Sermon for 10th January 2010 The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, Sarasota FL
Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22
Do you get the picture? There is the big picture, filling a canvas on a wall in an art gallery. There is the little picture, that is – those details which are essential if the big picture is to be coherent.
One might be tempted to focus only on the details, and thus to miss the totality of the work. Or one might be tempted to believe that the details are un-important, thus forgetting that they are essential to the big picture.
We’ll be reading a whole lot of Luke’s Gospel this year. Luke and Acts come from the same pen, and we’d be wise to think of them as volumes one and two of the same work. And there is a big picture. Luke and Acts are all about the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is important in Luke because he is someone who most fully models life in the Holy Spirit.
The Christian community is important in Acts because it is Spirit led and energised. The big picture is “Watch out, the Spirit of God is let loose”.
In Luke the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is by the power of the Holy Spirit (probably with a little help from Joseph!).
When Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, it is the Holy Spirit who enables the latter to exclaim that Mary is “the mother of her Lord”. And Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah is filled with the Spirit when he prophesied that God is about to visit and redeem his people, and that his son, John (the Baptiser) will prepare the way for new and mighty acts of God.
That same John the Baptiser comes again into the picture in a reading this morning when he asserts that he is no more than prologue, and that the main story will be about one who will baptise people with Holy Spirit and fire.
Jesus is baptised. This is his sign that he does not wish to be above us, or over us, but that he wishes to be with us. So he demonstrates his one-ness with humanity in this baptism.
It is at this telling moment of solidarity with the human race that the Holy Spirit descends upon him. Luke will go on to say that Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit” returned from the Jordan, and then was “led by the Spirit” for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. After the forty days he returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”.
One with us in baptism, and one with us in temptation; Jesus now is ready to declare his manifesto.
He does it with his homies in Nazareth.
He does it by using the scriptures which his townspeople know so well. He reads from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me”.
Then he gets to the core of his purpose. It is to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and the setting at liberty those who are oppressed.
There are so many ways of understanding Jesus, and Luke has given us one which will resonate with those who find it difficult to affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. For Luke, Jesus is a man who is filled with the Spirit of God.
This is important, for Luke also wishes to demonstrate that the manifesto and mission of Jesus will also be that of his followers.
This he makes clear in his second volume – the Acts of the Apostles. Those disciples, who after Jesus’ death had been skulking around like love sick teenagers, were all together on the Jewish day of Pentecost. (Which is a festival celebrating both the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the Torah). Perhaps they had been saying, those years with Jesus were “the time of our lives, and we’ll treasure those memories until our old age.
But the Holy Spirit had something else in mind. There were to be the first fruits of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and with a rushing wind and a brightly burning fire the Spirit said “go to it – continue Jesus’ ministry in your lives”.
So it is that the earliest members of the Jesus movement were transformed into Holy Spirit communities.
The Holy Spirit led them to new and un-charted territory. Once was when Philip was led by the Spirit to speak about Jesus to an eunuch from Ethiopia who was homeward bound after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That eunuch responded gladly to the message, and was there and then baptised. He was the first gentile member of the Jesus movement, and he was an African! As an eunuch he’d been considered ritually impure and therefore could never have become a full member of the household of Israel.
But the Spirit was saying “I am wind, and that old barrier is being blown down”. An eunuch who had been “cut-off” was “re-membered” to God’s family. (See Isaiah Chapter 56)
Then there was the time when Peter encountered the gentile centurion, Cornelius. Peter had been prepared for this by a vision – three times repeated! He breaks the religious rules by agreeing to enter a Gentile home. He launches into a peroration about Jesus, but even before his sermon is ended the Holy Spirit descends on Cornelius and his household. Peter responds “can anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have”.
The Spirit was saying “I am fire, and old prejudices are to be burned up”.
Believe it or not, the Holy Spirit is not locked up in the bible or in the traditions of the church. She gusts through the Christian community even now. Some fearful Christians erect wind-breaks. The courageous are blown away by the Spirit’s audacity.
Those of us who are gay or lesbian were once cut-off from full participation in the life of the Church. We were in closets created by the straight church which preferred us to be out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But the Spirit blew open those closet doors, and this good Church of ours now has a partnered gay bishop, with another in the offing, and priests such as I who no longer need to hide – at least in this parish!
The Spirit also burned some of our prejudices. She taught us that the tired old arguments against the ordination of women were nothing more than the bloviations of prejudiced males.
The Spirit did this by equipping woman for ministry despite the rules of the Church. Could anyone refuse ordination to those women who had received the Holy Spirit just as we had?
How about that! This morning you have a gay male priest as preacher and a female priest as celebrant.
That is possible because at St. Boniface Church we are striving to be a Spirit filled people who, with Jesus “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and the setting at liberty those who are oppressed”
That is the big picture!