Thursday 31 January 2013

Jesus' Manifesto
Luke 4:14-21
This is what we were thinking about in the talks in church last Sunday. It's part of our series on Jesus prepares for ministry and it's a very important turning point, because up to now everything Jesus has done has been pretty much private. Mary and Joseph... a few shepherds... the wise men... Simeon and Anna in the temple... His baptism, a vital part of his preparation, seemed to be mostly about his relationship with the Father and the Spirit... even his intense personal struggle with Satan in the temptations was just that - personal between himself and the enemy.

But now Jesus is going public: Launching his ministry with a public declaration of who he is and what he has come to do.

But first, the joke. They are holding an amazing healing service down at St Elsewhere's. The speaker is inspiring, and at the end, the congregation rushes forward for healing prayer. First in the queue is a troubled looking man. The ministry team asks him what can they pray for him. "It's my hearing - please pray for my hearing."

So they give it everything - laying on of hands, anointing with oil, naming and claiming, they even put their fingers in his ears. Finally they ask him, "Well, how did it go? How's your hearing?"

"I'll let you know about my hearing next week," he says. "I'm in court on Tuesday."

I know, it sounds better live. Blame George, he told it to me.

Yes, now Jesus is now going public. Notice that he picks up two issues from what has gone before, in his baptism (which we looked at two weeks ago) and his temptations (last week). These are the issues of his identity and of the Holy Spirit. Remember that the Spirit came upon him at his baptism in the form of a dove, and then led him into the wilderness to be tempted. And remember that the Father affirmed his identity - "You are my beloved Son" - and then Satan tested it: "If you are the Son of God..."

In this week's Bible passage Jesus picks up again on both of these themes. He states who he is. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me" is a statement that he is the Messiah, because "Messiah" is Hebrew for Anointed One (so is "Christ" in Greek). When he says, "today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing," he therefore means, "I am the Messiah the prohets were talking about." That is his identity. And he says that this anointing is the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon him.

But this anointing isn't a sort of award for being a nice person. It is there for Jesus' ministry and mission. He sets this out in the words of the same passage from Isaiah 61:
o   good news to the poor
o   release to the captives
o   sight to the blind
o   liberty to the oppressed

It's all about engaging with people. All of these things are about transforming people's lives. We can take them spiritually, and rightly so as people's spiritual eyes are opened to the Kingdom and they are released from fears and debilitating behaviours. But we can also take them physically, as Jesus clearly did in his own healing ministry (and as we sometimes see happen in the healing ministry today). We can take them politically - look at the huge contribution made to the betterment of human life by Christian leaders like Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, the Earl of Shaftesbury... and we can certainly take them socially, as we should know here in Walsall with the tremendous benefits brought to our town through the work of Sister Dora. I bet you can think of loads of other examples - never let anyone tell you that Christianity has brought nothing to the world but the Inquisition and the Crusades, it's cobblers!

The point is that people are transformed when Jesus is at work. It's what he came to do. If we're not seeing lives transformed, it's just possible we ought to stop and think again whether we're doing it right. Because Jesus is still pursuing that mission through us today. We are his body, he's the head. He wants to work through us to touch people in those same ways, through us.

This means all of us, not just a few special people. Jesus' only ordination was his baptism. We baptise male and female – there is no difference. We have all been baptised into him, so we all have a part to play in fulfilling his misson where we are. We together are the body of Christ, through whom he fulfills his manifesto here in Walsall today.

There are three things we really need if we are to do it:
·         the gift of the Spirit. Jesus couldn't manage without the Spirit, neither can we. We were never meant to serve the Lord on our own without the Spirit's power.
·         A deep sense of our identity as children of the living God. Ditto. Any ministry we think we have will soon fall apart if it does not grow out of our roots in God – because it will grow instead out of our own anxiety and insecurity.
·         we must look outwards and engage with others. This isn't just all about me. God isn't just a bit of backdrop for the really important drama of our personal spiritual lives. He calls us to engage with other people around us.

The last thing I want to say is that Jesus defined his manifesto in terms of a Jubilee Year. He said he had come to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and the Jubilee year was a special year when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven and everyone shared in the abundance of the land.

Well, we are having a Jubilee this year. We will be celebrating St Matthew's 800th anniversary from 21 September this year (St Matthew's Day) through to 21 Septemeber 2014. How would you like that to go? What kind of things can we do to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favour?" Give it some thought and prayer and let me know your ideas.

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