Coming Home –  Jesus anointed by the Spirit (Week 1)

Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

The gospel according to St Luke opens with the accounts of two homecomings. Two couples find themselves expecting children. The one, a couple ancient in years, has always longed for a child – and God hears finally their longing – and grants them their hearts’ desire. Zechariah and Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, the one who will herald Christ’s coming and will baptise him as his ministry commences.

The members of the other couple are only betrothed to be married. The angel Gabriel, God’s messenger, appears to Mary and asks her to bear God’s son – will she allow him a home on this earth – that he might show us the way to be home in God? That is her calling. That is the calling of her son. She is courageous  and assents to allowing him a home in her and with her. A home that will put her at great risk and cause her great pain. The scholar Brendan Byrne’s book The Hospitality of God greatly influenced me in the writing of this sermon series. He wrote of Mary, “She is the first in a long line of characters in this Gospel who give hospitality to Jesus only to find themselves drawn into the hospitality of God.”[1]

This Jesus is utterly at home in his father, God. All his earthly life is lived out of his closeness to God. All his encounters with human beings. And his journey to Jerusalem, a journey that ends in death, is walked in God. And Jesus lives this life and dies this death that we and all creation too might find our home in God.

In this sermon series we will explore this theme of ‘Coming Home’ in the Gospel of St Luke. Christ is at home in God. God’s longing as that we might know our home to be in God. Over the five weeks we will look at different aspects of Jesus’ ministry – his being infused by the Spirit, his healing, his love of meals with, particularly, those society shuns, his teaching through those strange stories, the parables, and his guidance on the way to live in God. The two other great events in the gospel, Christ’s death and his resurrection, and Luke’s treatment of those events, we will ponder at the proper time – on Good Friday and on Easter night.

Two homecomings on earth – the births of John and Jesus. Each are heralded with song – the Benedictus – and the Magnificat that we hear sung each Sunday night in this cathedral at Evensong. When Zechariah sings the Benedictus he says the words, ‘By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Luke 1: 78-9) This is what Jesus is about. Salvation. God intends peace for our earth and salvation for all, particularly those on the margins. Mary’s song, infused with the radical theology of the Old Testament, leaves us in no doubt that God’s embrace is wide and reverses the values of our world. God, in choosing Mary, one of the lowly ones, will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly, will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-4) As we explore Jesus’ ministry, we will find his mother’s words fulfilled.

53w5This evening we will ponder Jesus as one infused by the spirit, one who is utterly at home in God. Jesus enters Luke’s Gospel scene as an adult when his cousin is baptising the crowds by the river Jordan. Jesus too is baptised and while he is at prayer, God’s voice is heard. Jesus is always praying. Luke portrays Jesus at prayer before so many significant events in the gospel.

After Jesus is baptised,

…and is praying, the heavens open, 22and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice comes from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’* (Luke 3:21-2)

His identity is clear. God’s Son, God’s Beloved.

Jesus, though, quickly embraces his home on earth.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returns from the Jordan and is led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1-2)

He enters into the heart of human life – temptation and suffering and struggle. As Brendan Byrne writes, “Precisely as God’s Son, obedient to the pattern of divine love and grace that drives him, he will enter fully into the human lot of suffering and death. … Son of Adam as well as Son of God, he will enter into the pain and evil of the world to work the inner transformation that alone will render it hospitable to God.”[2]

Jesus opens his ministry in his home town, at the synagogue in Nazareth, on the Sabbath day. A true Jewish teacher, he reads from the scroll of 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 favour.’
(Luke 4:18-9)

Luke’s is a spirit –filled gospel. At the Annunciation, Mary is told by Gabriel that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35) The spirit sent Christ and the spirit anointed Christ for his adult ministry. The power at work in him is the power of God’s spirit. But the one anointed by God’s spirit is not always made welcome.

We are warned of this right at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth – The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 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?’ …And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. (Luke 4:20-24)

And the rejection begins.

All through the opening scenes of Luke’s Gospel and particularly in this scene in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus is anointed by the spirit in the way of the prophets of old. His earthly life will bear much in common with the lives of the Jewish prophets – lives of poverty, lives without a settled home, lives of rejection. And lives of prayer.

One Jesuit wrote of prayer as taking “a long loving look at the real.”[3] Is that what Jesus did, up on his mountains, held in the spirit, is that what he did? Did he take a long loving look at the real, at what was about him? At the river and the sea and the plains. At the synagogues where his father’s words were read and pondered and yet, those who called themselves religious so often struggled to know God at all. Did he take a long loving look at those who were hungry and those who were possessed by the voices that drowned out his father’s voice, calling them “Beloved?” And at those whose lives were broken by illness, illness that had them shunned by those who might have been community for them. We’ll keep watch with him next week with those who were sick and those who were possessed. We’ll see how he brings them home.

It’s Lent now. That long Sabbath time.

The time to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Dust made by God. The time to sit with the truth that we are created by God, in love, from the dust. The time to make our fast and give our alms. The time for stillness and quiet thought. The time for repentance. The time for gratitude.

That time for us to sit still. Shall we keep Christ company on his mountain at prayer? Knowing that however faint that voice might be, somewhere God is calling us, and all creation, “Beloved” too? Shall we take a long loving look at the real? Believing or struggling to believe that he is with us? That the spirit that bathed his prayer might nurture our own? Shall we sit with him, listening to his voice, that quiet and yet relentless voice, that voice that will seek us out, wherever we are, and however far from God we think we might be, that voice of forgiveness, that voice of love, calling us home.



[1] Brendan Byrne The Hospitality of God p25

[2] Brendan Byrne p43.

[3] Walter Burghardt – quoted in James Martin, SJ The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life