SERMON from 10-16-11: “A Fresh Anointing”

Luke 4.14-30

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

A Fresh Anointing

Growing up, my favorite book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Anyone heard of it? From a series of books featuring Alexander as the main character, Alexander has–in his words–a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” He wakes up with gum in his hair. He didn’t get a toy in his cereal box, when the rest of his brother’s got one. He gets stuck in the middle seat on the way to school–two people get to rib him in the side. His teacher gets on his case for missing the number 16 in math. He loses “best friend” status at recess. His mother forgot to pack desert in his lunch. The dentist find a cavity in his mouth–not the rest of his siblings. Instead of awesome shoes with a cool design, he was stuck buying plain, old white tennis shoes. He messes up his dad’s office. He sees kissing on TV–he hates kissing. His bath was too hot and he had to wear his train pj’s–he hates his train pj’s. All the while, he wishes we was in Australia. That’s a bad day. Alexander’s mom told him that some days are just like that.

Saying this constitutes a pretty wild speculation on my part, but I should think Mary told Jesus this at one time or another. Some days are just like that. Jesus–in Luke 4–is having his very own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. This is evidenced by his daring escape from the crowd that wished to chuck him off a cliff. But let’s stop right there! This passage reads like an exciting novel. There is no explanation as to how; Jesus just works his way back through the crowd and out of harm’s way–literally!

Imagine a chase scene in a movie. The Cop/FBI agent/CIA operative is chasing a subject. It’s dark and the streets are covered with a fresh layer of rain. The subject is just about to be tracked down by their tracker, when around a corner they go and they are barreling down the street in a stolen car the next time we see them. I don’t know about you, but I always say this in the back of my mind: NO WAY!

Jesus is being run down by the crowd and they have blood on their mind–a nice little foreshadow to the crucifixion by Luke. The passage then says something to the effect of “he works his way through the crowd and went on his way.” NO WAY! Is the crowd just allowing Jesus to walk through them, when it was them that was running him down? A crowd so hell-bent on doing harm to Jesus–so much so that they are willing to toss him off a cliff–just let him wander back through their mob? NO WAY!

Alas, however, we do not know how it happened–we just know that it happened. More important, still, I think would be to ask why it happened. What could have ticked them off so much? What could have led this crowd to take one of their own and “hurl”–as it actually says in my translation of the Bible–Jesus off a cliff?

As we work backwards in the story, we see that the previous scene begins with Jesus telling another story from the OT. This story has a specific purpose: to announce the scandal inherent in the gospel. I won’t recount the story for you, because (even for me) it is difficult to draw out what this story is about. It begins with the heavens being “shut up.” Ever think in those time you are facing trial that it is almost like the heavens had “shut” to you? This is code for God’s blessing being gone from the people–his gracious hand being removed from them. The famine which ensued was bad, but there were those who did receive blessing. It was the widow, the lowly and insignificant. In other words, “the least of these.” This is scandalous to this audience for a specific reason.

The people Jesus was speaking to were Jews–God’s chosen people! They were set aside by God as a preferred group–this is the set of facts they are working from. The story Jesus shared portrayed the chosen people being looked over for blessing in a time of trial. This did not sit well with the crowd. It’s like when you’re a kid and you think mom and dad like your sister or brother better than you. What could be a consequence of that realization? You lash out. You throw a fit. Jesus is telling the crowd that they may not be the only child God loves or has chosen, and they are acting out. Not just acting out, because Luke decides to use the word “rage” to describe the way in which the people attacked Jesus.

They were angry at the gospel–because that is what the gospel is. Like I have said for the last couple of weeks, the gospel makes no distinctions between who may be welcomed in. It all depends upon what your definition of “whosoever” is. John 3.16 doesn’t discriminate between sinners in need of redemption. We do. Which is what makes the gospel so scandalous, and what makes it so hard for the people to accept. So, they “shoot the messenger”, so to speak.

The problem one can run into with that is that these people knew the messenger. He was one of their own. To be sure, one cannot understand Jesus’ life apart from his identity as a Jew. He grew up, lived and worked with the people gathered in that synagogue. To them, Jesus was a carpenter–and a son of a carpenter. They watched him grow up; they knew his secrets and his family. Imagine little Edward Kelly growing up to go into the ministry. Could you take communion from Edward, whom you knew as a child? Could you take seriously a sermon preached by someone whom you saw in diapers? Could you be led by someone in the faith whom you helped to raise in the faith? That is certainly a dynamic that Jesus is dealing with.

So, it is to this crowd that Jesus now has to teach and preach. It was custom for Jesus to do this in the temple–guessing he was preparing for some important work. He unfurled the scroll, in front of those people whom he had known for so long, and began to read. The message he read was the message we talked about earlier–why and for whom Jesus had come. He didn’t make a big stink of the fact that it was him who was supposed to do this–he read it, sat down and said essentially that that scripture was fulfilled through him.

That is pretty bold. That’s what we are called to–boldness. When we become a disciple, that’s the kind of message we represent. So, is Jesus the last one who is supposed to be bold? Absolutely not! We, too, are called to be bold.

Last Sunday, I heard a great sermon by Frank Beard–our District Superintendent (he acts as a supervisor for a group of local churches). He is going to be returning to parish ministry next year and told us last week that–while he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes–he felt there were some things he needed to say before he left. He was only supposed to preach for five minutes, but he preached for twenty–I am glad he did. He preached on this passage and said that the United Methodist Church needs “a fresh anointing” of the Holy Spirit. He said that we hadn’t lost it, but that we could use a fresh dose of it.

I agree! I was convicted by that sermon. Jesus’ came to bring good news to the poor. He came for the captives. He came for others who are oppressed. Jesus never ignored anyone who sought him, but his ministry was dedicated to the poor and countering those who would seek to harm and oppress. There is no way anyone could look at the gospels and think that it’s okay to not have a hand in any service to those who are in need. It’s not how we gain salvation; it’s how we prove we have been changed by ours.

That’s all well and good, but what about us. What can we do in Forest, IN. We don’t have homeless living under bridges, nor do we have vast amounts of oppression. There are the lonely, though. There are those who rarely see another human face. How many elderly people do you know who never see anyone? Maybe down the road from you, or maybe down the block. Unless you were abandoned on another planet, you are in a place where you can carry out the scandalous message of the gospel.

It is by the Holy Sprit that we are called to do this. The same Spirit which was upon Jesus as he prepared to teach to those in his hometown is with us. The same Spirit that engulfed Paul and exploded the early church is with us. The same Spirit that Frank is talking about can be with us as well. We just gotta be willing and able vessels of it to the world.

Tony Campolo tells the story of walking one day down Chestnut Street in center-city Philadelphia and encountering a homeless man who was approaching him on the sidewalk. This bum was covered with dirt and soot from head to toe. There was filthy stuff caked on his skin. His beard hung down almost to his waist and there was rotted food stuck in it.

The man was holding a cup of McDonald’s coffee and the lip of the cup was already smudged from his dirty mouth. And as he staggered towards Tony, he seemed to be staring into this cup of coffee. Then, suddenly, he looked up and yelled, “Hey mister!

Ya want some coffee?”

As Campolo writes, “I have to admit that I really didn’t. But I knew that the right thing to do was to accept his generosity, and so I said, ‘I’ll take a sip.’”

When Tony handed the cup back to him, he said, “You’re pretty generous, aren’t you, giving away your coffee?” And the old man looked him straight in the eye and replied, “Well, the coffee was especially delicious today, and I figure if God gives you something good, you ought to share it with (other) people.”

Upon hearing this, however, Campolo became a little cynical, and thought to himself, “Oh, man. He has me really set up. This is going to cost me five dollars.” So Tony said to him, “I suppose there’s something I can do for you in return, isn’t there?”

The homeless guy thought about that for a second, and then said, “Yeah! You can give me a hug.” (“To tell you the truth,” writes Campolo, “I was hoping for the five dollars.”)

So the bum put his arms around Tony, and Tony put his arms around the bum. And then Campolo realized something, “He wasn’t going to let me go!” Here, people were walking by on the sidewalk, staring at them. And Tony, all dressed up in a suit and tie, was hugging this dirty, filthy bum.

We may get a little dirty in the process, but allowing the Spirit to cover us with a fresh anointing will grow the church and advance the kingdom of God. May the Spirit lead you with boldness into a world that so desperately needs a fresh anointing from God. AMEN.

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