Associate Rector, Rebecca Tankersley Sermon by: The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
January 27, 2019
Third Sunday after the Epiphany

 

The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Us

Texts:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to … proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In the name of God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

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In my final semester of seminary, I took Moral Theology. My degree required it. To pass, we were required to memorize four – not insubstantial – passages of Scripture, one from each of the Gospels. Today’s Gospel is the Luke passage I was required to memorize.

Now, being a long-time Episcopalian, I was not in the habit of memorizing Scripture. The only time I’d ever been asked to do this was when I attended after-school care at a Baptist church. Sure, I knew some passages of Scripture by heart … those which have been beautifully and seamlessly woven into our liturgy in the pages of the Book of Common Prayer. But as a nearly-done seminarian, I bristled at the assignment. “It’s a class in moral theology, not a Scripture class,” I complained to anyone who would listen. I expected that we would debate significant moral dilemmas of our day and I’d finish the course with clearer ideas about right and wrong. I’d already taken my Bible classes. The professor explained neither the requirement nor his selections.

It felt meaningless and – as long as it did – I struggled. So, I investigated and found – for each passage – one explanation that made sense … as least to me … of the assignment. Here’s what I learned about this passage: it serves as Luke’s thesis statement for both for his Gospel and his sequel, The Acts of the Apostles. Fred Craddock – one of the great preachers of our time – says: “This event announces who Jesus is, of what his ministry consists, [and] what his church will be and do.”[1] So, given that we’ll be inhabiting Luke’s Gospel for the better part of this lectionary year, let’s look closely to see what Luke has to say about Jesus’ mission and, by extension, our mission as the Church.

Today’s passage begins: “Then Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned to Galilee.” Our Lectionary leaves out the word “then”, which drives me crazy! It’s like they’re worried that if the reading starts “Then Jesus …” we’ll wonder what came before. But that’s the whole point! “Then” tells us that what Luke will relate in this passage is sequentially … theologically connected to the events he’s just related. Two such events are particularly important: (i) Jesus’ baptism and (ii) his temptation in the wilderness. Both are connected to today’s passage by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In his baptism, the Holy Spirit (i) descends upon Jesus, who then (ii) full of the Holy Spirit, is (iii) led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he is tempted.

That’s where we pick up today, “Then Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit return[s] to Galilee and, standing in the synagogue in his home town, he reads this passage from Isaiah and declares its fulfillment. In so doing, Jesus announces that he has come to liberate the marginalized … to turn the structures of oppression upside down. We’ve already heard of God’s upside-down kingdom in Mary’s Magnificat: “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

All this talk of turning the world upside can be tough on those of us who aren’t truly among the marginalized. If Jesus really intends that those who are rich would go hungry and those who are hungry would be filled, well, I’m in a lot of trouble. I have hard time listening when Jesus declares that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in him. And yet I am called to hear, even – especially – when Jesus says things I don’t want to hear and describes a kingdom which doesn’t sound like its for me.

I don’t think we’re meant to dwell on notion that kingdom of God is only for the marginalized in some way. See, Jesus omits something: Isaiah doesn’t just say “I have come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He adds “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus doesn’t say that part.

It seems to me Jesus wants us to hear the promise of the transformed life he offers to all – wants us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who desperately need the promise of good news for the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. Through their ears, joy would abound. Apply that desperation – and the joy of the promise fulfilled – and we can see our mission as the Body of Christ better.

Jesus stands in the synagogue and announces that, through him, “the promised liberating work of the Spirit is present.”[2] Over and over in his Gospel, Luke will show us this is true. Over and over in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will show us that, through the Apostles and the Church they become, the “promised liberating work of the Spirit” continues to be present. Our role is to continue in this tradition – to ensure that the promised liberating work of the Spirit is present through us.

Last weekend, we experienced the sort of joy that comes when the liberating work of God’s Spirit is present. Our long history of working to ensure that “all means all” – that all marriages will be celebrated and blessed in God’s Church – is an example of what it looks like when God’s promise to the marginalized is fulfilled in our hearing. Lest we think our work is done, let me be clear: last weekend was just a beginning.

Once I realized that this passage from Luke so beautifully reveals “who Jesus is, of what his ministry consists, and what his church will be and do,”[3] my objections to the Moral Theology assignment disappeared. I wasn’t being asked to memorize Scripture as busy-work; I was being asked to internalize the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. So, brothers and sisters, I’m going to ask you to do a very un-Episcopal thing. Take your bulletin home, and internalize the good news of Jesus Christ yourselves. Because, you see,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I pray that all God’s people would say: Amen.

 

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[1] Fred Craddock, Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 61, quoted in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, “Homiletical Perspective.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fred Craddock, Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 61, quoted in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, “Homiletical Perspective.”