Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
January 21, 2001
I Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4:14-21
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
"Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee and began to teach them," begins Luke 4:14 and following. "He began to teach in the synagogues and was praised by everyone," our text continues. In his own hometown of Nazareth, he went to the synagogue, which was his practice, stood up to read, and unrolled the scroll to the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 which proclaimed, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim liberty to the captives." With this, he rolled up the scrolls, gave it back to the attendant, sat down and said, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Writing in his book Power, Providence, and Personality, Walter Breuggemann names these three elements as keys to the books of First and Second Samuel. Power, Providence, and Personality are keys to the interplay between culture and God for Jesus and apply to him and to us as well as to David and King Saul.
Power because Jesus, returning from the temptations of the devil in the wilderness was filled with Power! The power of the Holy Spirit was upon him, in him, and through him was becoming manifest to others. Providence, because the hidden, patient, sovereign enactment of God's purpose and will was present in the man of Nazareth. Or as Karl Barth describes in Church Dogmatics, III, the word "providence" is related to "provide," pro-video, to "see beforehand" what is needed. Jesus proclaims "this is fulfilled in your hearing." He provides beforehand that God's will (from the Prophet Isaiah) is unfolding before their eyes and their ears. Personality, because we see in this dramatic scene the personality of God's beloved coming to life, showing forth God's Incarnate Word in the midst of proclaiming God's written and prophetic Word. "God, with flesh on" becomes real to people immediately upon their receiving this Word.
Power, Providence, and Personality, three factors of life and scripture which have undeniable and unpredictable relations to each other. Power, Providence, and Personality are always tied up and entangled in our family life, our workplace lives, and in the life of the city, the nation and the world. You can often see the working of power and personality in the politics of our landscape - whether local, national or international. But, it is more challenging to see how God's providence fits into the same landscape.
All three have taken on human form in recent weeks and months through the drama related to our nation's Presidential election and the eventual selection of George W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States. Perhaps we are able to see more personality and power than providence even there, but all three have played apart. Not unlike the political intrigue surrounding the Hebrew Scripture stories of the Jewish Judges and Kings, our political theater has added electors and elected officials, appointed and elected judges of elections and the state and national Supreme Courts to the mix of the unfolding drama surrounding who and how our 43rd President should be. But, the drama is no longer. We have inaugurated George Walker Bush to lead the United States as our President. In what continues to be a remarkable legacy of power transferring from one administration to the next, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a new resident.
We would be wise today to learn the lessons of Isaiah which Jesus retold, reclaimed, and, in fact, embodied. Any great society and any great leader are judged by how they bring good news to and care for the poorest of the poor - the widow, the orphan, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. We stand in the same light of judgment as to whether we are learning the way to stand with the those who are most at risk, most endangered in our society. And, it is here that providence enters the equation of power and personality. The hand of God "providing beforehand what is needed," is what we are called to attend to.
If we feel overwhelmed by the challenge of living into a faith such as this, I Corinthians 12:12-31a can guide us as we assess and fulfill the call to serve others as the body of Christ. Paul informs us that feet need not be hands; ears need not be eyes, for if the whole body consisted of one body part - like seeing, we would have no hearing; or if hearing, there would be no sense of smell.
If you are gifted to be a teacher, teach! If you are gifted to be a prophet, prophesy! If gifted in healing, heal! If gifted as a leader, lead! If you are gifted in assisting others, help! Paul could easily continue in this vein to add, those who are gifted as parents, parent (those who are not as gifted - like me - need to learn from those of you who are!); or those who are gifted with compassion, be compassionate; those who are gifted to be present to others, be there when people need you! (Thanks be to God for the ministry of presence!) The ministry of meals! The ministry of music and laughter, and joy! The ministry of administration and bookkeeping and accounting and counseling and law! The list goes on and the multiplying of the gifts of God through the people of God is no less than the multiplying ministries through which you and I bring to bear justice in this world. It is when Power, Providence, and Personality come together for the up-building of God's Kingdom that the broken world begins to mend.
Be filled with the power of the Spirit as Jesus was filled. And return, this week, to heal the brokenhearted, to bring liberty to those who captive to the little gods of this world, to open the eyes of those who are blind to God only knows what, and to be an active agent in freeing those who are oppressed. You are the body of Christ! God is counting on you and calling on you to be liberating and life-giving! Amen.
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