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

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

St. Luke, from whose Gospel we read today, announces his programmatic theme early on: how God manifests the power of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Think about it for a moment: if we go back to the very beginning, to the story of the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus Christ, the angel says to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). When Jesus is baptized, the Gospel writer tells us, “The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove… you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). At every point in his ministry, Jesus is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and filled with grace and power for the work that lies ahead.

Our Gospel reading is one of those occasions when the theme is underscored. Jesus comes to read in the synagogue in his hometown, in Nazareth, early in his ministry. He reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19). Then he tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21): Jesus preaching his first sermon, from the hometown pulpit.

Once again, we have God the Holy Spirit, present and active in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The reading from Isaiah is significant, because the Spirit had been active in the ministry of the prophets before him. Prophetic speech was inspired by the Spirit of God, who spoke through the prophets, as we say in the Nicene Creed. The Spirit was the power of God that propelled forward their ministry, as they announced the coming salvation of God. Jesus takes on the mantle of the prophets, as he announces the fulfillment of the scriptural prophecy.

In Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit “comes upon” the Virgin Mary; the Spirit “overshadows” her; then again, the Holy Spirit “descends” upon Jesus and “anoints” him. We first hear about the Holy Spirit in the Book of Genesis as a “wind from God” (Gen. 1:2) that moves over the face of the water at the beginning of creation. It’s this same wind from God that blows at Pentecost in the Book of Acts, as the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit. In each case, God the Holy Spirit is active and present, overtaking people and propelling them forward in mission and ministry.

God the Holy Spirit lives in Jesus Christ in a unique way; as it says in the story of the Annunciation, “therefore the child to be born will be holy” (Lk. 1:35). He is the Son of God, after all; he is the Savior of the world. God raised him from the dead so that we might live through him. But Jesus shares the Spirit with us, as it was shared with him; he has empowered us, through the Holy Spirit, for the apostolic ministry he has called us to.

So, we hear in our second reading today, from St. Paul’s letter 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).  Once again, God the Holy Spirit is the foundation of the church’s life. The Holy Spirit animates the church’s life, through our baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. The same wind from God that stirred up the waters of creation at the start, is still stirring us up through the waters of baptism. We continue to drink of the same Spirit as we come to the altar of God, to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. New life is still on offer, St. Paul is telling the Christians in Corinth, through the Spirit that we share.

The power of the Spirit is present here at the Church of the Epiphany, just as it was in Corinth. We too are part of the New Testament Church. So, St. Paul says to us as he did to them, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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). God has given us gifts for ministry. What deeds of power will we do? What forms of assistance will we bring? What kind of leadership will we exercise? God is calling us to the work, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, God’s programmatic theme is still the same, as it was for St. Luke. The Spirit who anointed Jesus continues to anoint us. God the Holy Spirit descends upon us, giving us his power and presence in our lives, and making everything possible.

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