Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
1st Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Earlier this month when we had the ice storm, we lost power in our home for about 5 hours. Nick was doing some dinner preparation about 4:30 in the afternoon and suddenly the lights went out. We gathered our candles and our flashlights. We had one or two working flashlights, so I changed the batteries in the remaining two flashlights. Then Sterling and I spent about the next hour cuddled under a blanket on the couch reading by flashlight while we waited to see if the lights would come back on or not in time to finish dinner. We could see on our smartphones when the utility company thought power would be restored, but that time kept getting later and later, until we finally decided to venture out in the snow and go out to dinner.
This was fascinating to Sterling. Until then, he had taken electricity for granted. Now he wanted to know what ran on batteries and what was connected to the power grid. We tested our ceiling fan probably a dozen times so he could see that it wouldn't turn on. He went to bed that night with two lights that ran on batteries, a toy turtle he has that plays music and a flashlight. Even now that his nightlight is working, he still keeps those other two nearby, maybe as security in his mind in case the power goes out again. It was at that moment when the power went out that he started being more curious about everything and asking so many questions about how things work and why.
Probably many of us take it for granted things like electricity and power and what makes things work. And many of us who have been part of this church for a long time have our ideas of how things get done and why they are the way they are. That's why it is so nice to have new people come along now and then and ask why and how so we can evaluate whether that is the best way and how to have enough flashlights full of batteries just in case, a backup plan for when the usual patterns of power don't work or aren't serving the people they are supposed to.
In the Old Testament Reading for this morning, it would have been a new concept for words written in a book or scroll to have power, but clearly they do. They have the power to command people's attention. They have the power to move people to strong emotion. And you get the feeling that things are going to change, that people will be motivated to act because of these words. It isn't just the words, but that they come from God, who knows them completely. They hear their lives reflected in what they hear read and interpreted. They find themselves convicted by words of truth. They know things are not working well. They are ready to listen to another way. And they hear a word of love, joy, and forgiveness that helps them let go of how things have been and want to start a new way. And they hear a word of celebration and sharing.
In Paul's letter to the Corinthians this morning, there is power in diversity. It is like the different power sources in our home, the power grid and the battery powered flashlights and the candles. Together all these power sources come together to give us light. Maybe they seem redundant most of the time and maybe they clutter up the house and are inefficient, but they are important just the same and essential when the time comes that one source fails.
This is hard for humans sometimes. We look for friends who think the same way we do. We watch news that confirms our own point of view. We like the comfort of our routine. We think we like conformity. It is just easier if people fit a certain kind of mold. That's the way we run our factories, to make thousands and thousands of exactly the same item. That is efficiency.
That is the way we like to run our ecology, too. One example I learned about this summer is about people's lawns. I know this can be a sensitive subject, but a lot of people have this view that their lawn should be uniform. It should be one kind of grass, even in color and mowed to just the right height. Well nature, AKA God, made nature love diversity. As soon as you plant that uniform lawn, nature, or God is moving in with other plants that want to live there, too. And there is good reason this happens. That is because if something happens to the uniform lawn that is systemic, not just a bug eating a blade of grass or you putting on too much fertilizer or herbicide on one little spot, the whole thing is going to fail. Having a diversity of plants in your lawn, means better survival rate. I was glad to know that my lawn is indeed considered a lawn. It has clover, it has crab grass, it has dandelions and faux dandelions that I try to remove, it has these cute little flowers that are light blue and few that are salmon colored and it has moss. When the dry summers come, the grass gets brown, but the clover looks really good. The clover doesn't grow as high as the blades of grass so it doesn't look as bad if I don't mow for a long time. And the clover supplies nutrients to the soil like nitrogen that is good for the grass and soil. It is good to have diversity, according to God who set up all of nature, even if it drives humans crazy. There is power in diversity because each has its own gifts. Even if two people have the same gift, if one fails or gets sick, another can come fill in and the body of Christ continues to work and serve. The body of Christ is powerful because of the diversity and redundancy, the fact that several people can do the same job in different ways.
So now we come to the Gospel. In the Gospel of John, Jesus' first act after calling his disciples is changing the water into wine at the wedding at Cana that we talked about last week. Each Gospel writer has their own perspective about who they think Jesus is and part of the way they reveal their perspective is in Jesus' first act in each of their Gospels. For Luke, this is Jesus' first act after being baptized and given the Holy Spirit and coming back from being tempted in the wilderness. So here he is. This isn't quite as dramatic as in the Gospel of John. Jesus goes home to Nazareth. He reads from a scroll in the synagogue, like he has probably done many times before. He is in the presence of his friends and family, the people he grew up with. He is getting some positive feedback, some interest, some good reviews—I'd call it cautiously optimistic.
So this is what Jesus chooses to read after being filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. “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.” This is what Jesus chooses to read, his mission statement, his billboard, his bumper sticker. I hope it sounds somewhat familiar. It sounds very similar to his mother's magnificat that she sang with her cousin Elizabeth before Jesus was born. “You have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble of heart, you have filled the hungry with wondrous things. How you favored the weak and lowly ones.” Jesus' first song of his ministry is the song of his mother, but also his father. This is God's song that God sang through the prophets way back when. Jesus is reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He is aligning himself with a person and a story from a long time ago, but also the power of God that has always been in the world. The people in the congregation listening to Jesus would have heard this before. They knew about their history of God's Spirit leading them through the desert to freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. They had experienced God bringing them out of exile in Babylon. They may have had mixed emotions, though, when they heard this because they were currently under Roman occupation and oppression. They looked around at their situation and felt the need to again be freed.
But then Jesus said these words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is reading it first person. He is claiming that he is the one the Spirit has empowered to do all these things. He's basically saying that he's the one that will cure the blind and free the captive and make all these good things happen. We'll see next week that his family and hometown buddies don't respond well to this statement. Maybe they think he's arrogant. Maybe bragging. Maybe they felt sorry for him that he was so naive as to think it would be so simple. But we know he does have the power and he does carry through both in his ministry and in his sacrifice, even if it isn't the way people expected it to happen.
So now we are the body of Christ, all of us together, and aren't we filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, too? Aren't we empowered by God? Isn't God working through us to release the captives, heal the blind, heal this earth, be united in love? Are we really moved or changed or empowered by hearing the hope and possibility in God's word, the scriptures read to us this morning? How would we do things differently if we really did let these words of God touch our hearts or if we really felt empowered and filled by the Holy Spirit?
We often see our power as limited, likely to flicker at any time or growing dim. Sometimes we spend so much energy trying to make sure the lights stay on that we forget the share the light with others or forget that our power supply is unlimited because it is from the Holy Spirit. What might we do differently if we really lived by the Power of the Holy Spirit? How can we let the Spirit bring us joy? What would the world look like if we recognized that we run on Spirit Power? God is powerful and active and will transform our world through us and despite us, bringing release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and Jubilee for all of us, ready or not.
Nick and I crawled into bed about 10 pm that night that the power went out, for warmth as much as anything. We lay there talking about our day for a moment or two. Suddenly, the lights in our room came back on again. God's power can be surprising and unexpected. Ready or not, God's light is shining for all who have experienced darkness.