, liberation, unshackling. But do we have courage to hear and receive this text and allow it to first awe us, and then destroy our comfort? How can we respond?
Jesus’ heart is revealed, and it touches on what it means to be a follower. It speaks of a truth not yet fully evident in a world of modern human trafficking, genocide, war crimes, gun and knife crime, or headlines like ‘a hungry man is an angry man’; a world of blindness, lameness … And yet – even so – its hope is deeply true.
AND SO WE PAY ATTENTION
First, what stands out? It may be obvious, but Jesus makes this statement as God’s chosen and anointed. The Spirit has Christ-ed him. He’s born of the Spirit who has come upon him, led him into the wilderness for temptations; and now he’s filled with the power of the Spirit. The Spirit’s doing things in Jesus and through Jesus. The Spirit of God is active, live, giving breath; and Jesus models total responsiveness. Jesus is devoted, active, engaged, deeply attuned.
The Holy Spirit is unstoppable, powerful, releasing Jesus to declare his hand: ‘I am fulfilling the old ways here and now.’ By the Holy Spirit Jesus challenged the age he was living in. And, by the Holy Spirit Jesus challenges the age we are living in. The anointing of Jesus as the King of kings, Lord above all lords, the only beloved Son of God – this weaving of Jesus’ life so that his voice echoes God, and God speaks in him – it’s by the Spirit.
Secondly, Jesus chose his home for his stand. Jesus, in his home synagogue, is hugged, welcomed, and known. He’s been shaped by the scrolls faithfully unrolled in this place. He grew up hearing Exodus, Deuteronomy, knowing God loves the poor. Knowing prophets who call for justice, hearing his mother singing things like the Magnificat. Jesus grew up knowing Isaiah’s life-giving texts of holy people shaped in holy ways. And, in reading Isaiah’s words, he brings them into the present, and suddenly we’re aware that Scripture speaks! He is seasoned in the way of hearing the Word. And, when he unrolls the scroll in this place, he gives it back again. Scripture is fulfilled. Now. Here. God-news is proclaim-able, liveable. And the best example of a life saturated in the history of God revealed in the pages of this library collection is Jesus himself! When Jesus stands up in the synagogue and sits down to teach – he’s lining himself up with God and God’s words from across time, for all time. You want to know who I am? Here, amongst you, I tell you, this is who I am, and why I’m here. Putting things right.
WHO IS INCLUDED IN THE BOOK OF HEAVEN?
Jesus’ answer and centre of gravity is twofold: towards the unseen, lost, afflicted, outside, poor, hopeless, rejected, despised, overwhelmed … and in gatherings of people where God shows up. Synagogues and inns, temples and dinner parties. Congregations in Longsight and London, houses in Openshaw and Eastham, Jesus is with people. Hungry people, blind people, desperate people, grieving people.
When we attend, we discover Jesus chose this text to describe the pattern of his life and chosen direction. He could have lined himself up with ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (which he left out), or some other more burny-wrathy types, or genocidal texts making himself into a new warrior king. Instead, he reads a good news text to his hearers that makes clear his self-understanding. Let’s take this faithful God and remind the here and now that God wants people to be seen, known and free.
Jesus speaks of God’s desires that people live in total rightness, full humanity, free, joyful, strong, God’s! This is not new. This is the climax of God’s vision all along. All along God longs to restore the whole of creation, and all that is in it, to Godself. And now Jesus puts himself right in the middle of God’s agenda for the whole world.
Good News of Great Joy.
Setting the tone for his life and ours – bringing into reality, now, in real life, what has been God’s vision for us all along. And – as we attend, and step into that Holy Spirit space, we become part of this same restored people. God still does this stuff in us, through us, with us. Trouble might follow.
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