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January 24, 2016, 2:46 PM

Transforming Hope

by Sandy Bach

"Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone." (Luke 4:14-15 NRSV)

Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.  But several things had to happen before he was ready.

Enter an elderly priest Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth.  It was his turn to enter into the Holy of Holies for the annual incense burning.  It was a holy undertaking, and this particular episode would be the beginning of something new.    An angel appeared to him for  a long talk: "Don't be afraid, Zechariah,, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John." (Luke 1:13 NRSV)  Zechariah found this hard to believe (who wouldn't?) He questioned God and so remained silent for the next nine months.

That silence was a time of preparation for Zechariah.  Rather than a punishment, it gave him a certain solitude as he went about his duties as a temple priest.  So that when John was born, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to speak.  "Bless God for remembering Israel and our captivity.  Bless God for raising up a mighty savior for us.  We will be saved from our enemies and God will show mercy."  (Luke 1:68-72 my translation.)

It was the Holy Spirit who would come upon Mary and the child she carried would be holy: the Son of God.

When Joseph and Mary took the newborn Jesus to the Temple for the purification.  Who should be there at just that moment?  Simeon and Anna.  Simeon had learned by way of the Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death.  He took one look and recognized who Jesus was.  And then prayed what became a famous blessing for Christians everywhere: "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:29-32 NRSV)

The Spirit remained at work as John grew up and moved into the dessert to prepare for his ministry.  His  ministry was to call people to change their lives from the inside out.  For John, loving God meant that you take care of your neighbor.  Not just people you like, but anyone whose lives you touch.  Filled with the Spirit, John preached this change with courage and determination.  His preaching pointed to the Messiah.

His preaching made a difference.  He had followers who came to be baptized.  Filled with the Spirit he spoke to all who needed to change and repent.  Including Herod.  That got him into trouble. but he never shirked his duty.

Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized as well.  When he came out of the water we learn that "heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove." (Luke 3:21b-22 NRSV)  As he prayed, the Spirit came upon him.  And then that same Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted.  He fasted for 40 days and learned what his ministry wouldn't be: magic tricks and seeking self-serving ways to be top dog.

The Spirit remained at work as Jesus began his ministry.  "Filled with the power of the Spirit..."  He would preach and heal.  He would rebuke and extend love.  He would retreat alone to pray.  He would retreat with his disciples.  He played hard and worked hard.  His ministry of love that was meant to care for stranger and alien as well as friend spread far and wide.

Filled with Spirit, we too become courageous to say and do the hard things.  Filled with the Spirit, we pray alone and with others.  Filled with the Spirit, we recognize those people that God has put in our path and we care for them with relationship, food, clothing and words that heal.

I love the words of Rev. Robert M. Brearley, "The Holy Spirit comes when we have something to do for God and a time to do it.  Following this Jesus means accepting his mission and his time.  What would change in our lives and in our churches if we stood in the pews on Sunday morning and declared to God and to one another, 'God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and new beginnings to all who have failed'?  Jesus went forth in the power of the Spirit as an agent of God's m

ercy to the downtrodden, and so do we."  (Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspective.  Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Year C, Volume 1 page 288)

How is the Spirit at work in your life?  How do you use your day to bring good news to the poor and release to those held captive?  How can you bring sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed?  How does the Holy Spirit work in your life to be in relationship with those who cross your path?

It begins with getting to know Spirit, recognizing that she is with you at all times.  Be in solitude with her.  Speak if you're used to being silent.  Be silent if you're used to speaking.  Fast from food or an activity that will help you understand sacrifice.  Allow her to bring you closer and rely on her words to you in the simple activities of your day and the complications of living.

Nothing happened until Spirit got involved.  Nothing happens today without her.

Walking with her into an unknown future is our call as Christians.  We begin in prayer, listening with discernment.  Then with a measure of courage, a heart full of compassion and a hint of chutzpah we move out.

And that's when the amazing happens.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen. 


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