Sunday 23 January 2022 | All Saints Margaret Street

Sermon for Sunday 23 January 2022

Luke 4.18.  Jesus, quoting Isaiah, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.

God is the Creator, not the Decorator. God begins everything, He doesn’t just add the finishing touches, a Christian makeover, a nicer you. He starts with us as we are, He loves us as we are. It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.

Jesus quotes Isaiah more than any other prophet. Today’s Gospel makes better sense if you know what came before, the temptations in the wilderness, that hard and essential training in self-knowledge which lies in wait for all of us, and what comes afterwards, that the people hated what Jesus was saying and threw him out of the synagogue. We heard the nice bit, when all spoke well of him and marvelled at his gracious words. What matters is that these living words stay alive for us and mean something. The Word grows within us. Jesus tells us who He is, and what He can do for us. Yes, He is talking to all of us who carry on searching for God until He finds us. Jesus proclaims our freedom. To those who are blind he gives vision, the strength to lift our eyes to the horizon again. He comes “to set at liberty those who are oppressed”, and that includes those of us who know ourselves to be oppressed, day after dull day, by the cold calculation of the ego, which keeps God at a safe distance, year after year. And then at the end, Jesus says he has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and he closes the book and he sits down. The acceptable year of the Lord meant, in those times, a Jubilee year, when all debts were forgiven. So this is what Jesus is about, forgiveness, mercy, starting afresh with God the Creator. Somehow  or other, the freedom Jesus offers is tied to forgiveness, forgiveness of ourselves, our forgiveness of others, and above all God’s forgiveness of us for misunderstanding who He is and what He, as Creator, continues to do in our lives today.

Are we up for any of this? We should be, because Jesus was a man of his time, with his knowledge and perspective limited by the times in which he lived, as we are, yet he was clearly a man in communion with God, so why do we find it difficult, why does the signal come and go? Jesus brought the message that spirit and matter are one. They have never been separate. There are not two worlds, the spiritual and the non-spiritual. There’s a word for that, dualism, dividing things into two to suit ourselves. God is not out there, or in the next room, where we can go to find feelings of happiness and love. We can’t see this until God puts matter and spirit together in one person, Jesus Christ. This is what the Mass is all about, and many of the epistles in the Bible are workings out of this fundamental knowledge as in today’s epistle: “by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body”. What is Christianity after all? Christianity, says Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, is “an imitation of the divine nature”, it brings us back to our original good fortune and delight in being created in the likeness of God.

What does this mean for us? Where it will take us? Everything is different when ordinary life is eternal life. All that we see, the sunlight, the colours, the night, the horizon, a daily walk, all are a delight when there too we find God’s glory. The heavens declare the glory of God : and the firmament sheweth his handywork. The tears, the mistakes, the most challenging of personal tragedies, even death itself, are not separate from the life of God. Christ’s death shows us that death is not the end of our relationship with Him, that He is with us to the end of time, and at the end of time. He can share our hopes and our well-founded fears. When we accept that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, we know ourselves to be, each of us, a unique reflection of the mystery of God. That knowledge, even if only fleeting, dimly remembered from times of grace in the past, maybe as a child when God was real, should be enough to turn us today into serious enquirers after the truth, ready to try again to pursue that mystery, in silence, in prayer, worship, reading, in all that we do, to keep us in a way of life, Christ’s way of life, and, if necessary, to start over, again and again, for there is no other way for us to go. Christianity is daily work. When we find God at the centre of our lives each day, Christianity becomes less a matter of belief, than of behaviour. Those difficulties of belief we all have start to fade when we discover our responsibilities, the responsibility for carrying on God’s work of loving creation. With the Spirit upon us, we begin to see the glory of God in the dignity of all human beings, and in the tolerance, compassion, humility and courage we find among them, and in the affront to God when this dignity is denied. We are the People of God, and His Spirit is upon us. George Herbert’s words at the end of this service confirm our vocation: Teach me, my God and King, In all things thee to see, And what I do in anything, To do it as for thee.

Fr. Julian Browning