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An Anointing by The Spirit


Passage: Luke 4:14-21

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Stephen Graham

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. News of him spread through all, an adjective Luke employs often, through all the surrounding countryside. Everyone admired his teaching in the synagogues.

Then he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath, he stood up to read the scriptures. The book of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where these words were written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
                                    (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1)

Then, he rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant and returned to his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him. It was customary for him to make comments upon the reading. That is when he told them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you have been listening to it!”

Everyone was amazed at the beautiful words that came from his lips!

Jesus had been to the synagogue many times before and had sat beside his father, Joseph, holding his calloused hands as the scroll was opened and read. Even before this held his attention; he had watched as his father listen with keen interest and realized, overhearing these words, that it was an important moment because it was important to his father. Fred Craddock makes the case that our children first learn what is important by discovering what is important to us. We train a child in the way she is to go by letting her listen, watch, and learn as we go the way we are to go.

We gather believing that the shape of worship arises from Scripture. Marcus Borg affirmed that the Bible is our sacred story; the foundation upon which we rely. It shapes our sense of who and whose we are. After reading the text we respond, “This is the Word of the Lord.” The New Zealand church gives this response: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.”

They were amazed at the beautiful words that came from his lips. However, this warm and positive reaction soon turned hostile as the weight and magnitude of Jesus’ message sank home. This sudden reversal becomes clear when we better understand the “year of the Lord’s favor.”

The Jubilee, Yabal, began every fifty years with the sound of the trumpet, a signal to let the oppressed go free and cancel debts. The poor, those who had lost their stuff in the rough and tumble, were let back into the economy, bringing everything back to where it ought to be.

Imagine, the signal is given, and everybody returns property, cancels debt, and breaks off the mad scramble of accumulation and acquisition. Brueggemann calls this, “an act of communal sanity because life in the community of faith does not consist in getting more but in sharing well.”

Jubilee sounds good, but to consider actually doing it is another thing all together. “Divestment on signal” is exceedingly difficult. Few folks are interested, and we know why. We know the yearning to have ours, keep ours, and make ours grow. I hear you asking, “Is there any evidence they really did this?”

Thus, the resistance Jesus encountered when he declared, “I am going to enact the Jubilee!” They were filled with rage and tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. He barely escaped, but the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. He had been anointed with a different vision of the future; not of accumulation and monopoly, where only the one who gets Boardwalk wins. This vision is about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it already is in heaven, where the practices of justice and mercy and kindness and peaceableness are every day the order of the day. It is a vision of neighborliness where no one is under threat, no one is at risk or in danger because all are safe, all are valued, all are cared for. Inequities are curbed by the practice of neighborliness that knows every day that rich and poor, haves and have nots, are in it together. It calls for us to find ways of being together as neighbors.

Divestment makes newness possible. I know families that practice an intricate practice of debts held over and old wounds, old angers, and old resentments remembered. Jubilee sounds the taps to break old cycles of bitterness and hurt. When the signal is given debts are forgiven, sins are pardoned, and newness comes close.

Luke repeatedly teaches that Jesus is the signal for Jubilee. “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have their debts canceled” (Luke 7:22).

Jesus declares that he is the signal that will break the vicious cycles that define our existence. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him. The Spirit has joined him in partnership. He is not alone. He is anointed by the Spirit and calls us to be joined by our common humanity; not by going it alone.

Let the Spirit be upon us to live in partnership with the divine and in partnership with all humankind. Be anointed by the persistent, nagging power of the Kingdom that builds community. Jesus sounds the trumpet to a world crying, “I will do it myself!” He is joined by the uniting Spirit that joins all to all.

Some things cannot be done alone. Several years ago, I got a call from my nephew, Jay. Jay was a remarkably gifted young man with Downs Syndrome, who time after time met challenges set before him. He was an assistant trainer for the University of Utah football team. The head coach, Kyle Whittingham, had given him two sideline passes for their bowl game in Ft. Worth. He wanted me to fly in, pick him up at D-FW, and go to the game with him.

He told me he had a problem that he just could not solve on his own. There was a surprise birthday party planned for his dad; so, his mom, dad, or brother, Aaron, couldn’t go to the game with him. Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to go. As he explored all the possibilities, it did not look as if Jay would make it to the game.

Commiserating, I asked if this gave him a new appreciation for a line in his favorite movie, The Princess Bride, “Get used to disappointment.” I told him I was disappointed that we couldn’t go. I tried to reason, “You’ll have fun at your dad’s surprise party.”

Jay, ever persuasive, responded, “I was thinking maybe you could get them to reschedule the party!”

Jay could do about anything. He had driven four-wheelers on a ranch in New Zealand and gone horseback riding on the beaches of Vanuatu, and snow skied some of the best runs in Utah. Jay could do almost anything, but he couldn’t always do them alone. He worked best in community.

Jesus, joined by the Spirit, invites us to be joined with him and all others in community! Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, we see ourselves differently. We envision thoughts of community that never in a hundred years would have come into our heads. We embark upon visions beyond our wildest imagination.

We pray: Let us in this fine hour hear what the spirit is saying to the church! In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.