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Sermon by Bishop Rubin Phillip
Greetings dear friends!
It’s good to be with you and share with you some thoughts and reflections arising out of a verse of scripture that I have chosen.
It’s Luke’s gospel, chapter 4: 16-20. This particular verse of scripture tells of the time when Jesus enters Nazareth and there went into the Temple to receive his instruction, as it were, from God. The instructions came via words of scripture.
Let me read that to you:
“16 When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and as was his custom, he stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down”
Interestingly Luke goes on to say that the eyes of all those in the synagogue were fixed on him. It is as if they were mesmerised; they were deeply moved by the words Jesus had spoken to them. So let us break it down: to start with Jesus entered the Temple and opened the scroll –
the opening words read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.”
So clearly Jesus was making the point that he was not speaking off his own bat, as it were; it wasn’t something about his thoughts but he was speaking as he was led by the Spirit of God. God was with him; God was anointing him and God was giving him a word not only for those who were his listeners but to a wider audience and to future generations. As we read these words today, hear these words coming from the lips of Jesus, we too must take notice of what Jesus was saying through these eternal words.
So, for a start, Jesus says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. Jesus says he does not speak these words of his own – he has been anointed; and so we must be attentive to them. So what does he say? Firstly, he says that my father has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. Clearly the people of that time – certainly the poor – were not receiving good news. They were in pain, they were suffering and needed to hear the voice of God. The voice of God, whenever it is spoken is good news. God does not speak in words of condemnation, of rejection, in
words of criticism; God, through Jesus, speaks good news to the poor. How wonderful the poor would have felt as they hear Jesus speak these words, this good news.
So what is the content of this good news that Jesus spoke to the poor? Jesus says that God, God my father, has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Those three things. To proclaim release to the captives; Jesus knew in his heart, arising out of his interaction with the people, that there were those people who were captive, have been captured by the forces around them which meant that they were not free, they were in some kind of bondage, being chained, if you like. As a result of being on bondage the people did
not know how they might free themselves.
But Jesus has the answer. Why? Because he is the Son of God, he is the saviour of the world, he alone is able to liberate us from all kinds of captivity, be they physical or spiritual or any other form. So there is the good news and it is to the poor. To those who have been rejected, to those who have been neglected, to those who have been treated as second and third class citizens Jesus brings to them the Good News.
Good news also means gospel.
So what is good news? Firstly he says that God has sent him to proclaim release to the captives. As I mentioned it could be spiritual or physical bondage. It has to do with those who are poor, and poverty as we know it, because we see it around us at this particular time. We see how poverty causes untold pain and suffering. Over and above it, it is not just a physical thing. For those who are poor or who do not have enough to eat, who do not have enough to survive on, this is a spiritual and a physical poverty. So Jesus is not only interested in our spiritual liberation but he cares about
our physical liberation too. Jesus does not accept or tolerates or invites physical poverty. We know that there are many, in fact millions of our sisters and brothers and neighbours and friends who live in abject poverty and it is not a part of who Jesus is.
Jesus goes on to say, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, to those who might be in some form of spiritual or any other bondage through greed, through selfishness, through having too much to eat, those who are buried in their materialism. Jesus wants us to be freed from those things in order that we might surrender ourselves to Jesus. He alone give us the kind of freedom, the kind of liberty that we need as human beings, as the children of God. No amount of material possession will ever set us free so that we can exercise or realise our full humanity.
Jesus goes on to say that he is anointed us to bring good news to the poor because he is concerned about the poor of this world and of God’s creation. In addition to being released from captivity we will recover from being blind, for those who are blind physically but also spiritually; for those who cannot see the needs their neighbours have. This is so important.
We remember the scripture verse were Jesus speaks about the neighbour and the Good Samaritan, about those who are in need. We as individual Christians and we the Church cannot and must not turn a blind eye to those who are in need. To be a friend of Jesus, to be a daughter and child of God is not only about spiritual liberation. It is also about physical liberation, freedom from poverty and all that oppresses us. That is why the Church under the Apartheid days played a critical role in freeing people from their physical bondage and suffering because that goes hand in glove with spiritual liberation.
Finally, Jesus says that God has sent him to let the oppressed go free. That ties in with what I have just said. So, where does that leave us? If we – and we are – filled with the Spirit of the Lord, we are anointed with the Spirit of God, then our mission, apart from everything else we say and do, our going to church, our reading of scripture and so on, if our mission does not include liberating people from their physical pain and suffering, elevating
the lot of the poor, then I think it is true to say that we have failed the Lord in the mission to which he has called us. We do not do it alone, we cannot do it alone. We know that God is with us and God leads us and empowers us to do that important task of walking with God’s people and
setting them free of all this material oppression.
May the Lord who has called us give us the strength to be a part of the mission to which he has called us, to free those who are in pain and suffering and oppression.
May the Lord bless you. Thank you.
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