Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is something holding you captive making you sick and disparaged?


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the afflicted.  Isaiah 61:1

Today is the second Sunday of Epiphany and it is the church’s intention in this season to demonstrate that the Babe of Bethlehem is very God of very God. We see this as the boy Jesus teaches the teachers in the temple; and again at Cana, where the Lord graces a small town wedding with His presence, and performs the first of His miraculous signs; one of such indelible splendor that it revealed his glory and caused His disciples to believe in Him. (John 2:11) So as we hear today’s Old Testament lesson we should understand that the servant Isaiah speaks of is none other than Jesus our incarnate God, who turns water into the finest wine; and wine into His own blood to give life and salvation to sinners.

There are other anointed servants as well. The prophet Isaiah was one of them. He was authorized by God to announce good news to his people during their time of captivity in Babylon. They were as dejected as a people could be, misery was their “new normal” and no power on earth could ever change it. These are the people to whom Isaiah proclaims that, in spite of the way things look, a day of divine release is on the horizon, and what a day it will be!

There are still anointed servants today who, like Isaiah, are authorized to deliver good news to those who are crushed by sin. However, being “anointed” or authorized by God is a concept mostly lost on people today. The Roman church abuses it by claiming the exclusive right to ordain men into the ministry. Evangelicals abuse it by teaching that anyone who feels “led by the spirit” is qualified to minister to the souls of men, but neither of these ideas is correct. There is an authorization and it does come through the church, but Rome is not the Church, nor is any individual. Instead the true church is found wherever the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments administered in accordance with our Lord’s institution, and it is mostly hidden from view except, of course, to the eye of faith.

So who is anointed by the Spirit to speak glad tidings? Parents are authorized to teach the Gospel to their children. Every Christian is likewise empowered to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:15), but only those who are called and ordained are authorized to minister in the church. By these ecclesiastical rites the same Spirit who anointed Isaiah and rested upon our Lord without measure sanctions men to teach the Gospel today.

Contrary to popular opinion, modern day anointees are not free to conduct the ministry in any way they see fit. Pastors are servants of God put into office to give God’s people the things that God wants them to have, namely the Law and the Gospel, and a faithful servant must preach both. He must condemn sin in unmistakable terms even though it opens him up to criticism, persecution and sometimes death, as happened to Isaiah. The sins that are being referred to here are not the theoretical sins of other people, but the real ones of those who fill the pews before him. He must also teach the Gospel, and do so in such clear terms that the most afflicted sinner, the most hopeless person, the most flickering faith can see the Light of Christ shine through life’s darkness no matter how bleak the house may look.

The church, anointed by the Spirit of the Lord God, has established her liturgy, piety and devotional tools for this purpose. Thus when we gather to engage in worship we are not merely rehearsing well-worn lines for piety’s sake, but are participating in the feast of victory for our God! In the mass we enter the stream of salvation history. We join our hearts, minds and voices to those of all the company of heaven who are gathered around the “glassy throne” to sing Holy, Holy, Holy to the Lord God of Sabaoth. We give glory, honor and thanks to the Lamb on the throne who washed us clean from the stain of sin, and the stench of death. There is more going on here than meets the eye dear Christians; much, much more indeed!

We might compare Christian worship to the piano, a simple instrument consisting of twelve different notes, eighty-eight keys in all, but what a set of keys it is! For centuries people have composed delightful music on it to soothe the savage beast and to make our sorrowing spirits sing. And if the piano is a mystery, what of the pianist? Is he nothing more than a button pusher? Perhaps, but what a button pusher he is! One who plays the instrument, who bends it to his will, who makes it do what he wants it to do, and say what he wants it to say because he knows like no other that there is music behind the notes. Yes, there is much more here than meets the eye, and in the church’s worship as well. When God’s people come together to pray the liturgy of the ages, to feast on His Word with reverence, to praise, give thanks, and have table fellowship with Christ in the Eucharist, there is a divine synergy in play.

This is where Isaiah’s good news is announced to those who are afflicted with sin and cursed with death. It is the place where sinners are healed by the Great Physician, who gave His own life for ours, and rose again to give us victory over the grave. This is where broken hearts are made whole. Consider how many things can break our hearts in this world: people, situations, politics, money, loneliness, loss of health, unfulfilled desires and the fear of death, but here our Lord, using nothing more than His omnipotent Word, heals our broken hearts and promises to be the Balm of Gilead for us. This is where liberty is proclaimed to the captives. As long as we live we are in captivity to the Flesh’s sinful desires. Yes, we are forgiven. Yes, death has lost its sting, and the grave its victory over us, but our sins still make our lives miserable. They make us sick and afraid and filled with all types of anguish, but don’t be afraid, dear Christians, because St. Paul assures us that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:12), and David reminds us that the Lord is good, and that His mercy endures forever (Psalm 118:1). This also is the place where God announces vengeance on our enemies, every last one of them, and assures us that He will destroy them so completely that they will never trouble us again. What troubles you now? Temptation? The devil? Fear of the future? Poverty? A heavy spirit? The plots of evil men? “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord,” (Romans 12:19) and as He takes vengeance on our enemies, with even greater zeal He will redeem us and comfort us with the Peace the world cannot give, so don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid because the Spirit of the Lord God announces good news to you here, today and always. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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