Slowing Down for the Spirit

Luke 4:14-21
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me 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.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

A star that guides the Magi from the East to the Christ child. 

A voice like Thunder that declares “You are my beloved Son”

Water turned into abundant flowing wine to gladden a wedding celebration. 

We have been witnesses to big, bold and exciting events the past few weeks. We have seen God pulling back the veil between heaven and earth to show us that Jesus, that God is flesh, is near. The grandness of these stories makes us certain of God’s presence in the world. 

And as we have witnessed the divine spectacle this season after Epiphany, we have become accustomed to these kinds of signs. We see God interjecting the divine into the lives of everyday people, and we anticipate that God will do the same with us. 

But today, there doesn’t seem to be any flashy sign or action to accompany Jesus. Today is different. Luke tells us a story in a more pedestrian style, a seemingly casual and low-key vignette of Jesus’ ministry. 

Today, Jesus does only what is expected of any Jewish man in the synagogue. No miracles or signs of power. Jesus simply reads from the scroll of the prophets and then provides explanation. It should feel almost normal, it should remind us of the same worship that is our custom as well.  

We return to Luke’s Gospel, after a detour in John’s Gospel last week for the wedding at Cana and the pace of the action slows. The story is one of subtle details. 

Jesus has been preaching and teaching in Galilee. Reports of him have spreading, he is coming to be regarded as a well known teacher, a traveling Rabbi. And with news spreading, Jesus arrives in his hometown of Nazareth. 

Jesus goes to the synagogue on the sabbath, as was his custom. Jesus is not only a regular worship attender, it is clear that in the synagogues is where he is getting his message out, where he is making his ministry known.

Yet still, it was possible for any Jewish man to be asked to read from the Tanahk, the Hebrew Bible. However, as a wondering preacher, the people likely expected this hometown son to now preach for the folks who knew him as a kid. Jesus stands to read and is given the scroll of the prophets. Jesus makes is way through the scroll and chooses a familiar passage, from what we now call Isaiah 61. 

Luke brings us right down to the moment by moment details. Compared to the drama of voices from heaven and surprising good tasting abundant wine, Luke adds tension in the slowness of motion. Once Jesus has concluded the reading, he rolls up the scroll… He hands the scroll to the attendant… Jesus sits down and prepares himself to teach… The whole synagogue is waiting for what Jesus is going to say… All eyes are trained on Jesus…. 

(Pause)

In these past weeks, our story has slowed down as well to moment by moment details. Our world had finally begun to expand from summer on last year, we began to imagine a bigger and brighter future. But then the pandemic found a way to squeeze us again. We have been scaled back and pared down, and yet we wait with bated breath for when this latest wave may end and there will be signs of life renewed. 

It is hard for even one day to go by and for us not to see how our world needs signs of hope. The poor need good news, the captives need releasing, the blind need sight, the oppressed need freedom. We cannot help but be bombarded by a world in desperate need wherever we look, whether it is here in Winnipeg or far away on the other side of the planet. 

As Jesus reads from Isaiah, the people that he was reading to longed for good news, for release, for healing and freedom. It is a longing that has lasted throughout all of human history. 

And as we long for change, we begin to load God with expectations. We hear Jesus speak of good news for the poor but we long for riches. We see the captives that need releasing but we long to be released from any and all obligations we might carry for our neighbour. We heard of sight for the blind but we want every ache and pain, every experience of discomfort to taken away from us. We imagine the oppressed being freed, but we desire being given control, being the ones who have the power to make decisions and be in charge. 

It is so very easy for our longing for justice to turn into an expectation for results. We want our prayers to be heard and answered, and we are disappointed with God when they are not. Our sinful, selfish nature makes us turn hope for justice and peace into a sense of entitlement. Entitlement to God’s acts of power, entitlement to control of God’s blessing.  

We hear Jesus declare this new and hopeful reality, and we cannot help but imagine what we are going to get out of it. We cannot help but put ourselves first and imagine the world according to our own vision and our own image. 

(Pause)

But today, it is in the details that Jesus is pointing us to something much bigger than our expectations and desires. Luke slows down the pace so that we can hear the details, so that we hear the words of God anew, stirring deep within creation, stirring deep within the Church, stirring deep within us. 

The very first words that Luke puts in our ears: Jesus, filled with the power of the spirit. 

Though this feels like a slowed down smaller story than the Magi following the star, the voice thundering over the baptismal waters, the blessing of the wedding with good wine… We are meant to connect this moment in the local synagogue with the building movement of the spirit that has brought us here through this season. 

And the Luke draws us back to the spirit again:

“The Spirit of the Lord has named me the Christ. 

The Christ who evangelizes and brings the gospel to the poor.

The apostle who releases the captives and heals the blind and sets the oppressed free. 

The preacher who declares the year of the Lord’s grace and mercy.”

In these simple words of scripture Jesus describes a new reality. Not a new reality based on our wants and desires. A new reality grounded in the incarnation, in the God who speaks these words out loud and in our hearing. A reality grounded in the God who brings these words to life in our midst. Who makes the words real right before our eyes. 

As the people of the Nazareth Synagogue sit waiting expectantly for Jesus to interpret the meaning the Prophets words for them, Jesus has only a brief and simple sermon. 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. 

Today, these words from the prophet have come to realization. Today, the anointed one, the saviour, the Christ has become present in flesh. Today, the God of the poor, of captives, the blind, the oppressed is here. The work of God in the world is now. 

The same spirit that led the Magi, that spoke like thunder, that provided the abundance of wine… this same spirit in Nazareth, at the synagogue, announcing to all that Jesus is the Messiah. The anointed one. The saviour of Israel. Even in this small and slowed down and familiar moment, Jesus is subtly but surely making God’s presence known. God is not far away, but here. God is with us even in our smallness, with us even in our isolation, with us in our illness and struggling, with us even when we feel abandoned and alone. 

Jesus not only announces the work of God in the world, but lays a foundation for us. For the Church. The Body of Christ proclaiming the gospel and caring for the poor. The Apostles of Christ releasing the captives and giving them a home. The Church giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed. People of faith preaching God’s love for the world.

Today, Jesus simply and straight forwardly announces the mission of Christ. Of the Christ who is among us in Word, Water, Bread and Wine. The Christ who IS us, we who ARE the Christ in the world, washing and feeding and loving a world in need of hope. 

We arrived today having just heard and witnessed the bigness of God:

A star that guides the Magi from the East to the Christ child. 

A voice like Thunder that declares “You are my beloved Son”

Water turned into abundant flowing wine to gladden a wedding celebration.

And we add to that list today: 

A simple sermon, preached in a small synagogue to people of faith waiting for good news. 

These are all signs of God’s presence in a world in need. 

Yet today, fulfilled and realized in our hearing, 

with all eyes fixed upon Jesus, 

despite our desire to put ourselves first and get what we selfishly desire, 

The anointed one who is working for justice and peace among us, 

The Christ speaks God’s word and declares that God is at work here, 

working in us, 

right now. 

Amen. 

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