Sunday, 27 January 2019

St Mary, Balcombe Epiphany 3 27th January 2019

Last time I was with you, two weeks ago, we were keeping the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the One on whom the Spirit rests – that is the meaning of ‘Christ’.

Jesus was born to live in obscurity for 30 years.  Then in his 30th year he goes for baptism. The heavens open, the Spirit descends. Jesus, conceived and born of the Spirit is filled with the Spirit. Then, as we read in the opening of today’s Gospel from Luke Chapter 4 verse 14 to 21 filled with the power of the Spirit Jesus returned to Galilee, and a report of him spread through all the surrounding country.

Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.  He says this of himself later in our Gospel passage as he stands up in the Synagogue at Capernaum, reads Isaiah 61v1-2, the great Old Testament proclamation of the coming Messiah, and adds: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. 4:21

Our Lord applies Isaiah’s prophecy to himself.  Yet his anointing as Christ and Messiah is not just for him - it is to be shared with us.  

Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit as Christ so that we might share in his anointing!

A Christian is one who shares in the anointing of the Anointed One.  Indeed we can only do what Christians do if we welcome and own that anointing in the Holy Spirit which is ours through baptism and here’s what we’re called to do: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach 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 favour.(4:18-19)

In the Greek there’s no definite article before the word ptochos - poor, which means it refers to a quality of life rather than particular poor persons.  Jesus will be good news to those who’re otherwise powerless to enrich themselves.

If we ask the question who are the poor, the powerless in mid-Sussex today we should find part of the answer at least within ourselves. What, for example, is it that stops us saying ‘sorry’ to people when we need to? Isn’t there something of self-importance within? Too important to say sorry? There’s no good news of grace on offer for those who are rich to self. Eugene Peterson translates blessed are the poor in Matthew 5 as You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

As you come before the Lord this morning might it be that any pain you’re feeling inside is the pain of wounded pride and challenged self-sufficiency? Rejoice! With less of you there could be more of God in your life!

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners ...Our Lord continues to release the oppressed.
Some years back when we were living in Wood Green our drains began to overflow.  We had to send for Dyno-Rod who sent a camera on a tube down the sewer. They gave us a 20 minute DVD of our drains. It was a fascinating 20 minutes, especially the rat that appeared half way through!

The cameras showed what human eyes couldn’t see, that the neighbour’s tree roots had blocked our drains.  They needed cutting out and the drain needed a resin soaked felt lining.

Inside each one of us there are bonds that oppress us and restrict our health and life and God sees these far more surely than a Dyno-Rod camera.  He’s able to show us just where we’re held captive and then help us enter new freedom.

He has sent me to proclaim... recovery of sight for the blind Our Lord continues.

When it comes to applying this to ourselves maybe it’s the opening of ‘inner eyes’ that has the Lord’s invitation. If you don’t know where you’re bound up spiritually you can always ask to see.

How’s your enthusiasm for the work of mission? Do you truly see yourself as one sharing the anointing of the Anointed One? Or would you admit your deficit and seek a rekindling of passion, a fresh anointing in the Holy Spirit as you approach the Communion rail this morning?

Sometimes we receive an anointing from above or beyond ourselves.  Other times – and I think this is very important – it is a matter of experiencing unblocking of the streams within. In the story of Lourdes key figure is the peasant girl, Bernadette, a shepherdess who in 1854 received a number of visions, allegedly of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In one of these visions the Lady asked her to dig up some earth so a spring could be uncovered, a spring that flows to this day, a healing stream visited by millions every year.

How important discernment is! What healing streams can flow from one little insight!

We have a partnership in mission here at Balcombe, an enthusiastic partnership of priest and people to be with Fr Keith’s arrival next month. The word ‘enthusiasm’ means literally ‘in God’. It comes from an ever-fresh welcoming of the anointing of the Anointed One, a readiness to be shown where the flow of his grace is getting blocked within us.

As Our Lord says in John’s Gospel:  Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive  John 7:37-9.

How the church needs to take that invitation to heart! How better can we generate new enthusiasm for God’s work than heart-searching in the days approaching the licensing for things that weigh down and block the Spirit in our lives and in our Christian community?
As we do so – and let Jesus lift the sludge over us – we’ll recover a sense of God’s goodness and become more effectively his instruments, Gospel people – good news people!.

He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed

This is our task – our task together, priests and people. Is there any organisation with unemployment like the church? How do we get our many unemployed gifts released?  We need fresh ‘anointing from the Anointed One’ to effect a new spirit of collaboration. As church growth expert Eddie Gibbs writes: The task of the ordained ministry is not simply to minister to the congregation but to create and direct a ministering congregation through the detection, development and deployment of God-given resources. With Fr Keith’s arrival may spiritual unemployment take a dive in the parish! Through collaborative ministry!

The last phrase Our Lord uses in his address at Nazareth refers to ‘the Lord’s favour’. He has sent me to proclaim ... the year of the Lord's favour

The growth of the church is growth in faith, love and numbers.  It’s growth in ‘the Lord’s favour’.

How can we find favour with God as Jesus did?   In such favour lies our lasting peace and wholeness - how do we find it?

The letter to the Hebrews gives this answer: Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

To find favour, to please God, we need faith, we need to believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Our mission should advance not in a forced or artificial way but in a trusting and natural way, a way that trusts in the Lord’s favour and empowering.

As we approach Our Lord at this eucharist let us put trust in him and take him at his word.

He gives us no task without the grace to accomplish it. Listen once again to what Jesus is saying to each one of us individually this morning

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me - let me share my anointing with you!
He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor - empty yourself so I can fill you!
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… to release the oppressed - show me the bonds that bind you and let me loosen them.   
He has sent me to proclaim ... recovery of sight for the blind - see and welcome my possibilities which exceed your imagining - and you will find my favour!

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