Reflection Sunday 23 January 2022
Filled with the power of the Spirit
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "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 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 favour." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…
We often refer to others as being full of themselves, full of ego, full of their own importance, full of shame, full of self-pity, full of bitterness, full of hatred and so on. What we may mean when we make these kinds of comments about people is that they are so full of something that they cannot see, or feel, or do anything else. It is as if they are blinded to all else because they are so full of something. They are so full of one thing that they have no capacity for anything else.
When Jesus returned to Galilee, Jesus was not full of his own importance. Jesus was not full of his own power. Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit. What is the power of the Spirit? How did Jesus become filled with the power of the Spirit? What might being filled with the power of the spirit mean? Can we be filled with the power of the Spirit? If we are filled with other things, how can we be filled with the spirit? If we were filled with the power of the Spirit instead of being filled with other things, what difference might it make?
To explore what being filled with the power of the Spirit may mean, perhaps we can look at where Jesus was before he returned to Galilee. Jesus was in the wilderness. In Luke 4:1-2 we read - Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the Devil. In the wilderness Jesus’ new fullness of the Spirit was tested and he came through the testing in such a way that the power of the Spirit filled him. Jesus entered the wilderness full of the Spirit and he returned from the wilderness filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism and the Devil tried to render Jesus powerless through the temptations. The power of the Spirit is unlike the power of this world. We do not earn it or work it up. It is what remains or arises when we refuse to choose the powers of this world which are often no more than forms of violence pretending to be the only option for us to take. Sometimes these choices are very difficult because they are presented to us as the lesser of two evils. The power of the Spirit comes by being aware of the powers of this world, by refusing to take and use the power of this world for ourselves. So often we are tempted to take a short cut, to step on someone’s toes, believing that the means justify the ends. We use violence to defeat violence. The danger is that we become a monster in order to defeat a monster.
The power of the Spirit It is not a power stronger than evil. It is a power that arises through weakness. Saint Paul was well aware of this mystery. Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 - but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[a] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
We often want power so we can get things done the way we think they should be done. Even in the church we have power struggles. For example, if we don’t like what our leaders are doing. We can think we can do better. We vote them out or create such a toxic atmosphere that they leave and we then fill the vacuum. We are full of our own power- full of ourselves. The church becomes filled with the powers of the world and there is no room for the power of the Spirit.
The Desert Mothers and Fathers, Christians who lived in the deserts of North Africa in the early centuries after Jesus, looked to Jesus’ wilderness experience as the source for their spiritual power. In turn the Celtic Christians of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, modelled themselves on the Desert Mothers and Fathers and the experience of Jesus in the wilderness. They turned their backs on the power of the church and the empire and sought spiritual power from the source of all life, from God alone. They spent much of their lives alone, amongst nature, contemplating, praying, listening for God. They learned that one could not rely on the power one had experienced in the past or simply amass power and carry it with them into whatever situations they would face in the future. The power of the Spirit filled them and continued to fill them in every moment when they chose not the powers of the world but to renounce them and rely alone on the Spirit. And in every moment of relinquishing power, they were filled with the Spirit’s power.
Filled with the power of the Spirit, Jesus went on to the Synagogue in Nazareth and tells us why being filled with the power of the Spirit is so important - "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 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 favour." Luke 4:18,19.
The Good News is just as important today and it is made manifest through the power of the Spirit.
Photo: Native Ginger and Rosella
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation