Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sunday 24 January 2016 - Epiphany 3

Theme                  The Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus         

Sentence                You Lord will surely comfort your people. You will make their deserts like Eden, their wastelands like a garden. Joy and gladness will be found among them, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. (Isaiah 51:3 adapted, NZPB p. 566)

Collect                 Merciful God,
                           in Christ you make all things new;
                           transform the poverty of our nature
                           by the riches of your grace,
                           and in the renewal of our lives
                           make known your heavenly glory;
                           through Jesus Christ our redeemer.

Nehemiah 8:1-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
                           Luke 4:14-21

The details in the Nehemiah reading are quite hard work. As pure description of an ancient event they appear to yield nothing to our present situation. Then in verse 8 we have a description of preaching in any age: 'So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.' This links to our gospel reading in which Jesus reads, from the prophet Isaiah rather than the law of Moses, and gives the sense of it. More on that in a moment. Reading a little further on to the end of the Nehemiah reading our eyes light on a wonderful phrase, 'for the joy of the Lord is your strength' (v. 10). Everything is harder to do when we are down and depressed. Life is easier when there is a spring in our step: here the spring is 'the joy of the Lord.' Are we joyful in the Lord? How do we receive that joy? One clue in Nehemiah, backed up by Psalm 19, is that the reading of God's Word brings joy because it sets out the reasons why we may have confidence that life is good - God is with us in the world God has made and the course of the world works to God's plan.

There is more to Psalm 19 to consider. This delightful song to the Lord God as creator, revealer and judge primarily lifts our spirits to praise our God. But within the song three profound theological lessons are taught. First, the natural world is truly beautiful yet in its extraordinary beauty it tells of a greater beauty, 'the glory of God' (v. 1). Secondly, nature tells of God's glory but tells us nothing else, least of all how we should live, so God the creator has given us his perfect law. The praise of the law as it parallels the praise of creation implies that the law is as wonderful, beautiful and expressive of God as creation. The psalmist loves the law and delights in it. Only from such devotion to the law could praise of this kind be expressed. Thirdly, the law tells us what to do and signifies the role of God as judge. In a sense the psalmist at this point moves from joy to fear: 'who can detect their errors?' So the psalm ends with two prayers 'Keep back your servant from the insolent ...' (v. 13) and 'Let the words of my mouth ...' (v. 14). God, in other words, is an activist judge: eager to help the potential accused live a blameless life. Appropriately the psalm ends with an ascription of the God who makes the perfectly beautiful and ordered world and law and who works to enable his people to live righteously as 'O Lord, my rock and my redeemer' (v. 14).

The epistle is a psalm also - a song of praise for the body of Christ! A connection point with the gospel reading is reflection on the work of the Holy Spirit. If the gospel takes us outward in vision, to a world in desperate plight to which those anointed by the Spirit are called to bring healing relief and liberation, the epistle, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, takes us inward in vision, to a church which should understand itself as the body of Christ, made so by the baptism of the Spirit (v. 13). The details of the passage largely work through what it means to belong to the body of Christ: to respect one another as equal members of the one body (even if some members have a more important role than other members), to recognise the different responsibilities God has given us and (recalling last week's epistle reading, the first part of 1 Corinthians 12) the different gifts spread amongst us. The unity of the two visions, in gospel and in epistle, comes from considering that the working of the body of Christ is the working of Christ's mission in the world. Our love for one another as members of the one body, our taking up of responsibilities and exercising of gifts, is not for the sake of the body only, but for the sake of the world which Christ came to serve.

So we come to the gospel reading. A sermon working from this passage, should concentrate on one message to be drawn from it. 

Luke 4:14-21 is unique to Luke's gospel. Matthew and Mark report Jesus' ministering in synagogues and preaching, but neither offer this story of Jesus preaching from Isaiah 61 (= Luke 4:18-19). Thus we pay attention to the role this passage plays in Luke's overall gospel narrative. Long story short, this passage (perhaps, better, the longer passage, 4:14-30) is Jesus' 'kingdom manifesto' or a 'programmatic statement' of the purpose of Jesus' ministry. He comes in fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. His power to act out his programme/to inaugurate the kingdom of God is the power of the Holy Spirit and his plan is God's plan - a plan, no less, for the restoration of creation: good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. As the remainder of the gospel in Luke's telling unfolds we will see this programme enacted (note especially Luke 7:22). 

Luke 4:18 draws our attention to Jesus claiming for himself the status and role of 'the Anointed' or 'the Lord's Anointed', that is, the Messiah or Christ (Greek equivalent, think of 'chrism oil' which is the oil for anointing people). The solemn importance of this claim is underlined in the last verse of the reading when Jesus says (with the 'eyes of all in the synagogue ... fixed on him', v. 21a),

"Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21b).

At this point we might consider the possibility that Jesus was mad (making a ludicrous claim) or an imposter (trying to deceive his hearers) or making a lucid claim that could be tested in terms of what follows. Luke's presentation to us in the remaining chapters is a presentation that the claim passed the test. What Jesus said he was, the Messiah, was in fact true. Just as the hearers in the synagogue were greatly challenged by that claim (as the remainder of the passage through to verse 30 tells us), so is our world today as we make that claim for Jesus Christ as his witnesses.

In turn the programme or manifesto of Jesus challenges us: in what ways are we working as Jesus' hands and feet in the world today to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, etc? Again, this is not an idle extension from the passage to our day: the way Luke tell his larger story, the story of Jesus in his gospel and Jesus' witnesses in his Acts of the Apostles, we are left in no doubt that the mission of Jesus continues in the world today as his witnesses carry it forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment