holy cross sermon for the third sunday after epiphany, year c, january 27 2013

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s Gospel lesson centers on Jesus’ self-promotion in Nazareth and its environs, “where he had been brought up” (v. 16). According to Luke, Jesus had just been baptized by John, and he had gone into the wilderness and there had been tempted by Satan. Now he arrives in Nazareth. This is therefore akin to our Lord’s debut, the first acts of his public ministry.

Luke, like the other Gospel-writers, noted the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism, “in bodily form, as a dove,” (3.22). And Luke is careful to point out that it is the impulse of the Holy Spirit that drives Jesus at each stage of his ministry. The chapter from which we read this morning begins by saying, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness,” (vv. 1-2). And now we find him returning to Galilee, again “filled with power of the Spirit,” (v. 14).

We might well wonder what it means for someone to be “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Given what we believe about Jesus, about his eternal identity, we might well wonder what it means for him, of all people, to be so filled. In his monumental work “On the Trinity,” Augustine of Hippo asks who, precisely, the Holy Spirit is, and he arrives at a beautiful answer: the Holy Spirit is “the love by which the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.” And all the predicates we apply to God are aptly applied to this loving communion of Father and Son: this love is personal, substantial; it is itself God.

When Luke says that Jesus is going around impelled by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is saying that the actions of Jesus, his movements within the world, the contours of his ministry, and the things that he speaks to the people – all of it is motivated by the love with which he and the Father love one another, from all eternity. This communion, this eternal and mutual self-gift of Father and Son is the dynamism that becomes visible to the people, according to Luke, at Jesus’ baptism; it becomes clear that this Holy Spirit is the dynamism that empowers him.

Of course the Son of God was clothed from all eternity with the Holy Spirit. “Before the land and the sea were brought forth, from age to age” God’s Son was suffused with the love of God. But what is new at Jesus’ baptism is that this dynamic, divine love with which he is filled, suffused, and empowered, begins to be palpably manifested to those around him. It begins to dawn on US, as it were, that the man Jesus is totally given over, in a unique way, to a loving communion with God.

In today’s epistle, St. Paul intimates that this same Spirit is given to the disciples of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism. Paul writes, “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” (1 Cor. 12.13). So we can see how it is that this divine communion of the Father and the Son, which makes them One God, when it is poured out on us, establishes for us and within us a communion with God, and thus with one another. And this communion that is established with us and among us is THE SAME communion that the Father shares with the Son. Through baptism we are brought into the very life of God, a life of delighted fellowship, and of mutual and extravagant self-giving. So the variegations which formerly characterized human life, marking us off from another as “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” (v. 13) are swallowed up by this dynamic communion-in-love which Paul says we “drink” in baptism (v. 13).

We might well recall in this connection the story of Pentecost, which says that the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples in a new and palpable way. How it impelled them out of hiding, into the streets of Jerusalem, to proclaim the “mighty works” that God had accomplished in the person of Jesus. We might recall likewise how all the visitors in Jerusalem, from all over the world, heard the disciples proclaiming this good news in their own native languages.

I have spoken before about how the story of Pentecost “undoes” what happened at the tower of Babel – the story from the book of Genesis of how mankind decided in his arrogance to build a tower reaching to the heavens, and how as a result mankind had disintegrated, how human language had symbolically become confused and divided, how men and women were driven away from each other as a result of their pride, and settled into a situation where there was little mutual-understanding.

Pentecost is the opposite of this, the “undoing” of what was done at Babel. At Babel men were driven apart, and ceased to be able to understand one another. But when the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, the story says that the multitude “came together,” and everyone, no matter what language he spoke, understood the Apostles’ proclamation of God’s mighty works in Jesus.

The moral of the story is that when we are left to our own devices, we become scattered and alienated from one another. It might interest you to know that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” has to do with this scattered alienation. But what God has accomplished within the world in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son – in short – the Gospel, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples, undoes all this scattered alienation. In a sense, God’s WHOLE PROJECT can be understood as fixing this problem: the problem of human alienation – alienation from God, from one another, and from our own selves. God joins us together and integrates us into his own life, and into the lives of one another, by the power of the Holy Spirit, forming us into one Body of Christ.

Because this is, in a very real sense, the main thing that God is all about – the whole thrust of what God is trying to say to us throughout the narrative sweep of the Bible, and most of all in the incarnation of his eternal Word – because this is God’s main project, it is a terrific scandal when we, as Christians, manifest disunity. When we willfully alienate ourselves from the life of the Body of Christ, when we fail to be of one mind and heart, of one pattern of action in the world.

Our task, therefore, is to repent. To repent of our fractiousness and “party spirit” (as Paul called it), and to search, by the light of the Gospel, for ways to regain the integration that is God’s gift to us in his Jesus.

And it begins right here, right now. This morning, we purpose to receive the Body of Jesus: the same Body that is eternally animated and vivified by the unifying Spirit of God. As we approach the mysteries of our Lord’s Body this morning, let us do so earnestly asking God how we, both as individuals and as a community of believers-in-Jesus – how we might be delivered from and forgiven for the divisions and alienations that we perpetrate and with which we cooperate and too willingly overlook; and how we might inhabit the divine unity that has been poured out on us so extravagantly in Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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