The sermon this morning is about one little word: Because.
Jesus says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me BECAUSE.” The Spirit is upon him for a REASON, there is a purpose, there is a BECAUSE.
“Because The Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Spirit 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.”
Jesus does not say “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me AND the Spirit has anointed me. That would just be a sequence of events. Jesus says, BECAUSE. The relationship between the Spirit’s anointing and good news for the poor is not casual but causal, because. The reason, the purpose of the Spirit is named. This is the Mission Statement of the Spirit’s anointing. Jesus has just returned from the wilderness (We’ll hear the story of Jesus in the Wilderness with the Devil in a couple weeks at the beginning of Lent). Jesus is driven into the wilderness BY the Spirit, after the Spirit came down, swooped down on him at his baptism in the Jordan. The Spirit has been the driving force for the past chapter of Luke.
So now Jesus explains why the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, why the Spirit came down. “Because, Jesus says:” There is a reason, a purpose.
Three years ago I was in Washington DC as assistant Rector at St. John’s Church. My rector at St. John’s, The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon used the same word, “because,” in his benediction to close the inauguration of the President. Luis was invited by the president to give the closing prayer, and he gave a great prayer. Like any official Washington prayer, it was part prayer and part sermon. But I was proud of Luis. It was only about 4 minutes long. Sometimes these things can be 15 minutes. It was quite an adventure to be that close to the inauguration, to see your boss standing that close to Beyonce. Ellis and I watched on TV because it was so cold that morning. There wasn’t quite two feet of snow like there is today, but it was cold. So we watched on TV. It was amazing to see your boss at the Inauguration.
In Luis’ blessing he used the word “because.” He asked God to bless our nation, and he used the words of Martin Luther King: God make us your blessed community. “We pray for your blessing BECAUSE with it, we can see each other created in your image.” He used “Because” a number of times. It’s almost like my old boss Luis was riffing on Jesus…adapting Jesus’ words for today. Luis was in good company: Jesus was riffing on Isaiah. Jesus knew his Haftarah. In the theology of Luis’ benediction, in the theology of Jesus’ words today, the theology of the prophet Isaiah’s words there is a BECAUSE for blessing, there is a reason for the Spirit’s presence, there is a purpose to faith, a because.
To bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
You know, modest goals.
That’s just it, there is nothing modest about this “because.” There is nothing small about Jesus’ sense about what the life of the Spirit is about, about what he is about. Jesus wants to see the world work differently. Jesus sits back down and then says, “today this passage has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Because the poor need good news, I am amongst you. Because captives need to be released, I’m asking you to follow me. Because the oppressed need to go free, you need to have faith. Because we need to declare jubilee, we need to open the eyes of the blind, the Spirit is upon me. Because. There is nothing modest about Jesus’ sense of the Spirit’s anointing, nothing small about the faith of Jesus.
Notice what Jesus does not say. Jesus does not say: “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon me because you all need a lesson in sexual morality.” Jesus does not say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because I want to make sure you go to heaven when you die.” Jesus does not say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to encourage you to give money to the synagogue or church.” Jesus does not say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to support Sarah’s side in this family argument, her sister Gina really needs to get it together.” Our faith can get very small sometimes. Our sense of the Spirit, our sense of “Because” can get us into Spiritual trouble. When our mission, our “because” is too small, spirituality can seem trite. The church can become nothing more than a social club.
A couple of years ago the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts released a video of their former Bishop Tom Shaw. Bishop Shaw, in addition to being a bishop, happened to be a monk, an Episcopalian monk. His day to day clothes are a long black robe, the habit of his order of monks.
In the video Bishop Shaw tells the story of coming out of the Boston Metro, the “T,” and hearing two guys call to him from across the street, “Hey are you a Father?” The Bishop said yes and they said, “Come here we’ve got a question for ya.” The other guy said, “So, is it a sin to smoke dope?”
So the Bishop in his monk robes looked at him and said, “well…how much?” He said, “just a couple of joints a week.” The Bishop thought for a second and said, “no that’s not a sin. Sin is about the tremendous gap between rich and poor and the poverty in this country. Sin’s about racism or homophobia and sin’s about war and violence, but it’s not about smoking a couple of joints a week.” And the other guy said to him, “We want to join your church.”
The questioners in Bishop Shaw’s story have a very small sense of Spirituality. It’s not surprising that they don’t go to church. I would be bored of church if I thought that God’s biggest concern was whether someone was smoking pot twice a week. But I go to a church where people think Jesus came into the world for bigger reasons than that. The Jesus I know, the Jesus we know began a public ministry BECAUSE the Spirit of the Lord was upon him BECAUSE he had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to set the oppressed free.
If you’re feeling down in the Spiritual life, if you’re searching for a connection to God, if you don’t feel like God is paying much attention, I think Jesus might have a word for you this morning. The Spirit of the Lord can be found in bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives. If you’re looking for God, probably the best advice I have is to seek God where God wills to be found, among the poor, among the oppressed, among the captives.
I’ve heard the stories from people in this parish who have spent time with our partners at Trinity’s hot lunch, bringing food to the hungry. I’ve heard stories of how God’s presence was so keenly felt as people reached out to bring good news to the poor. I lived Honduras as a volunteer for the church for awhile and I watched doctors performing cataract surgery for rural villagers, literally bringing sight to the blind. Those doctors would say that their eyes were opened as well, to God’s presence in the world, to the work God is doing even now to let the oppressed go free. If you’re looking for God, a good way to start is to listen to Jesus quote the prophet this morning, his mission is located among the lost, the least, and the left out in our society. Jesus, seeking to express his purpose, looks to the ancient tradition. He reads in scripture that Spirit of the Lord has a reason, a because, and it has to do with bringing good news to the poor.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor 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.” These are the unexpected words of Isaiah the prophet, the words of Jesus, and they can be our words. We can bring good news. We can bring sight to the blind. We can bring hope to a world that needs hope. We can let the oppressed go free. Because we have a God who walks with us. Because we have a God who sends God’s Spirit to be with us. Today Jesus names his “because” and doing so invites us into a relationship with God that is deeper, more world-changing, than we often imagine.