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Services and special presentations from
Houston Mennonite Church in Houston, Texas.

Filled with the Spirit (Transcript)

Jan 26, 2022

Filled with the Spirit
Reverend Teresa Kim Pecinovsky
Houston Mennonite Church
January 23, 2022

Good morning, church. It is good to see you here in person, and it is good to be with you online as well. Will you please join me in a word of prayer? Lord God, we thank you for this day we thank you for the ability to gather in person and virtually. We pray that we would hear your message this morning above all else. In Christ our Lord’s name we pray, amen.

As I prepared for today’s sermon I was looking at the lectionary text for today, the third Sunday after Epiphany. And I usually like to focus on one, maybe two texts when I’m preaching--— but as soon I saw the text from Luke 14 I knew immediately this was the text I wanted to preach on. Because Jesus is at the precipice of his ministry and if we go back just a few chapters in three, and two, and one, we find a theme already occurring.

In chapter 1 we remember Zachariah in the temple, receiving this unbelievable word from an angel: “Your wife Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing years, will give birth to child, a child we are told in verse 15, “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

That same Holy Spirit gives Elizabeth a prophetic word when she sees her cousin Mary from a distance, the unmarried teenager whose life had already been upended by another prophecy. Already in chapter one we see the theme of the Holy Spirit creating prophets out of ordinary people, a theme that continues into chapter two with the prophets Anna and Simeon who praise God when they meet the infant Jesus in the temple.

And we see Jesus himself as he becomes an adolescent, as he goes with his parents to Jerusalem and unknowingly—impossibly— forgetting about time and schedules and stays behind as his parents are frantically looking for him, because, my friends there is no Amber Alert system in the city of Jerusalem.

And as he becomes a young man we see Jesus, being baptized by his cousin John, that same cousin who was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born. And we see this amazing miraculous scene where the Holy spirit comes down and alights on him in bodily form as a dove.

We see Jesus, led by that same Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted,
Jesus rebuking the devil through the power of that same Spirit, and
Jesus, FILLED with the Holy Spirit,
returning to Galilee to preach and teach in the synagogues.

And then we see Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth and he is handed the scroll of Isaiah 61 and reads it aloud in the synagogue as he had been taught as was doing himself now. And when he reads from Isaiah he says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and he sat down. And the eyes of all of the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now those of us who are familiar with this story knows that this is quite the cliffhanger for our lectionary reading. If we weren’t familiar with this story we might think this is a nostalgic recounting of Luke of Jesus learning to become a temple leader in his local synagogue, being praised by his neighbors and community members who had known him since he was a little boy in his father’s carpenter shop. But if we read on just another verse beyond the lectionary reading we see that the story takes a very dramatic and violent turn, and this is the place in the unforeseen future that reminds us— that reminds me— that just over a week ago, about 265 miles northwest of us in Colleyville, of the 11 hour hostage crisis with our Jewish siblings at Congregation Beth Israel was occurring when they were observing the Sabbath. And lest you think that I am about to find a theological bent that interprets this passage as the “bad guy” Jews enacting violence against Jesus—I want to stop you right there. Because that is exactly the kind of antisemitic theological thinking that continues to wreak havoc and harm upon our Jewish community, over and over again. Jesus prepared for his ministry— he, we see over and over again in Luke— within the temple as a faithful, young, Jewish man, and we have to look through his story though historical Jewish lens to understand him, to understand his story, and to understand what the gospel writers were doing in their books.

And beyond that, as people of Houston Mennonite Church, the “Church of the Sermon on the Mount,” we are called to be peacemakers, and sometimes— oftentimes— that means we have to be moved by our understanding of Scripture and our world. We have to be MOVED in order to be uncomfortable enough to take risks. And so, my beloved HMC family, I want to take a risk and talk about this passage in Isaiah that Jesus quotes from. He’s quoting from Isaiah 61 verse two, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” but leaves out the second portion of verse two that says, “And the day of vengeance of our God.”

Now we don’t know if Jesus himself left out this part or if it was a choice that Luke made in order to continue his theme that we see throughout his gospel that Jesus’ life and ministry was concentrated on the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the women, the children, and all those who were cast aside in their society.

Luke is sometimes referred to as the favorite gospel of the social justice movement because his theme of Jesus siding with the oppressed is so clearly laid out throughout the entire book. But we would be remiss to not note that Jesus or Luke or perhaps both, are emphasizing certain parts of scripture because that is what we all do. There is no such thing as “just reading the Bible.” Everyone interprets the Bible. And here at HMC we interpret the Bible in a larger story of God’s work in the world and we see The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ life and ministry as clarion calls for us to continue the prophetic call from the prophet Isaiah, to do justice, to love mercy, and to humbly walk before our God.

But Jesus doesn’t just finish with reading Isaiah in the temple. He himself had to give a word to give an interpretation to the synagogue community. And so, he sits down with the eyes of everyone in the synagogue upon him and he says, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Professor Elisabeth Johnson tells us that Jesus is likely referring to “the year of the Lord’s favor” as the year of Jubilee, from Leviticus 25, a year where outstanding debts would be forgiven, where enslaved people would be liberated, where property would be returned to its owners and even where the land itself would rest from producing. But there is very little evidence that shows that the people of Israel actually lived out this radical year of Jubilee. But it’s not that difficult for us, even today, to imagine such a resistance to this sort of anti-capitalist year, is it?
When those of us who are saddled with student debt look forward to the fulfillment of promises made by government leaders of forgiveness of student debt, only to be disappointed over and over again and frustrated by those who posit that, “I had to pay off all of my student loan debts and I will not benefit from this, so neither should you.”

It is not hard for us to imagine the kind of opposition that people would have to freeing debt and leveling and economic playing field just a little bit, when all we have to do is look at the fact that the child tax credit couldn’t be renewed and our country a form of legislation that slashed child poverty cut in half when it was enacted. It is not hard for us to imagine that setting free enslaved people, that seeing our siblings with brown and black skin as just as human as us would be an obstacle when we have the former Senate minorty leader telling us that Black Americans are not the same as white Americans when it comes to voting.

And what The Year of Jubilee had evolved into is this radical eschatological (that’s a fancy word we learn in seminary)—beyond-this world-hope. But Jesus tells us,
“I. Bring. The Year. of Jubilee.
I bring good news to the poor—
I bring released to the captives—
I bring recovery of sight to the blind—
I bring freedom to the oppressed—
I proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And when we continue to move and transition to a new direction in our personal lives in our congregational life, in our communities, and in our country we are reminded that it is not only Jesus who is called by the Holy Spirit. It is not only Jesus who is called to bring good news.

Lately, some of the people who have been bringing good news to me who have been uncovering my hidden biases and prejudice and they have been the amazing disability activists that I’m following on social media. In the midst of almost three years of a worldwide pandemic the disabled community has taught me over and over again how much I am privileged, how much that even with recent chronic illness diagnosis and with a history of mental health diagnoses I still benefit tremendously as someone who is educated, as someone who is employed with good healthcare benefits, and someone who doesn’t have to worry if I can find a competent and compassionate physician. Yes, I worry about our children, especially when our five-year-old goes to preschool, but I actually have the privilege to make that decision, where so many families have been in a terrifying limbo these past three years because they have illnesses or disabilities that make the chances of catching Covid not an inconvenience but a very deadly prospective.

These leaders in the disabled community also call me to re-examine the usage of our words and their internalize ableism. So when I look at the passage from Isaiah 61 text I have to ask myself: is recovery of sight to the blind a spiritual necessity? Have our blind and visually impaired fellow Christ followers somehow missed out on the year of the Lord’s favor? Or, are they instead, as the late disability theologian Nancy Eiesland teaches us, also made fully imago dei, in the image of God, a God who is in human form in Jesus, bearing the marks of physical and spiritual trauma, a God who can be called disabled with us. Is Jesus a God who winces every time he touches his side? Is Jesus a God with crippling chronic pain? Is Jesus a God who is completely whole even after he has been subjected to pain and abuse?

And is this same Jesus the God who has always been at work through the Holy Spirit in our church before, during and after every pastoral transition? Is this Holy Spirit still in our midst, still keeping us awake at night, still sparking fires of righteous indignation and holy anger when we are confronted with the ongoing pain and suffering of those around us, whether they be our unhoused friends freezing on the streets of Houston last night, or the children who go to bed hungry in West Virginia while their Senator pockets millions of dollars and says behind the scenes that the money given to these children would have been spent on drugs, yes, this same Holy Spirit calls us to move from indignation to action, to continuing to have enough holy imagination to be led by the Spirit in her mysterious ways to everything that comes next.

Church, may it be so. Amen.