Last week, we talked about gifts, and how each one of us is gifted by the Holy Spirit. When we talk about tangible gifts in our world, like achievements in sports, or music, art, etc., we often see people’s final work. And, we’re inspired. Having a gift, whether it’s passed down from generation, or unique to you, or through the Spirit of God…we still must nurture it.
I found a book that my piano teacher had given me. On the open inside cover she wrote, “you have been my very best student.” I proudly showed my husband and he joked “you know she wrote that to all of her students!” I promptly disagreed.
Then I sat down to play. It’s been awhile. I can’t just play all the classical pieces that I did when I was young. They’re not at my fingertips. I need to practice. In frustration, I decided to get out my guitar instead…which I haven’t played in probably a decade or more. To my utter surprise, I actually couldn’t quite remember how I placed my fingers to play certain chords. You have to prepare for time to practice, and then repeat it!
If you’ve ever had a sprained ankle, or a broken wrist in a cast, you know the feeling when your muscles have sort of forgotten how to work. Your body needs to be reminded how to function again. It’s like a child learning how to crawl, then pull up, then stand, and eventually walk. We need training, and then we need to practice.
In today’s Gospel text, Luke shares that Jesus, as he began, was filled with the Spirit as he went back to Galilee. Scholar NT Wright notes that this didn’t ‘just’ happen. It took years of preparation. Silent preparation. Jesus had a life of the practice of prayer that led up to his baptism, which was confirmation of his vocation. The spirit is given to us, but we must nurture that Spirit, and pray in that Spirit, and move to action after preparing our hearts and our minds as we seek God daily.
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus returns to his hometown, Galilee, after being filled with the Spirit. He went back to where he was from, and everyone knew him there. They were excited to see him again, and eager to affirm his accomplishments.
When I read the part in the Scripture about Jesus being praise by everyone—I immediately thought, now there’s a ‘red flag.’ Everyone is happy? Can’t be. That’s not reality. As he taught in the synagogues, they praise him. He must’ve been saying what they wanted to hear.
In the African Commentary the scholar notes that following must’ve been Jesus’s best sermon ever—the Scripture was read from the prophet Isaiah, as Jesus found the words on the scroll. He read them, and then rolled up the scroll, handed it over and his reflection was one sentence long: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Brilliant! The verse immediately following says “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Ha! I think they may have just been pleased with how short the sermon was. Jesus doesn’t stop there, however.
Jesus identifies himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha later in Luke’s gospel. Elijah was sent to help a widow—but not a Jewish one. And Elisha was sent to heal one solitary leper—and the leper was the commander of the enemy army.
Israel’s God was rescuing the wrong people—or so they thought!
Are any of you from a small town? We moved from a small town in North Carolina to Vancouver about 7 years ago now. It was a cultural shock. In small towns, everyone knows who you are, and who your parents are, and so on. When the Seniors (or graduates as we call them here in Canada) graduate from high school, banners mark the streets with their pictures and newspaper articles rave on all their accomplishments.
In the church of small towns, once a year they have what’s called a “Homecoming.” I had never heard of this until I served in rural North Carolina. At Homecoming, everyone comes back home for the weekend. Everyone! And everybody knows everybody, and whose family you belong to, and so on. And there’s always a special guest preacher for Homecoming, and definitely a feast following.
Homecomings are a big deal. And if you’re back in town, people want to know what you’re up to, and how you’re doing.
This was like a homecoming for Jesus. He was back in town, and back to the congregation for which you were a member.
Jesus finds his place in the common Jewish tradition, and reads from the scroll.
When I was a special education teacher, I went to a seminar to learn about autism. It was a day-long workshop. As teachers, we were so eager to learn practices to help our autistic students. But the instructor wouldn’t go there. He spent the entire morning teaching us about the theory of autism and how to understand it. It was maddening. Give me something tangible that I can use right now in the classroom. He said, “be patient…this is important. And, I will get to the practical in the afternoon session.” To this day, his morning session is the only thing I remember.
He drew a square on the board with dotted lines throughout it…and he said “what do you think of when you think of the word “dog.” I immediately thought of my childhood dog Tigger…then I remembered my grandparents dog, “Gyp.” Then I remembered my neighbours dog…and so on. An autistic child only thinks of one dog---and he drew a line from one point of the square to another. But you, he said, thought of many dogs…and he drew all sorts of lines connecting all across the square. He said, “as a teacher, it is our job to help the autistic child make all these other connections, and not just one direction only.” It takes training of the mind, and lots of practice.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
To bring good news to the poor.
To proclaim release to the captives.
Recovery of sight to the blind.
Let oppressed people go free.
And proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…the Jubilee!
When we hear this text. Do we just think in one direction. Poor (financially); Captive (prisoner); Blind (eyesight); and so on. How do we take this passage and think in multiple directions, when we naturally just think in one? Poor is not just money, but many can be spiritually poor. I mentioned this in our newsletter this past week. Blind…isn’t just blind to the eye, but what about what we miss seeing with our hearts? We have a certain way of receiving words and then letting them sit with just one meaning…but Jesus always wants to take us to a different dimension.
Elijah helped the gentile.
Elisha helped the enemy.
Israel feels that God is rescuing all the wrong people.
David Lyle Jeffrey wrote “Israel, still in captivity, [is] yearning to be set free.”
In Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, they want to see signs and wonders here and now…in their own village. They have little interest seeing things in any other direction, other than their own. If Israel thinks that its special covenant relationship with God is all that matters…then they haven’t been paying adequate attention, to either the law, or the prophets.
Jesus says…the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Our job is to listen to that Spirit.
Noted in the commentaries of Luke is how much Luke focuses on the Spirit. And to the point, one writer went so far as to say that the Holy Spirit was really all Jesus had going for him! There was no church building, no budget, no staff, and not really members to speak of.
We have those things now. We have a building—that at the moment we aren’t able to be inside of. We have a budget. We have paid staff, and lo and behold we have members. But, do we have the Spirit? Does the Spirit still lead us? Robert Brearly makes an important point for today’s church: “Everyone seems to ask ‘How are we doing as a church?” When the real question needs to be, “As a church, what are we doing for God?”
How can we know? Because the Holy Spirit gives us something to do that’s for God, and a time to do it. And that time, friends, is now. Walter Burghart preached this:
Child of God
Live this day as if it were your first day,
as if it were your last day,
as if it were your only day.