Anointed to Serve

Sunday, January 27, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 4:14-21

This third Sunday after the Epiphany, after the revelation of that first Christmas, we hear a powerful message. In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus’ baptism, he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. There he stayed for 40 days and was tempted by Satan. Our account today immediately follows his return from the wilderness. Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and began teaching. People were quickly noticing him and talking about him with praise and admiration. Our story today is really a two-part story. This week – today – we’ll focus on part one. We will focus on Jesus’ decision to read from the prophet Isaiah. “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The people in the synagogue that day had heard these words before. They were words of promise and hope. But what did they really mean to them that day? And what do they really mean to us today? Are they simply words from a prophet centuries ago that don’t apply to us today?

It would be understandable to think that way. There are still so many poor in our community and our world. People are still captive physically and emotionally. Sickness and disease are still present. There’s so much oppression in our country and in the world. And yet the words of the prophet Isaiah say, he is anointed to bring good news and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus challenges us to look at these words through new eyes.

We may be going through difficult times, but the good news is that the Holy Spirit is active and present among us as well. Thousands of years ago, when crowds of people gathered to hear Jesus and were hungry, it seemed like there was not enough, but God is a God of abundance and fed over 10,000 with only five loaves and two fish. At the wedding at Cana, the wine ran out, but all was not lost. Jesus filled huge jars of water into an abundance of fine wine. And Jesus raised the dead, and the early disciples performed miracles, and these signs didn’t just stop thousands of years ago. They are still happening today through people that God has anointed with the Holy Spirit – people like you and me. There may be evil in the world, but the power of the Holy Spirit is more powerful. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He, Jesus the Messiah, was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and anointed to bring good news to the poor, and to set oppressed people free. And we, through our baptism, are united with Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit to do the same. The work of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing process that continues across generations, throughout the centuries, throughout time.

It continues through us, the Church, the body of Christ. And as St. Paul says, we must be a unified body. There are many parts. We all have unique God-given gifts, but together the Holy Spirit works through us to continue the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. And today as we will later participate in the congregation’s annual meeting, we will focus on God’s mission for this congregation. It is not our mission; it is God’s mission. A mission that began with Jesus, continued with 12 ordinary apostles, and grew into the Church today. It is not our church; it is Christ’s church. We aren’t called to dwell on the past, but to learn from it, and to take that information and focus on what God is doing today. Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is challenging us to really listen to these words, these words of hope and promise, and see that through Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are continuing to be fulfilled today. We, the people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church are the ones who are called to bring good news to the poor through the ministries we do. We are called to help release captives and let the oppressed go free through the work of social justice. We are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When we focus on Christ’s mission, we as the body of Christ can do amazing things through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives and moves through us. We may face challenges, but through creative thinking and wisdom given to us by the Spirit, God will move us in directions we never dreamed possible. And like the heavens and nature itself we will proclaim the glory of God not only through our words, but more importantly through the kind of lives we live. When we speak and act in love, and compassion, kindness, and mercy, we proclaim God’s glory. We are anointed for this work of the Spirit, and we are empowered to do it with confidence and joy.

I’d like to close with a poem from Howard Thurman entitled, “The Work of Christmas.”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

This is the work we are called and anointed to do today. Amen.

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What Happens Next?

Sunday, January 13, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22

The celebration of a baptism is an exciting event. Family and friends gather together from near and far. Time is given as to whom the godparents or sponsors will be, special clothes are often worn, and a party of cake or other food often follows the service. Baptism is the most significant event in the life of a Christian, as we receive this most treasured gift of God. Luther called it a “most priceless treasure.” In the sacrament of baptism we are claimed as God’s beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are forever connected with God through Christ, and receive the gifts of forgiveness and grace. We are not forgiven in order to be God’s beloved, but we are forgiven because we are God’s beloved. After the baptism, the question is what happens next?

Unlike Matthew or Mark’s gospels, Luke’s focus is exactly that. He doesn’t give us a lot of details about the actual baptism, but rather what happens next. He says, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It was when Jesus was praying that the presence of the Holy Spirit was felt, and the voice of God was heard. The act of baptism was not the end, but rather the beginning. It was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it is the beginning of our ministry as well.

After the service itself, after the cake and the food, after all the festivities, the real experience of baptism comes to light. Baptism is an entryway. It is the beginning of our journey with Christ, our journey of faith. Baptism is an ongoing process. It opens us up. It opens us up to see the Light of Christ, to hear the voice of God, and to feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the light to guide us on our journey. Jesus knew that well, and we can follow his example. Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus prayed all the time. He prayed at his baptism, after working miracles, before choosing the twelve disciples, in the garden before his death, and even at his crucifixion.

How many times have we wondered what to do next? How often have we heard something and wondered who to ask for guidance? How frequently do we let challenges and change leave us feeling unbalanced? When Jesus faced challenges and important decisions he turned to prayer. Prayer and meditation are the spiritual disciplines that keep us connected to God, the source of all knowing. When we seek wisdom, prayer opens us up to be receptive to divine truth. When we seek reassurance, prayer reminds us of the promises of God. When we are lost, prayer leads us home to God who shows us the way. Prayer is not a last resort. Prayer, as Jesus modeled, is a way of life.

When Jesus was baptized, the first thing he did was pray. And prayer opened him up to hear the voice of God proclaim his as beloved. We need to hear this voice of assurance as well. Before we can go out in ministry, we too need to hear this blessed assurance. We cannot bless others, if we do not already know that we are blessed and beloved by God. In celebrating Jesus’ baptism, we celebrate our own. We are reminded to pray always so that we too can hear God’s voice on what to do next.

Each one of us, like Jesus, have been given divine work to do. We are called, like Jesus, to reveal God to the world through the lives we lead. We are called to care for one another, to care for the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, and to let them know that God has claimed them as beloved too. In our baptism, we promised to do these things. We promised to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” Jesus’ ministry was not an easy one, and ours isn’t either. There will be times when we have to face difficult challenges. There will be times when we have to speak out against injustice when even those we love may turn their backs on us just like the disciples did with Jesus. But we are not alone. God made the promise to be with us always through our baptism. And when we need strength and assurance, God speaks to us through prayer.

We are also the answer to prayer. God speaks and works through us. God’s light is revealed through us. The Holy Spirit works through us to bring God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. As we journey through this season of Epiphany, let us pray for God to be revealed through us.

May our voices and our actions lead others to Christ, so that all may know the promise of God that they are beloved. Amen.

Our Guiding Star

Sunday, January 6, 2019 – Epiphany
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 2:1-12

Stars, and dreams, and kings, oh my! If this sounds like a line from the Wizard of Oz you’re right. I couldn’t help as I was reading Mathew’s text this week to see the similarities between these two stories. In the classic movie the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sets off on a journey toward Oz to see the wizard who she thinks has all the answers. Her companions are the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man. The journey is a perilous one filled with danger along the way, but they make this journey anyway because they need to find the truth.

In Matthew’s gospel today, our three travelers are seeking truth as well. They are commonly referred to as the three kings, but in reality we don’t know that there were three of them – probably several – and they were not kings, but more like astrologers. In ancient times these astrologers made it their vocation to study the stars and astronomical events. It was a very precise science and because of the exact position of the stars and planets they could tell that something important was about to happen. So they set out on a journey – one that would prove quite dangerous for them as well. These wise ones were courageous.

Theirs was a dangerous journey because they were seeking a new king and that was a threat to Herod, the ruling king at the time. Herod was known for his murderous and evil ways and he would stop at nothing to end any competition. He told the wise men that he wanted them to report back to him when they found the infant Jesus so he could worship him too, but in reality he wanted to use their expertise to find the baby and kill him. Jealousy and fear are common evils in all of us. These emotions may not lead us to murder, but they can lead us to act in ways that are not life giving. They can lead one down a dangerous path into darkness. The only answer is to focus on the light of truth, and that true light is Jesus.

That is the light that the magi traveled to see. And so they followed the star. Now the text says the star was ahead of them. They saw its rising and then they traveled for quite a while, studying their maps and going in the direction they first saw the star. That meant that there were most likely many days that they traveled without seeing the star. They traveled by day and by night going in the direction, but with no person to guide their way. How did they know they were going in the right direction? How often do we ask ourselves the same question? How do we know if we are going in the right direction?

We study the Scriptures like the magi studied and interpreted their maps. We read God’s word carefully, discussing it with others and trying to interpret exactly what it is that God is saying to us. It’s not easy to understand God’s plan for us and often we have no idea. But like the magi, we follow the light. We follow the light of Christ and trust that He knows the answers. We pray, and listen for God’s response. And like the magi, when we find the Light, we are filled with joy.

Following the Light is a long journey for all of us. It’s filled with twists and turns and dangers along the way. There are people who, like Herod, will want to lead us astray, who will try and deceive us, but we must stay true to the course no matter how difficult it gets. The magi stayed to their course with their maps and stars. We have the Scripture and prayer. And like the magi, we have each other. We have each other to help keep us on the right path.

God spoke to the magi in a dream not to return the same way they came and they listened. By doing that, they were defying Herod and risking their lives if he caught them. But they trusted God and were courageous. God still speaks to us today. We need to be receptive to that, and we need to be willing to change course if that is what God asks of us. We must be willing to see Christ in unexpected places. That is what Epiphany is all about. It is the manifestation of Christ. He is revealed to us every day and we – like the magi – need to be open to see Him. Christ is revealed to us when we pray. He is revealed to us when we minister to one another. And He is most especially revealed to us in the bread and wine today that we receive today.

We, like the magi, are on a journey to seek the true King only we don’t need to travel far. Jesus comes to us whenever and wherever we are. That is the greatest gift of all. That is reason to celebrate and give thanks! May we, like these wise ones of long ago, follow Christ with courage and joy. Amen.