Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Filled With the Holy Spirit

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The First Sunday in Lent. Are you anxious? Concerned? Disillusioned? All of the above? And maybe we should be. What to do with Lent is cause for significant pause. How to make it meaningful in the midst of betrayal. How to tell the truth of its complications and yet suggest something beyond. How to acknowledge its mood and yet live into the truth of what lies ahead.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit.” That’s the only way you can get through something like this. This detail is one of Luke’s unique redactions to this story. In fact, in Luke, there is not much Jesus does without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a major character in Luke-Acts and preaching from this Gospel will tend to its manifestation and its role -- constantly. And maybe that is the point of the Holy Spirit that we tend to forget -- its constancy.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit.” The truth of the incarnation? That’s the only way you can get through something like this. Same for Jesus. Lest we think Jesus has some supernatural powers -- ok, maybe be does, granted -- the purpose of Lent is that he doesn’t. Jesus takes on our humanity in such a way that he is tempted and tested. Not for the sake of our own claim to such feats but for the sake of knowing, deeply, intimately, that this is what it means to be human.

This is why the concept of “temptation” is tricky. And I was reminded that I have always been uncomfortable with this story.

In fact, I resist it. It even makes me angry. Why? Because I know that there is no way, no how, that I could resist such temptations. Yes, I know. I get that this is the point of the story. I can’t. That’s Jesus’ job. But I go there anyway, thinking that my incursions toward perceived wrong, my inclinations toward that which might be called into question, my impulses toward “sin” in all of its definitions and demonstrations can somehow be curtailed with enough prayer, enough Spirit, enough Jesus. That I can just will temptation away.

And then, I am indicted on another level. I want the power Jesus is offered -- on all of its levels. And this is the unnerving and upending truth of this story. That which Jesus resists, his “passing of the test,” his resistance to temptation, in the end for Jesus, is a bold “no” to power as we know it. Power that dominates. Power that controls. Power that lifts up for the sake of idolatry and ideology. Power that insists on your own power. And the temptation not only to power itself, but what the claim of power then leads to, has a hold on, or determines. Our attraction to power is often unable to see the consequences on the other side. Jesus has the aftermath of that which Satan offers fully in view.

And is this ever a reminder of the power of the preacher. The temptation to control, hold power over, use your power for your own will, not for the good of the whole, and certainly not for the good of God’s love in the world. A pointed interpretation of this text realizes Jesus’ challenge to the power of status quo. The challenge to what empire holds to be true. The challenge to our desire for power that is antithetical to God’s exercising of power. And yet, we continue to employ such power, choose to be beholden to such power. Why? Protection, orthodoxy, legitimacy, principle, denominational entrenchment, theological justification, morality, rules that are really adiaphora?

“Filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is hard, so very hard, to resist the power that the world loves and values. But how this story starts is the promise of this text. You do not do this on your own. “Filled with the Holy Spirit.” And you are. This is your promise. Is not the promise to Jesus also the promise to you? If it’s not, then what are we doing? On what can we ground our ministry, our proclamation? And “filled with the Holy Spirit” is God’s promise that extends beyond Luke to Acts. This is a moment to bring in the promise of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus “filled with the Holy Spirit” is not an isolated incident, a temporary truth, but a promise that has been for God’s people since the beginning and will always be. “Filled with the Holy Spirit” means giving witness to God’s grace and truth that will only know its fulfillment when it reaches the ends of the earth.

And filled with the Holy Spirit is the only way possible to preach such prophetic proclamation.

You are filled with the Holy Spirit, preachers. Believe it.

Karoline

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