The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Us

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-22

Let me say a few words about our next passage before we turn to scripture. Our second reading this morning comes from the Gospel of Luke, and it’s his version of how Jesus’ ministry began. Last week we heard John’s version of things, and they’re not at all alike. The way John tells it, the first time people began to ‘get’ who Jesus was, was at a wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine – really good wine at that, and a lot of it. It was a sign – a pretty great sign, I think – of the goodness Jesus was bringing into the world.

But Luke tells it differently.

Of course, every Gospel tells the story of Jesus a little differently – otherwise we wouldn’t need four Gospels, right? All of them tell about how he got started, how he taught and healed, the people who followed him and the ones who hated him. They all tell the story of his betrayal, and his death, and his resurrection. But they all tell it differently. 

Some people get upset by this, as if there’s only one ‘right’ version of what happened. But that seems kind of silly to me. Think of any famous people, and how many biographies are written about each and every one of them. Everybody’s got a little different story to tell. People are complex, our relationships are complicated, and what people will remember about us will vary a whole lot on how people knew us. 

So it is with Jesus. 

The way Luke tells it, the first big event was when Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth. He had been baptized by John, and at his baptism the Holy Spirit came upon him. Then the same Spirit drove him out into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil. 

Then Jesus, still filled with the power of the Spirit, went back to Galilee, and news about him spread through the land. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everybody. 

Then Jesus went back to Nazareth, his boyhood home. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue like he usually did and stood up to read the scriptures. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah the prophet to read. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
To proclaim release to the prisoners
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To liberate the oppressed,
And to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them,

Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.

Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said to each other, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
— Luke 4: 14-22

What strikes me about the way Luke tells this story is that it’s all about the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is baptized in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and is full of the Spirit when he begins to teach. Then the scripture he picks to read begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” It’s the beginning of his ministry, and the Holy Spirit is at center of it all! That’s a core part of what Luke remembers about Jesus. 

And what does the Spirit anoints Jesus to do? Well that’s the framework for the whole Gospel. He’s come to

Preach good news to the poor,
release to the prisoners and freedom to the oppressed,
and healing of all who are wounded

It’s his mission, his ministry, his purpose. He is fulfilling God’s intention for the world from the beginning of time. No one else could do that but Jesus. In his very words he is fulfilling the promises of God. 

And the Spirit is with him all the way. 
And he promises the Spirit will be with us, too. 

If you keep reading Luke and his sequel, The Acts of the Apostles, you begin to realize that the Spirit isn’t limited to Jesus. When Jesus sends out his disciples, the Spirit is there, too.  Jesus promises the Spirit will be with his church. 

What difference does it make? Well, the way the Apostle Paul would explain it, it’s the Spirit that makes us the body of Christ. Without the Spirit, we’re just making noise. It makes all the difference in the world. 

This morning we’re going to ordain Deacons and Ruling Elders as leaders for our congregation. It’s an unusual thing we Presbyterians do – ordaining people who aren’t pastors, or “Teaching Elders” as we’re called. It’s part of the DNA of our faith, and the way we embody Christ’s presence – we don’t assume anyone’s more holy or closer to God by virtue of a seminary degree.

We call members of the congregation according to their gifts because we know we need a variety of gifts for this body to be whole. Then we ordain them in worship. We ask them questions of belief and commitment – virtually the same questions we ask Teaching Elders when they are ordained.  

These are wise and faithful people who love God and love the church, and felt the call to say, “Yes.” They are committed to serve Christ as well and faithfully as they can. 

This service of ordination is an important part of our life together. Our Elders and Deacons know it’s important, too.

Image by Ken Owens

Image by Ken Owens

I always remember the story about one of the first women to be called as an Elder in this church back in the 1960s. Eurie Lotheridge was her name, and she lived clear out on Goose Lane, which is out past Owens Corning on 16. The day of ordination there was a terrible snowstorm, a blizzard. But Eurie was bound and determined to be here. So she bundled up and walked. Walked to church in a snowstorm because it was the day she was to be ordained. 

I love this service. I love when the men and women we’ve called come forward, and kneel, and we lay our hands on them and pray for the Spirit to come. I love how the Spirit always does come – you can feel it, like an energy, a power, a blessing. 

Laying Hands by NannaDoodles via deviantart.com

Laying Hands by NannaDoodles via deviantart.com

I will always remember when I was ordained as a ruling elder. I was 17 years old – the first “Youth Elder” in my home church. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, but I was honored, and intrigued, and I knew I loved God and loved the church, and would learn from the wise souls around that table.

I remember the questions – and wondering if other people were as intimidated by them as I was. I remember kneeling on the steps of the chancel of my childhood church.  I remember the hands on my head, on my shoulders. And my Dad’s hand – my Dad, a Ruling Elder for so long – my Dad and our church ordaining me. The Spirit was there, and it surprised me. 

This morning the Spirit is anointing women and men of our church. The Spirit is anointing them to lead us as the body of Christ, with all our gifts and flaws, our dreams and illusions. The Spirit will keeping leading them, just as the Spirit led Jesus, and their job, their primary work, is to listen carefully and closely - so that we don’t mistake our own will for God’s will, or our aspirations for Christ’s mission. It’s hard spiritual work, and we should – all of us – keep them in our prayers. 

Now, I want to be clear – we’re not ordaining them because they’re ‘holier’ than other people! God calls each and every one of us to a variety of ministries in and out of the church – with a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. We ordain Deacons and Elders because we know we need God’s Spirit to be with them, strongly. It’s critical, if we are actually going to be the church, and not just a collection of people each with our own agendas. It’s the Spirit of God that makes us the body of Christ. 

Is this the only place God’s Spirit comes? Hardly. But that’s next week’s sermon…

Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church
Granville, OH