holy cross sermon for the third sunday after the epiphany, january 24, 2016

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Last Sunday we heard the Gospel story of Jesus first miracle at a wedding at Cana of Galilee, where he turned water into wine. And the Sunday before that we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, at the hands of his cousin, St. John the Baptist. Both of those stories represent intimations of the glory of God being manifested in the person of Jesus. They are like divine light breaking through fissures in the surface of the material world, and as such they are “epiphanies” of God, disclosures of his power and light within the world.

Today’s Gospel lesson is about the beginning of Jesus’ mission. It is as though, after these first early – we might almost say tentative – intimations of Jesus’ identity in the Gospel lessons of the past two weeks, Jesus is here getting about the task for which he was sent into the world, for which he was born. He is getting on with the task of redemption that will reach a climax in the sorrowful mysteries of his death and passion.

Today’s Gospel begins by saying that Jesus returned “in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.” His being “in the power of the Spirit” is, as it were, a carry-over from his baptism. Of course Jesus, at every moment of his existence, and in every fiber of his being, communes intimately with the Holy Spirit – being the second Person of the Holy Trinity and therefore subsisting eternally in this intimate communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. As we hear in the conclusion of many of our prayers, Jesus liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, “EVER,” one God, “world without end.” That means that this is his way of being forever, from eternity. He never ISN’T thus.

So when Scripture speaks of Jesus being anointed by God with the divine Spirit, or when we hear, as in the story of Jesus’ baptism, that the Holy Spirit descended on him – we should understand that to mean that Jesus, although he dwells with the Spirit of God in an eternal intimacy beyond comprehension, nevertheless WITHIN TIME – WITHIN THE WORLD – AS A MAN – Jesus is manifested to us as being anointed in a temporal way. Theologians would say that this anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is an immanent manifestation of an eternal relation of the divine economy.

Be that as it may, the Gospel today wants us to see that Jesus is moving through the world impelled by a divine dynamism. God is at work in him. That is what it means to say that he “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.” He is not acting capriciously; he is not doing things on a whim. Rather, God himself is at work in and through Jesus. What Jesus is doing, he is doing deliberately , prudently , wisely , according to the inscrutable counsel of God. He is doing exactly what God wants. Nothing more, nothing less. Jesus says elsewhere, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me,” (John 6.38).

I want to draw your attention to the fact that each of us has been sealed by the same Holy Spirit in whose power Christ moves at every moment of his being. This is a central fact of our baptism. We are baptized “with the Holy Spirit” (see John 1.33, Luke 3.16, Matthew 3.11, and Mark 1.8). As such, too, we are incorporated into Christ’s Body; we are made “members” of it.

But what does this mean? It means that we have access to the same dynamism, the same power, the same HOLY SPIRIT, that impels Christ’s actions in the world. The same Spirit in whose power Jesus “returned into Galilee,” the same Spirit that informed every action that he undertook, that moved him to redeem the world by his life, death, and resurrection.

So we have to learn to allow ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit. And this means not allowing ourselves to be empowered, impelled, motivated, by caprice or whim or the flesh or envy or greed or anything else. The myriad forces that are at work in the world – that underwrite the actions that we see all around us – it is our job to eschew these, to foreswear their influence in our lives. We have to shut our ears to their voices, to become quiet, and to listen for God’s voice. We have to say, in prayer, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

Particular circumstances don’t really matter. The question is always the same: “Lord, what would you have me do?” You’re sick: Lord, what would you have me do? You have some financial issue: Lord, what would you have me do? You have trouble with some family relationship, or in your marriage, or at work, or at school: Lord, what would you have me do? Someone is harassing you: Lord, what would you have me do? You find some circumstance distasteful: Lord, what would you have me do?

And here’s a hint, in every circumstance: the answer is never boastful or greedy or proud or envious or havoc- making or violent. If someone is annoying you and you feel impelled to smash them in the face, you can pretty safely conclude that THAT impulse is not from the Lord. That is NOT what he would have you do. The answer is always supernatural – in almost every sense of that word. Someone is annoying you, and you feel impelled to reach out to them, to reinforce their dignity, to make it clear to them that they are forgiven and loved and valuable. That’s a supernatural response. If you want to know what to do, meditate on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians (13.4ff):

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”

This way of being – which we might call, in a kind of shorthand, “life in the Spirit” – elicits a special sensitivity from us. It asks us to try and recognize how God is moving in the lives of other people, and even through the lives of animals and the being of inanimate things, because the whole cosmos is suffused with God’s glory, and as Paul says, God is in the process of redeeming EVER YTHING (not just mankind) in Christ (Colossians 1.20). We have to train our eyes to see redemption everywhere and in everyone, and to cooperate actively with it. This is deep.

 

By way of explaining what I mean, I want to conclude with a passage from a book by a French (Orthodox) theologian named Olivier Clement:

“The world is not a prison but a dark passage — an opening through which to move, a passage to be deciphered within a greater work. In this work, everything has a meaning, everyone is important, everyone is necessary. It is a work that we compose together with God.

“…One of our daily tasks is precisely to awaken in our selves the power within the depths of our heart. Usually, we live in our heads and in our sexuality, with our hearts closed off. But only the heart can serve as the crucible in which our understanding and desire are transformed. And though we may not reach the luminous abyss, sparks may fly from it, and our hearts burn with an immense yet gentle shudder .

“We must recover the meaning of this unemotional emotion, this unsentimental sentiment, this peaceful and overwhelming resonance of our whole being we feel when our eyes are filled with tears of wonder and gratitude, ontological tenderness and fulfilled silence. It is not merely the concern of monks; it is humbly and partially the concern of us all.”

What are you doing to train yourself to see the power of God’s Spirit at work in your life and in the lives of others, and in the world around you? Are you praying in an intentional and disciplined and daily way? Are you reading God’s Word? Are you really seeking Jesus in the holy Eucharist? Are you examining your conscience regularly – and not just in a perfunctory way? Are you confessing your sins? Are you asking God for good things for yourself and for others? Are you PAYING ATTENTION and staying recollected? Are you keeping the fasts and abstinences of the Church? Are you forgiving your enemies from your heart, and praying for them?

In such ways we can “recover the meaning of this unemotional emotion, this unsentimental sentiment, this peaceful and overwhelming resonance of our whole being we feel when our eyes are filled with tears of wonder and gratitude, ontological tenderness and fulfilled silence.” Let us reacquaint ourselves with the power of God’s Spirit that has been given to us through Jesus Christ.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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