The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, Epiphany Church, Lebanon

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” (Lk. 4:18).

Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah this morning, here in our gospel today; recalling the vision of prophetic anointing, the announcement of a new day to come and a new hope ahead. The Prophet had foreseen a time when God’s Spirit would rest upon an anointed one, a Messiah in other words. This Messiah or King would put the world right, would set free the captives and bring good news to the poor. The blind would receive their sight and all oppression would cease. According to Isaiah, it would be a time of universal restoration, the renewal of the world. It would be the Day of the Lord.

The Spirit of God is conceived as God’s breath, the wind that comes from God and stirs up creation in the very beginning. As it says in Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). The Spirit is life, or as we say in the Creed, “the Lord, the giver of life.” When the Spirit is poured out, in the prophetic vision, new life is given. God is once again stirring things up, bringing forth new life from the chaos of the old world.

When Jesus reads from the scroll of the Prophet, he tells the audience in Nazareth, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). He’s announcing that the day that the Prophet foretold has now come: the day when the Spirit would be poured forth once again and bring new life. Now the Messiah has come; the Spirit is anointing Jesus and his work is beginning. As we heard two Sundays ago, when Jesus was baptized by John, “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Lk. 3:21-22). The Spirit stirs up the waters of the River Jordan and anoints Jesus as the Messiah.

New life is on offer, here today. Jesus’ ministry is full of miracles and healing, signs of new life foretold by the prophet Isaiah. His ministry, however, culminates in the great act of healing and reconciliation that chiefly marks his ministry, his death and resurrection that means new life for us. Death itself is overcome, as the Spirit of God stirs up new life from the grave. By faith in Christ, we share in his new Resurrection life.

New life is on offer, here today. The same Spirit that anointed Jesus is also shared with us, his disciples, by the same God who sent the Spirit in the beginning. St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Today, a number of members of the Church are re-affirming their baptismal vows and receiving the laying-on-of-hands by the bishop; others are re-affirming those same vows and being confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. The Spirit is being given again through faith in Jesus Christ.

New life is on offer, here today. New life not only for the individuals with whom we celebrate today, but new life more broadly for the Church of the Epiphany. The Spirit is stirring things up once again, just as it did at the beginning. The scroll of the Prophet is being unrolled once again, and we can glimpse more clearly the God who has been at work, quietly and silently over the course of many years here at Epiphany. We can see once again the power of the Resurrection, and feel it breaking out in our midst.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that the Spirit we feel working among us is a giver of gifts; gifts that are meant to be deployed in service. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul writes. “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28). These too are gifts of the Spirit. The call to service comes in the wake of the Resurrection. It flows from our Baptism. We will need all these gifts at the Church of the Epiphany in the days to come.

Not everyone has each of these gifts, St. Paul goes on to say, but each of us can strive for the greater gifts: that is, faith, hope, and love. The Holy Spirit is moving today at the Church of the Epiphany, in your life and my life, sharing new life with us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee