Toorak Uniting Church

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The Lord’s anointed

Isaiah 61: 1 – 11   John 1: 19 – 23
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
14 December 2008

To start my sermon I would like to ask you a deceptively simple question: Who, in the text we just read from Isaiah, is the Lord’s anointed?

I bet some of you will immediately and without hesitation answer that with "Jesus" and perhaps in second instance with "Isaiah the prophet". Others may have thought of the prophet first but will have been aware that this text has been applied to Jesus ever since the dawn of our Christian faith.
Today I would like to put to you a third possibility: Interpreting "the Lord’s anointed" in our time as a plural, referring, by association to the collective of the body of Christ.

It is most probable that when the writer of the third volume in the trilogy we know as the book Isaiah, wrote the words "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me" he was referring to himself rather than to someone who appear on the scene some 600 years later.
He was a prophet, writing against the background of a people recently returned from exile to find their home country in ruins. People who were waiting, for the rest of their families and friends to be set free and join them in the after-exile effort to rebuild their homes and their cities. People whose parents had wept for a Zion full of lush gardens and vineyards full of sweet fruit finding devastation and ruins instead.
Zion was not what they had hoped for and they needed all the encouragement and support a prophet can give them. And listen to what he tells them:
Listen to vs 2b to 6, you’ll probably all feel the power of those words even over a 2500 years time difference in a situation completely different from the situation those words were spoken into the first time.

This is the first way to read the text: One of the great prophets of Israel, anointed by the Spirit, speaks powerful words of hope into a desperate situation and proclaims God’s faithfulness where it is questioned. Words so powerful they keep echoing down the ages, applying themselves to other situations, right to the present day.

About 500 years later his words are applied to the person of Jesus Christ. Most probably after Jesus’ death, by his disciples. Or, also possible, by himself during his lifetime. Here is another anointed of the Lord God, another person on whom the spirit of God clearly rests, who has come to bring good news to the oppressed, healing to the broken hearted, liberty to the captives and release to prisoners. Here is another who speaks hope and new life into a context of despair and the ruins of broken dreams. Here is another whose whole being exults the Lord God.
It is easy to see why those words were associated with Jesus. He lived them, every step of his life and ministry!

But does it stop there?

I read the words to someone in distress earlier this week. And they had the most remarkable effect of bringing hope and peace, healing and joy in a situation that was not remotely like the situation those returned captives from exile where in, or the situation of the Jews in first century Palestine.
But they worked. Miracles. Because they are words that work, in which God is AT work.

"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me...." I read those words too, and I wondered: Can I say that? The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, the Lord has anointed me? Or should I, for that part of the text, hide behind the person of Jesus whom I believe was THE anointed, THE person on whom the spirit rested more than on any other person ever?

Our baptism form says we are anointed with the holy spirit at baptism. We call down the holy spirit every time we celebrate communion on the elements, but also on ourselves, as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And in that sense we are, as baptised members and part takers of the body of Christ, anointed and blessed with the spirit. Called to bring good news to oppressed, healing to the broken hearted and release to the captives like the prophet, like Jesus who have done so before us. Called to speak words of hope, words of comfort and encouragement into our own world, a world as much in ruins as the 5th century world of Isaiah the prophet and the 1st century world of Jesus of Nazareth.

John 1 testifies to the fact that this is not as easy as it may seem. One would think the world would be happy to receive good news, would welcome healing and release, and the rebuilding of ruins and the restoring cities.
On the contrary. The spirit of God, the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ or any other person consistently meets with resistance. Negativity, what in the spirituality of Igniatius is called "bad spirit" is often much stronger than the good and wholesome activity of the holy in us. As individuals and as community we find it easier to let the devil have his way than to be vessels filled with the holy spirit. Why this is so is one of the enigmas scripture wrestles with. Why is the brokenness in us so strong and so deep that it seems neigh impossible to heal, so incredibly difficult to release us from our captivity and our addiction to it?

How can we maintain that the Spirit rests upon us and that we are the Lord’s anointed with so much brokenness in our lives, so much captivity, so much that keeps us from truly giving shape to it in our lives, in spite of all the good works we do here at Toorak Uniting and the many ways we give the call to be Christ’s body, God’s anointed, shape in the world. Through our centres, through our mission and outreach, through our care for each other. And for many we are an island of hope and life in a world full of distress. For the people who come to John McCrae who find a place of warmth and welcome. For the children at John Mackenzie Kindergarten who are nurtured in an environment of Christian love. For the people who come and visit our exhibitions and cafe and discover a church where they are welcome, where people are prepared to listen and be part of their life’s journey, listen to their questions and offer them spirituality and pastoral care where they need it. And for the people who benefit through our mission and outreach projects, Food for friends, the Opp shop and so many more things we do.

Activities which are welcomed and applauded by the world around us, signs of God’s blessing and the presence of his Spirit amongst us.
But as we gather around the table this morning there is not only that, the things we are proud of and are worth celebrating, we must also be painfully aware of the brokenness in ourselves and in our community that exists nonetheless, brokenness negating what God has made us: his anointed, people on whom his spirit rests.

This is sin, that somehow, even where we are anointed, even where the God’s spirit comes down and seeks to fill our lives, there are still areas in any of our lives and in the life of us as community, where the devil gets hold of us. We can speak those words of hope and encouragement the prophet spoke 2500 years ago into the despair and hopelessness of our world, we can act to make them happen and change the world towards God’s Kingdom as his anointed. But we speak them only as people who are in need ourselves. In need of healing, in need of release from captivity, in need of hope and encouragement and strength to resist the evil that seeks to worm its way into our souls. In need of comfort ourselves because we there are areas in our life where we ourselves are badly in need of those words we have received to speak and hand on to others.

We are God’s anointed and we may know his spirit to be upon us. Nevertheless we are in need of THE anointed to come and heal and release us, to support us and help us to become what we are, as individuals and as a community: Vessels filled with the Holy Spirit, body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, exulting in our God. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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