Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
January 20, 2019
Luke 4: 14-21 (CEB)
Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
Jesus is a pretty amazing guy, isn’t he? I mean, he’s God “in the flesh”! And even though he knew his whole life that he was going to be harassed by Pharisees and Roman soldiers, and eventually crucified on a cross, he never ran away from his Father’s mission. He walked all around Galilee and Samaria, preaching to Gentiles and Jews, healing lepers and sinners, eating with tax collectors and harlots. And when he died on the cross, it was for us!
Many of us have been hearing about Jesus for nearly our whole lives. In our Sunday School classes as kids, we learned about Jesus calling little children onto his lap, or eating with his friends Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha, after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Or we would sing about little Zaccheus, who climbed up on a sycamore just to get a glimpse of Jesus. Then, maybe as we got older we noticed all the people wearing the W.W.J.D.? bracelets, “What Would Jesus Do?” Or maybe even t-shirts that read, “Jesus is my homeboy!” Very rarely, I think do we encounter the Jesus who disrupts things. None of the Sunday School posters or t-shirts paint a picture of Jesus who turns the tables of the money changers in the Temple, or curses fig trees, or calls Pharisees “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs,” or tells the disciples, “If they don’t like us here, knock the dust off your sandals and get out of town!” We sort of gloss over those passages where Jesus says, “Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared by the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food.”
We just don’t really look at this Jesus we have here this morning, who went to speak in his hometown synagogue, Luke tell us, “in the power of the Spirit,” to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Think of the most marginalized, oppressed, sick, deviate, cast-off people you can imagine; these, Jesus says in essence, “Are who I came for.” To which, we would probably respond, “Jesus said what???” What kind of Jesus have we learned about and worshipped all these years? And yet over and over again, just in these few short verses, Luke records that Jesus was “in the power of the Spirit,” that Jesus proclaimed, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” This is Jesus telling the people God’s plans, proclaiming God’s will. The Holy Spirit guides us according to the will and the way of God. And here is Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, going in this completely radical and unexpected way! Who is this guy?
Well, we might say that the Jesus we have always known and worshipped is a homogenized, pious-ized, Sunday School-ized, painted over object of worship and praise, never to be questioned or even viewed in any way as revolutionary in his talk or his style. You all probably know the old Doobie Brothers song that goes, “Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah.” Jesus is just alright? What’s so special about that? Where’s the daring in that? Where’s the hope, the love, the revolution? Where’s the savior who topples the world?
You know, the way I see it, a “just alright” Jesus sticks to the easy way. A “just alright” Jesus follows the simple route, and chooses what is convenient. A “just alright” Jesus hob-knobs with the rich and famous and doesn’t disrupt the Roman social order. A “just alright” Jesus stands in the Garden of Gethsemane and after praying, “Take this cup from me,” walks right of the garden and away from betrayal, and trial, and crucifixion. That’s not Jesus at all, is it? We’ve dressed Jesus in this sort of Sunday School regalia, but when it comes down to it, such a Jesus isn’t worth much in the way of a life’s pattern. What about the people in the hospital fighting a potentially deadly disease? What about the prisoners who long ago sought forgiveness for their crimes, and yet remain behind bars? What about the wars that rage and the innocents that are killed in the name of power? What about the kids who head home from school each afternoon not knowing if they will eat dinner that night? Where is “just alright” Jesus when the rubber really hits the road? This is when we need “Holy Spirit Jesus,” the Jesus who has been anointed to completely change the world.
And here’s the good news. When we really delve into the New Testament, that’s the Jesus we will find. When we go to the often forgotten places, the passed over passages, the ignored verses, we find this completely unexpected Jesus; maybe even a Jesus we have never really known. Yet, what’s so amazingly fascinating about the whole thing is that Jesus knew his God-given, Holy Spirit anointed role from the very beginning. Jesus, the young man, quite new to this anointed work and led by the Spirit in our text this morning went to the Synagogue and told the congregation he was there because “the Spirit was upon him,” and he’d been anointed and baptized to do what? To bring “good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Friends, that’s a very large order from God. And it’s a word for you, and a word for me, a word from God through Jesus to anyone, anywhere; a promise that Jesus’ work is power for our lives. This is Jesus’ mission statement; Christ proclaiming how he is going to accomplish the work God has sent him to do. This was Jesus’ life work from then on. And Jesus is sharing this message, this mission; letting people know that God will loosen chains, liberate bound people, help folks see who weren’t just blind, but mentally blind, and spiritually blind, whose eyes hadn’t seen real life in a really long time. But even in this proclamation in the synagogue of Nazareth, there is also a call from Jesus, a summoning to the very same sort of work. Jesus’ mission should be our mission. His life’s work is also our life’s work; his purpose is our purpose.
A few years ago, I came across this obituary that has always stuck with me because of how exceptionally sad it was. Of course, every obituary carries with it at least some sadness or sorrow, but at least there are usually also things that can be celebrated—like noteworthy service to a great community organization or something. But not in this case. The obituary listed the woman and the dates of her birth and death. Like most obituaries, it named those who pre-deceased her and her surviving relatives. Then it got to the part where normally there would be some recounting of the person’s life work, service, and hobbies. Now, I didn’t know this woman at all, but I remember very clearly the brief statement in that part of the obituary: “She loved to watch soap operas, shop, and eat lunch with friends.” What a sad expenditure of life, no? Eat lunch with friends, watch soap operas, and shop, and that was it? There is so much more to life, so much more we can do with our lives. But like Jesus, we have to get caught up by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ life was short, but it was mission-focused and to the point. He came to free all who really wanted him in their lives. So let me ask, “Can Jesus’ life help you see, hear, and know? Can Jesus’ life help liberate you from your present oppression, whatever it may be?” YES!!! “Come to me,” Christ says, “and I will give you peace. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Yes, our God calls us to much more than soap operas, shopping, and lunch with friends. He called Jesus to more than carpentry in the tiny backwater village of Nazareth. By the Holy Spirit, God anointed Jesus and sent him into a hurting, blind, and oppressed world.
Our former Bishop, Bishop Swanson, used to say to the people of the Holston Conference, “You all don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough!” All you white people need to learn how to let the Holy Spirit move, really move in your lives!” Look how the Spirit anointed Jesus and guided him into his God-given ministry; a totally unexpected, radical, world-changing ministry that would not have even been possible without the Holy Spirit. We all need to be filled by the Holy Spirit; to be overcome with the love and compassion by which Jesus went into a world filled with many problems to bring good news.
He has set us free—he wants to set us free—whichever applies; for me, it’s both.
Let Jesus’ words challenge our lives, our prejudices, our exclusivism, our comfort, our narrow and unbending ways. We may surprise people, but didn’t Jesus surprise the world? We might be called blasphemous, or whatever names people can come up with, but no matter. When has the Spirt ever been known NOT to shake things up a little bit? It’s time to claim our purpose, to follow the anointed Christ who upends the world. It’s time to be filled with the Spirit so we can say, “Let me be more like Jesus day by day!”