From Pastor Kenny's Desk
January 27, 2019
Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in the praise.
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
“The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor: God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison-to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.”
Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”
~ Luke 4:14-21
When you hear the word power, what comes to mind? Significant influence or wealth, as in one who strolls down the corridors of power? Or perhaps great physical strength, the powerful front line-up of the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams, for instance?
I was struck by the line introducing this sacred text: Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit …. According to Luke, Jesus does what he does and says what he says precisely because he is filled with power … great power … the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the first scene Luke offers to describe Jesus’ public ministry and, as we’ve seen before, first things matter in Scripture because they set the tone and name the priorities
for the narrative to come. Clearly, it’s important to Luke for us to know that Jesus comes filled with power and … perhaps even more … it’s important to Luke for us to know just what this kind of power looks like.
Which is what makes his choice of the passage from Isaiah so interesting … because if there’s one thing all the people referenced by this passage have in common … it’s that they are definitely not the powerful people in their communities or their world.
Think about it: Jesus brings good news to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. These aren’t the powerful, they are the outcasts … the ones many of us have been trained to feel sorry for as you pass them by at the street corner even as you offer a prayer of thanks that their reality is not yours. That is … these are the folks you may have been taught to pity but not admire … yet Jesus says he comes for them.
All of which challenges our typical notions and ideas of power. Power … at least the power of the Holy Spirit … the power, that is, of God … is demonstrated not by any of the accomplishments or attributes one claims for one’s own self but … only through what it accomplishes for others. Power is power only when it sets others free, only when it builds up others, only when used for the betterment of those around you.
When you think of it, how peculiar and how different from the notions of power that surround us. The power of God at work in and through Jesus pushes us to rethink our ideas of power … encouraging … and demanding … that we re-orient our attention away from our selves to those around us.
But it does one other thing, too. In this first sermon of Jesus, we cannot avoid the conclusion that perhaps one of the main concerns of Jesus is to declare that God sees all of us … not just a select few or those who are comfortable to see … God sees, cares for and delights in everyone no matter their life circumstance. The fact is … Jesus’ sermon is all about what God will do for the least of those in the world tells us that God gives special attention to those whom the world doesn’t want to see.
Jesus … filled by the power of the Holy Spirit … testifies to the fact that God’s power is often seen as peculiar, odd, and uncomfortable by the world … meaning: those who do not understand the power of God’s transforming love ... because it focuses on those who are overlooked, forgotten, discarded or intentionally ignored. Sadly, there are people in our world who try everything within their power to develop systems and laws with the soul purpose of acting in a way to make it seem as though some lives matter and some don’t … Jesus proclaims that those distinctions fade away in the face of love and grace … because God sees all, loves all, and intends and promises to redeem all. This is the kind of love that proclaims freedom, justice and grace for ALL people … just the way they are … this is God’s good news for us ALL.
It also means that God sees the parts of us that we don’t want seen. That God sees the parts of us we deem ugly and unlovable and God loves us anyway. That God will not wait for us to improve enough to be loved, and that God is never satisfied that we are all we can be. God loves us enough to see us, God loves us enough to celebrate us, God loves us enough to forgive us, God loves us enough to challenge us … just the way we are … and God loves us enough to send us out to see and love others … especially those the world does not see. To do that is to share in the peculiar power that drives Jesus to preach such an odd and inclusive sermon.
God sees all, loves all, and intends and promises to redeem all … period! One more time we are confronted by the reality that God’s love has little to do with us but everything to do with the inclusive power and gifts of God’s love. This is good news for those who heard it then and for those who hear it today. The truth is, this good news is challenging because it makes it difficult to close our eyes to those in need of love, to those who are lonely, to those who are told and believe they are not worthy, those who are facing difficult life challenges and circumstances, those who simply need a friend to listen to them and remind them everything will be okay. As we dare to listen without judgment, love without limits, help to dismantle belief systems that hold people captive and share the good news of God’s love lives will be transformed and set free. This my friends is what it means to claim and proclaim the peculiar, powerful love of God. It is such an important message and every time you give it voice you are seizing the peculiar power Jesus offers. Thanks be the God!