Summary: A sermon about the power of the Holy Spirit.
“What is Power?”
When you hear the word “power” what comes to mind?
Do you think of influence or wealth, such as a person who strides down the “corridors of power”?
Do you think of an authoritarian or dictator?
Or how about physical strength, the powerful frontline of a football team, for instance?
Or how about the ability to get what you want when you want it?
Or someone who is able to tell others what to do?
Our Gospel Lesson for this morning begins with the line: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…”
This is the first scene in Luke that describes Jesus’ public ministry and first things matter in the Gospels because they set the tone and priorities for the things to come.
So, it’s important for us to know that Jesus comes filled with power and, maybe even more, it’s important for us to know just what Jesus’ kind of power looks like.
And this makes the passage from Isaiah that Jesus reads in the synagogue very interesting because if there is one thing all the kinds of people referenced by Jesus have in common, it’s that they are definitely not the powerful people of the world.
Think about it.
Jesus has come to preach good news to the poor…
…proclaim freedom for the prisoners…
…recovery of sight for the blind…
…and to set the oppressed free.
These aren’t the powerful, they are the outcastes, the defeated, the down and out.
They are the ones we have been trained to feel sorry for as we pass by them at the street corner even as we give thanks to God that we are not in their shoes.
These are the folks we may pity, but not admire.
Yet Jesus says He has come for them.
And this challenges our typical notions of power, does it not?
Right before Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” He had been in the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.
And the devil tempted Him to become “powerful” in a worldly sense.
And to use that power to turn stones into bread, to rule—with an iron fist—over all the kingdoms of the world, and to dazzle the crowds with spectacular acts that would cause people to bow down to Him in fear because of His “seemingly” great powers.
But Jesus said, “No” to all the devil’s temptations; the devil left him for a time, and Jesus returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” not in the power of the world, or the power of the devil or with power over people.
We might think that Jesus’ encounter with the devil would leave Him empty, but in denying what the devil had to offer Jesus gained more of what He really needed.
And that is Holy Spirit power.
This is what we need as well, is it not?
The power of the Spirit is a power that brings peace and joy and love—love for God and love for neighbor.
It transforms us.
It re-creates us into God’s image, and frees us to truly live.
And when we choose the Spirit’s power rather than our own power or the power of the world or the supposed power the devil is offering, then we gain more of what we really need.
A colleague tells the story of his early work as a pastor when he went to visit a death-row inmate convicted of murdering a teenage girl.
At the time of his visit the inmate had been awaiting execution for twenty-one years.
The young pastor was a bit nervous about visiting with someone who had committed such a horrible crime.
He expected to find a monster.
When they spoke, the inmate talked over and over again about grace.
Eventually the pastor asked him if his sense of grace had overcome his sense of guilt.
The man answered: “The gospel requires us not simply to be sorry, but to be transformed by our sorrow.
For me, this is a daily transformation.”
For this prisoner, guilt and grace stood in tension.
Forgiveness had not erased his memory of his sin, yet he insisted over and over again that Christ had freed him from it.
He said, “I will never forget what I did.
But there has to come a point where you receive forgiveness and then forgive yourself.
Not to justify your actions, but to accept God’s love…It does not matter where you are.
It is who you are that matters.
I am a person who is loved and forgiven by God.”
Then, writes the pastor, “he rattled the chains that tied his wrists together dismissively.
As if they did not matter.”
The pastor jumped back from the table.
Their conversation was over.