YEAR C, EPIPHANY 3.

Sunday 3, Jan 21-27

 

Luke 4:14-21               (Sermon 1: “ The Spirit is Upon Me”)

                                                            (Sermon 2: “The Jesus Thing TODAY”)

1 Cor 12: 12-31a

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm 19

 

GREETING AND FOCUS

 

The Spirit of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

It’s time for the news. Here are the headlines:

            Good news for the poor.

            Release for captives.

            New sight for the blind.

            Liberty for the oppressed.

            The declaration of God’s accepting love.

And happy are they who receive it!

 

OR—  

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,

the midnight skies proclaim God’s handiwork.

Creation utters not a single word

yet its voice is heard to the ends of the earth.

 

            The love of the loving Creator,

            the grace of the loving Redeemer,

            and the fellowship of the loving Counsellor.

            be with you all?

            And also with you!

 

Awe in God’s presence is a clean thing, lasting forever.

The love of God is complete, reviving the fainting soul.

            Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart

            be acceptable in your sight,

            O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God our Holy Friend, you are the giver of good news and high expectations. Please bless us as we come before you. Our thoughts need to be freed from self obsession and our crowded feelings need to make room for wonder and love. Give our spirits a glimpse of your glory, that we may be lifted from the mundane to the beauty of holiness. Through Messiah Jesus our brother and Saviour.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

“Who are able to discern all their own errors?

Clear me, loving God, from hidden faults.”

 

Let us make our confession. Let us pray in sincerity and truth.

 

Spirit of Christ Jesus, into the poverty of our minds and the coldness of our hearts, come with your wisdom and penetrating mercy.

Create in us clean hearts, loving God, and renew the true spirit within us.

 

Spirit of Christ Jesus, cut through those tight cords that have bound us to recurring sins and disabling anxieties.

Create is us clean hearts, loving God. and renew the true spirit within us.

 

Spirit of Christ Jesus, open our eyes to the painful truths from which we have been hiding, and enable us to recognise your costly grace.

Create in us clean hearts, loving God, and renew the true spirit within us.

 

Forgiveness

 

Lord Jesus, you are the true joy waiting to assuage human restlessness and desire, we thank you that we are forgiven to a depth we cannot see, and renewed for a future which as yet we only dimly comprehend. You are indeed our Saviour and Lord.

 

Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN: THANKS

 

            You Made Everything

 

Dear God, you played

and lovingly made:

            monkeys, moose and magpies,

            wombats, bears and butterflies,

            kookaburras and kangaroos,

            penguins, ponies and potoroos.

 

But best of all the things I see,

you made people,

just like me.

 

Thank you, God!

We love you, God!

Amen!

 

PSALM 19

 

The Southern Cross signals God’s glory;

            the Milky Way gleams with holy handiwork.

Each new day tells a divine story;

            at night-time God’s skills are displayed.

All nations and tongues can understand this language;

            a message which saturates our planet.

Look at the merry old sun in his robes of light;

            he smiles like a bridegroom on his wedding day.

Keen as an athlete at the Olympics,

            he strides from Sydney to Perth

Then he sprints the other half of the circuit,

            missing no nation with his warmth.

 

How complete are the ways of God,

            constantly renewing our humanity.

                                    * An excerpt from “Australian Psalms pages” 26-27

                                                Ó  B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

 

JESUS IN THE SPIRIT

 

The Wind is on my face;

            the blind and those

            who do not see

            find light and space.

 

The Wind inspires my soul;

            captives and those

            who are not free

            get out of gaol.

 

The Wind sings in my prayer;

            the deaf and those

            who do not hear

            now hear and dare.

 

The Wind my hope renews;

            the poor and those

            of ragged soul

            receive good news.

            from “Beyond Words” © B Prewer & Joint Board of Christian Education

 

COLLECT

 

Most wonderful God, you have sent Jesus, a brother who is one of us yet also at one with you. With him your Spirit was truly at home, inspiring him to preach good news to the poor and help for the needy. Please let his Spirit and words enthuse the church, draw us close into one body, and propel us to be agents of liberation, healing, peace, and undying goodwill and joy. In his name we confidently pray.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: THE SPIRIT IS UPON ME

 

Luke 4:18

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has ordained me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release for prisoners, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year  of God’s acceptance...   Luke 4: 18

 

What behaviour is appropriate for those on whom the Holy Spirit comes?

 

How would you expect a person to behave who is filled with the Spirit of God?

 

For some reason, many people have looked for extravagant, very odd, behaviour. That applies both in the ancient world and today in Australia.

 

Examples:

 

As you may be aware, in some unsophisticated cultures an epileptic fit was seen as a visitation by God.

 

There are still some sects within the religion of Islam, where men whirl and dance in a frenzy or hours (sometimes all day and night) believing that the Spirit of God has come upon them.

 

In some Hindu sects there is much repetitive singing and ecstatic dancing hour upon hour, to invoke and express the presence of the gods.

 

Also, recurring on and off in the story of the church (and in other religions) people have believed that ecstatically “speaking in tongues” is a wonderful gift of the Spirit.

 

In the revival that swept England in the 18th century, led by John Wesley, among the crowds who gathered to hear Wesley preach, there were some folk who toppled over, flat on their backs in a swoon; this was regarded  as a sign of the Spirit.

 

The Society of Friends, gained their “Quaker” name because in their meetings some used go into fits of shaking. It was viewed as the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Another group were known as the “Holy Rollers” because when the Spirit was thought to come, many fell down and rolled about in the aisles.

 

Are these happenings the kind of evidence we should look for when the Spirit of God moves in power in our lives?

 

Maybe some of the extravagant behaviour is a side effect of an authentic spiritual experience, but I do not accept that it is a key sign of the Spirit of God.  Extravagances are not the important characteristics of a Spirit filled person.

 

JESUS: OUR AUTHORITY RE THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

I would much prefer to go to the best authority on the subject: Jesus of Nazareth. I want you to  again watch him in action after he returned from baptism and the temptations; remember how the “Holy Spirit alighted upon him like a dove”? And how “he was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness?. After which he went in ”the power of the Spirit” into Galilee, arriving back home in Nazareth.  In Jesus we have the most Spirit-filled person of all time.

 

It was at Nazareth, on a Sabbath day, the drama of the today’s Gospel reading took place.

 

First, a brief background: the setting of synagogue worship:

The synagogue served as church, school and meeting place for discussion on community matters. As Jesus was growing up he would have spent many hours here.

In the synagogue the worship moved through the “shema”(Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is the only God.) and the prayers. This was followed by a set reading of the law, called the “parashah”. Then came the “ haphtarah”, a free reading from the prophets which was usually chosen by the reader

Any man might be asked by the synagogue ‘president’, the “hazzan”, to read the “haphtarah”, and give the sermon.

The sermon was delivered while seated in the special speaker’s chair.( Seated? Now t     hat’s a good idea!)

 

In such synagogue worship,, Jesus was asked  by the person in charge (the hazzan) that day at Nazareth to read the haphtarah.

 

Jesus chose Isaiah 61: 1-2.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has ordained me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release for prisoners, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s acceptance.   Luke 4: 18

 

Then he sat down and startled them all by saying: “Here today the word of the prophet is fulfilled.”

 

Pause for a moment, and focus again on the fact that I am here following up the question of what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”   There is no mistaking his claim. And when the Spirit comes, what is the result? He declares ¾

                                    good news to the poor

                                    release for prisoners

                                    sight for the blind

                                    liberty for the oppressed,

                                    and a message that the year of God’s favour has dawned.

 

[Note:  Some Bible scholars think this last reference implies a Jewish Jubilee: the year when all debts were cancelled and all slaves freed. Maybe. It is arguably so.]

 

It is such a practical message. It is a spiritual, social and political message and programme. There is no separation of religion and politics in the mind of the most Spirit-full man that ever trod this earth.

 

So this must be what it really means to have the Spirit: Down to earth faith and actions; an outflowing of love to the disadvantaged people in the community.

 

SOME IMPLICATIONS

 

Because I regard Jesus as the expert, when people talk about being filled with the Spirit I first want to look for behaviour that squares up with Jesus. The characteristic activity of the Spirit is to shape deeds of mercy, justice and healing.

 

 “Full of the Spirit” does not mean the weird and the way-out. It’s not God in the odd! But the Spirit overflowing from a person who is impelled into a mission of love.

 

It is worth noting that Jesus is never recorded as having joined in a frenzied, religious, mesmerising dance, nor did he roll with excitement in the aisles or shake like the early Quakers. For that matter, there is no shred of evidence that he ever spoke in ecstatic tongues.

 

This Jesus, the most perfectly Spirit-filled human ever, had

                                    good news to the poor

                                    release for prisoners

                                    sight for the blind

                                    liberty for the oppressed,

                                    and a message that the year of God’s favour has dawned.

 

AUSTRALIA DAY

 

This Sunday brings us near to Australia Day, on Jan 26. It is appropriate to ponder the difference that some people have made, and can still make, in this nation, when they do the Jesus thing. Are we active in that programme which Jesus launched?

 

The opportunities are many.

 

The poor? Plenty of these both in and outside Australia; and many other agencies of             compassion that could do with our vigorous support..

The prisoners? Maybe voluntary organisations like Amnesty International  and OARS are on            the right track.

The blind? This leads us into the whole field of healing: physical, both mental and physical and spiritual.

The oppressed? There is no shortage of oppressed people in our land, including some native            Australians, and those (mainly migrant) groups toiling in the “sweat labour” workshops           of the rag trade.

 

Preaching the year of God’s favour? Grace ! Evangelism by deed a word. Making God’s love much more than a ‘three letter word.’ From Karumba to Kalgoorlie, Maroochydore to Mandurah, and from Whyalla to Wollongong. Good news!

 

The Spirit of God is upon us, to be what Jesus would have us be.

 

The Spirit is not given so that we may entertain each other with odd behaviour;

            it is not given so that we may wallow in, or idolise, our own feelings;

            it isn’t given that we might indulge in a religious ego trip;

            it is not given that our particular church might have the cosiest fellowship,

             or the prettiest liturgy, or the liveliest worship..

 

It is given that we might love the world as Jesus loved:

            to reach out to the fringe dwellers,

            to affirm and build up the timid,

            to stand with the poor and oppressed,

            to care for awkward or unattractive characters,

            to be aware of and compassionate towards weak and addicted ones,

            to forgive those who hurt us and so liberate them (and ourselves) from the bondage

            of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to announce good news to the poor”

 

Please God, may it be so!

 

 

SERMON 2: THE JESUS THING TODAY

 

Luke 4: 16-21

 

The first recorded word in a sermon by Jesus is the word  Today.”

 

It was in his home synagogue at Nazareth that he gave his message for the first time.

 

Jesus closed the sacred Scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down, and all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed upon him. He began to speak to them: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”

 

There would be many more words to follow in the months ahead: fecund words that would both unsettle and enthral people for two millennia. But Jesus’ first word was simply “Today”

 

Luke presents these words as Christ’s mission statement. He believed that they were being fulfilled in his lifetime. These words define what Jesus was on about. This was “his thing” because it was “God’s thing.”

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has ordained me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release for prisoners, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s acceptance.   Luke 4: 18

 

Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”

 

 

TODAY

 

Never confuse Jesus with those over zealous iconoclasts: those who are so filled with their own self importance that they scorn the past. Jesus was not an angry young man on an ego trip. Never! That was not his thing.

 

Jesus treasured the past. He honoured the teaching that has been passed down by Jews through many generations. He fed his soul from the sacred scrolls of Scripture. During his temptations in the harsh Judean wilderness, he rebutted Satan with quotations from the Scriptures. On his return from the desert to Nazareth, he quotes from the prophet Isaiah in his first sermon. It forms his manifesto. He cherished his Biblical heritage.

 

But he was called to be neither an historian nor a museum curator. He looked to the present and the future. What the prophets had hoped for, Jesus believed was available today. The new age of the Kingdom of God was already breaking in upon them. The opportunity was now.

 

The challenge of Jesus was (and is) for today.

 

Now is the hour of grace. Now is the moment of opportunity. Now we chose between darkness and light. And that moment of opportunity was inextricably tied to how we treat one another. Our attitudes, relationships, deeds. Especially how we treat the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed; those whom this proud world regards as unimportant or even disposable. Caring for people today is “his thing.”

 

In his “Today” sermon he rams home his intent by insisting that God’s mission included despised foreigners. He reminds them that when Elijah was in need, God met that need  through the hands of a Phoenician widow of Sidon. And the Syrian soldier, General Naaman, found healing from Elisha ahead of many Jewish lepers. “Today” includes those who are either ignored, despised, abused or hated. God’s grace recognised no barrier of race or social class or religion. Inclusive love is his thing.

 

Significantly, it is this attitude to “Gentiles”, those despised outsiders, that appears to have changed the mood of the Nazareth congregation from admiration for the gracious words that Jesus poke, to one of open hostility and violence.

 

DOING HIS THING?

 

What about us today? 

 

Today are we with Jesus or against him?  Are we for his manifesto or against it? Do we live as if all races and classes are equally important to God, or as if some are some are of lesser value? Do we carry on this “Jesus thing” which is also “God’s thing”?

 

Don’t wait for the kingdom of God to come in the future. With Jesus it is here today. Right now. Among us, for us, and excluding none. All the vulnerable, or marginalised, or the rejected or neglected people of our community, and in overseas countries, are those for whom Jesus came to include.

 

In our attitudes each one of us may reveal the truth: whether, or not, we have embraced the real Jesus or created some sugary substitute that can live easily with our prejudices, both social and party-political. Dare we look honestly at ourselves? How often are we willing to suffer the discomfort of giving our personal attitudes an honest and thorough audit?

 

Let’s try a brief audit¾

-Are Moslem men, women and children of Arabian lands or SE Asia, of lesser value than    Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans or Americans? 

-Should aborigines be treated as a less worthy group who deserve the bad health and the      sad poverty-trap in which many languish.?

-Do asylum seekers, especially the ‘boat people’, including their little children, warrant being shut away behind barbed wire in remote places of Australia while their claim to legitimacy is being processed?

-Are prostitutes, the drug addicts and street kids, best left to ‘stew in their own juice’ rather

            than the State spending money on their rehabilitation?

-Should those who are infected with Aids be disdained as self-destructive fools who are

            earning the wages of their own sins?

-Are nice, well educated, middle class people more acceptable to our church than would be

             the rough-edged, hoi polloi?

-In summary: are we, in our attitudes, values, and activities, being ruled by pride, fear and

            selfishness rather than the love of Jesus? Are we genuine practitioners of the Jesus thing?

 

THE ONLY LIFE IS TODAY

 

The only time in which we can live is right now. Today. Yesterday cannot be regained. Tomorrow cannot be visited. This day is what matters to Christ Jesus. Now is the hour when the “Jesus thing” stands before us as unlimited opportunity.

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has ordained me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release for prisoners, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s acceptance.   Luke 4: 18

 

Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”

 

THANKS FOR SPECIAL CHRISTIANS

 

We say thanks, generous God, for those special Christians who seem to have a large measure of the Spirit of Christ.

 

Who keep their balance in the midst of changes that cause us to waver this way and that.

Whose love of justice, truth and mercy inspires them to deeds beyond what is expected.

 

Who never draw back from the misery and cries of their fellow human beings.

Whose faith looks for no escape from sticky situations of friction and misunderstanding.

 

Who embrace awkward and hard-to-love people without stiffness or reservation.

Who forgive their enemies and go the second mile with no hint of self-congratulation.

 

Whose sense of humour leads them to laugh while we whinge and lick our wounds.

Whose everyday love and hope counterbalances the avarice and cynicism of society. 

 

God of all courageous and debonair souls, we thank you for these spiritual guides. Even though we may not be able to fully emulate their character and deeds, let us at least have the grace to support them and pray for them. Through Christ Jesus , the strongest and most grace-full of them all. Amen!

                                    From Jesus Our Future. Page © B D Prewer &  Open Book Publishers

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

 With our prayers, we contract into the business of loving our neighbour. Let us pray.

 

For our nation; its politics, commerce, culture, education, mass media and recreational pursuits. That self-interest, injustice, arrogance, and deceit may not have dominion over our people and leaders.

            Spirit of Jesus, make us your agents of integrity and divine sanity.

 

For our international neighbours; Malaysia and Indonesia, Papua and New Guinea,  the Philippines, New Zealand and the island nations of the Pacific: That they may be governed wisely and compassionately.

            Spirit of Jesus, help our country to be a humble influence for the good of all

 

For the indigenous people of our land;  the urban dwellers and outback communities. That they may have courageous and wise leadership from within, and profound understanding and respect from without.

            Spirit of Jesus, with our help or without it, lead them into a better future.

 

For our young people in this century of abrupt changes and pervasive insecurities: That younger and older folk may be willing to learn from each other, and that the fullness of life be found by both the eager and the afraid.

            Spirit of Jesus, bless young people with the fullness of your liberating love.

 

For any member of this congregation, and for those among family or friends, who are in dire straits today: That according to their bewilderment, pain, or heartbreak, they may find your grace sufficient for their needs.

            Spirit of Jesus, when it is fitting, please use us as your angels of mercy.

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go out into the world with rekindled confidence and peace: Sometimes it is tough out there, other times it seems ‘a breeze.’ Give thanks to God in the hard times as well as in the easy days. There is nothing that can happen which falls outside the realm of the Spirit of Christ Jesus.

 

Amen!

 We offer the best we know of ourselves to the best we know of Christ Jesus.

 

The blessing of the creating, liberating and indwelling God be always with you.

And also with you.

Amen!