Sunday, 24 January 2016

In the Power of the Spirit: an Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany—with reference to Neh 8:1–3, 5–6, 8–10; 1 Cor 12:12–31a and Luke 4:14–21

Jesus returned “in the power of the Spirit” to Galilee (Lk 4.14). Jesus did everything in the power of the Spirit. Wherever he went, he went in the power of the Spirit. Whatever he did, he did it in the power of the Spirit. Whatever he said—well, you get my drift. Jesus was the ideal Spirit filled human being.

We can be just like him. How? Just by deciding to be. Look at the first verse of our 1 Corinthians reading; by opening our hearts, souls, minds and bodies to drink of the “one Spirit” Paul wrote about and that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ offers and urges on us. And by following Jesus’ example. For example, as we see in this morning’s gospel, Jesus went to church. It was his custom. I can make it mine. No matter what. Whether we have a priest here, or not. So can you. This morning you have, good for you. Jesus doesn’t leave StB just because there’s no priest. Neither does the Holy Spirit.

Jesus went to church in the power of the Spirit, he was a Scripture reader that day, look at verse 16 and 17 in the gospel: he stood up, took the scroll and he read, look at verse 18, this what he read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Lk 4.18). The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, too. And upon you. The priest or pastor who baptized you, prayed so, and so did the Bishop who confirmed you.

What else do this morning’s readings tell us about being followers and worshippers of Jesus upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests? Paul in our 1 Corinthians(1 Cor 12.12, 18, 24 & 27). I am one of the many, chosen, members of the Father’s lovingly composed Body of Christ on earth, the Church. So are you. We are in this together. All of us. Together. Baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor 12.13). Made to drink of the one Spirit if we’ll just open our mouths and let the Lord fill them. We all have a part to play. Each of you do and so do I. God designed each one of us for it. We’re each of us unique and necessary for the one body to work. If any of us are absent, an important part of the whole holy kingdom of God building machine is missing and the engine starts to miss and run rough. If enough members go, it can stop altogether.

So what do we do? Believe that the Spirit of the Living God is upon us. Ask to be reminded. Come to church to be reminded. Often. Speak good news and freedom, like Jesus did. Help people to see Jesus in their lives, help the oppressed to get out from under (Lk 4.18-19), like Jesus did. And earnestly desire the higher gifts of the Spirit, says Paul (1 Cor 12.31). What are they? Love, mostly (1 Cor 13). That’s the most excellent one (1 Cor 12.31). Pursue love, writes Paul (1 Cor 14.1), chase it down. Be open to the divine appointment or appointments God, the Father, has for you (1 Cor 12.28) apostle, prophet, teacher, prayer for miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administrating and various kinds of tongues (1 Cor 12.30), for a start, knowing that none of us get them all, but we are all appointed with at least one. Keep your appointment.

What else do we do? Don’t forget to gather. At church especially. The Old Testament lesson shows us something about that. All the people gathered as one, it says (Neh 8.1). What happened then? Ezra read to them from the Law—the Word of the Lord—for all who could understand (Neh 8.2, 3, 8), clearly, and there were others there to give the sense and explain it. That’s what the sermon or homily is for each Sunday. And the people were attentive (Neh 8.3). They applied themselves to the listening. Just like we have to. They stood up to hear it (Neh 8.5) just like we do for the gospel. And they worshipped, “Amen, Amen,” they said, “lifting up their hands.” (Neh 8.6) just like some people at StB do on Sundays. “And they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Neh 8.6) We do that sometimes, too. That is part of being attentive. And, above all, be like the people who were in the synagogue with Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on him (Lk 4.20). Watch for him. In the Scriptures read out loud, in the music, in one another’s faces. He’s here today in the power of that one and the same Spirit.

Not only that, Nehemiah and Ezra gave the people permission to enjoy it all and told them that the joy of the Lord was their strength. It’s true of us, too. The joy of the Lord is our strength. It’s the joy of the Lord which filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit’s power. It’s what fills us with that power, too.

What can we do to give the Father joy? Open our mouths to drink of the Spirit, keep our appointments, earnestly desire the greater gifts, do not neglect to gather together for church, be attentive in worship, and always, expectantly, faithfully, prayerfully and worshipfully keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.