a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: Keys to a Better ‘22
Coral Isles Church
January 23, 2022
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you feel like your life has been fulfilling? Wow! That’s a heavy question isn’t it? You might say, “just how do we define fulfillment?” Isn’t that up to the individual? We might be tempted to say yes, but as people of faith, who believe in God in one way or another, haven’t we chosen to say we believe God has something to say about defining “fulfillment?”
In his first words of his preaching - or teaching as the Bible calls it - after reading from the Prophet Isaiah Jesus says: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Some theologians would say he meant he was the fulfillment of those words of Isaiah. Critics might say, it has never been fulfilled in this world. Others say that this is another example in Scripture where there is a “right now AND a not yet” aspect to what is being said. Let me try to explain what that means and let me suggest to you that Jesus was pointing us toward the key to fulfillment in life. So let’s take a few minutes and explore just what the Prophet Isaiah said and what that means when Jesus said it was fulfilled more than 2000 years ago.
Luke tells us that things started out great for Jesus. He had just been baptized, and was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit from that experience. He was traveling around Galilee teaching. Luke says he was getting “two-thumbs up” from everyone. They loved his words. So far so good.
Then he comes to his hometown, the place where he was raised, Nazareth. The Gospels tell us Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a tax census. Then, he and his family had to go into exile in Egypt. King Herod had heard from those Magi we sing about that there was a new king born. He was outraged and jealous and scared. He ordered all the boy babies two years and younger murdered, so that there was no chance a threat to his power could live. But of course, God had different plans and warned the Holy Family and sent them down into Egypt. In today’s language they would be called “illegal immigrants.” Think about that a minute when we have discussions about that topic. Anyway, he and his family ultimately returned and settled in Nazareth.
Jesus grew up and began to live as a traveling rabbi. He would go around from village to town to village teaching in their synagogues. But now he was back home to talk to his “homeboys.” He reads this word from Isaiah and says, “today this has been fulfilled your hearing.” We don’t know if he said anything else, that’s all the Scripture tells us he said. If that’s all he said, it may qualify as the shortest sermon in history. I know it is the shortest one I have ever heard. And sorry, I have already way exceeded that and intend to go on longer!
Here’s the question I hear you asking: “what did Jesus mean, ‘today this is fulfilled, and what has that got to do with MY fulfillment? How does that have anything to do with my life, my individual hopes and dreams and aspirations? I am not “poor,” like “third-world slums” poor, or “captive,” as in literally behind bars, or “blind” [ well, some of us might be without our glasses or contacts – I know I would be for all intents and purposes ]. And while I may not be in the 1% of the most privileged on the Forbes 100, I am not really “oppressed.”
Scholars and theologians invite us to hear Jesus’ words as an expression that requires us to think about grammatical tenses – as in words that express time: present tense, past tense, or future tense. This is that “now but not yet complete” idea I mentioned before. In other words when we say something like “I am free,” it might be an expression of present tense – I am free right now. But it might also, hopefully, express a future reality as well: I am free from now until forever. In that sense part of our faith is that Jesus was describing both a present and future and forever reality. When Isaiah first spoke them they were a hope for the Jews who had been carried off into exile by their conquerors. But even then there is a deeper meaning: the things Isaiah proclaimed were already true in God’s eyes, and would be in reality. But it was also a demand that God placed on God’s people. These things shall be. The poor have good news, the captive is and shall be released, the blind can and will see, the oppressed shall be free.
That’s all well and good to declare but clearly that reality is not one we are experiencing on a world-wide basis. I don’t need to tell you that. Even the people who first heard this knew that. The part that follows this tells their reaction. While everything was hunky-dory before Jesus preached “today this is fulfilled,” the following verses that we didn’t read tell us this sermon did not go over well. In fact, the congregation’s response could be called violently negative. To sum it up, they say something to the effect of, “who does this guy think he is, we know him, he’s nothing special,” and ends with them trying to throw him off a cliff! Talk about overreacting!
Ask yourself, why were they so angry? Was it because they knew the situation was not what he was claiming and so his words were unbelievable? Or was it because they thought he was claiming something about himself they found unbelievable? Or was it something else?
Let me suggest this: Luke tells us Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit by his baptism that took place in the passage just before our reading today. In fact, he says he was filled with the “power” of the Holy Spirit. What is this power? Most of us think of power as “power over” something. Our bosses have power over us. Our fears have power over us. The government has power over us. Those who carry around semi-automatic weapons in public seem to want to tell us they have power over us. A smart husband knows his wife has power over him! Lots of things have power over us.
Have you ever asked yourself, “what is the power of the Holy Spirit about?” Is it about God having power over us? As I thought about this and prayed about it I have begun to believe it is more about power “FOR” us rather than power “over” us. In other words the Holy Spirit power is power for us to do and be what God wants us to do and be. It is the fuel for our inner spirits. Or to say it another way the power of the Holy Spirit ignites us with power to love others, to serve others, to bless others. Let me declare right here that to me that is the way to the most fulfilling life one can lead. I think that is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “in Christ I can do all things!” A bold and thought-provoking statement, huh?
To me, Jesus declared what Isaiah said was the path to the fulfillment of God’s intentions for our lives. It was what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” It is the fulfillment of a vision of a world where the poor have good news, the captive is released from unjust captivity, the blind – indeed all illness and brokenness is healed, and those oppressed by injustice will be freed. This is the world God intends. This is the fulfillment God intends, and Jesus came to proclaim. It is the understanding that the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for us all to live our lives here and now as citizens of the Kingdom of God, or Reign and Reality of God’s intention for all people, and all of creation. We can live it and work for it and see it come more fully here and now.
Remember, two weeks ago I said, our baptisms, your baptism, which was done with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” means you and I are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we have Holy Spirit power and that means we have power from God to love others, serve others, and do for others what God calls us to do! I think that Jesus was declaring that the power of the Holy Spirit can give us power for living now working to change the oppressive situations of poverty, illness, injustice and all the ways we suffer because of the brokenness of this world.
When Jesus invites us to know that “today, in your hearing, this word has been fulfilled,” it speaks of this dual reality. First, I believe Jesus understood that he was the fulfillment of that reality of God’s vision for the world. Second, I believe he knew the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us as a power “for” not “over.” We may not have power over a lot of things. We are probably more aware of our powerlessness, or at least our power limits. But are we aware of how Holy Spirit power can give us power for serving, loving, and blessing TODAY?
My point is that many of you already know the way to true fulfillment. You have already lived a fulfilling life because you are always ready to serve, to love, to bless. My point is that if you are wondering if your life has mattered ask yourself about the times you have loved, blessed, and served. My invitation to you is that if you are wondering how to find true fulfillment, if you are wondering what the key to a better 2022 is my word to you is – serve, because you cannot truly serve without a desire to love and bless.
My point is Holy Spirit power is present now in us so that we can bless, love, and serve. Last week we remembered the Rev. Martin Luther King. Listen to this word, he said:
“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve....You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
My last point to you is if you are thinking, “I am too old, or I am too tired, or I don’t have the skills,” my invitation to you is to open your heart and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit to use what you do have, take what you can do, and make God’s vision a reality through you. If you are thinking the task is too big, I urge you to ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength, if you think there is no hope things are too far gone, I challenge you to hear Jesus say, “TODAY, these things are being fulfilled because I am with you and you are with me!” Jesus told us “I am with you always, to the end of infinity!” You may say, “I can’t” but Jesus says with the Holy Spirit power I give, “Oh, yes you can! Oh, yes! You can!” Let us BE the fulfillment of this word in our lives and our lives will be truly fulfilled. AMEN.