And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about Him went out through all the surrounding country… 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 proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
- Luke 4:14, 17-19
The season of Easter concludes on Saturday evening, and we celebrate Pentecost this Sunday. Derived from the Greek word meaning fifty, Pentecost occurs on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the first Pentecost marked the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people, as recorded in Acts 2. We tend to think of Pentecost as the day on which the Church was born. The Spirit of God was poured out after Christ ascended into heaven, and to this day, the Holy Spirit continues to pour forth from the Kingdom of our Father. The union of heaven and earth has been accomplished, and one day, that union will be complete.
The birth of the Church is only half the story of Pentecost, however, as if the Church was somehow distinct from the people. Traditionally, Christians have held that the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, which was codified in the Nicene Creed in AD 325. This is a fact of Pentecost we often fail to recognize – to our loss. We see the interruption of the Divine Spirit through the loud sounds and tongues like flames resting on the disciples in Jerusalem, but as Peter proclaimed in his sermon following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-36), the people were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets – He would pour out His Spirit on all people. This is the essence of Christian life – to be born anew as a child of God and to grow in the likeness of Christ through the presence and work the Spirit in us.
John the Baptist foretold the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that the Holy Spirit was coming. Jesus did not teach that the Holy Spirit would establish a unique entity that Christians could join. Instead, the Holy Spirit was given to all who received Jesus as their Messiah, their Lord and Savior. Initially, those people were Jews, and the gathering of the Christian faithful occurred within the context of the gathering of Jewish faithful. In other words, there already was a Jewish ekklesia before Pentecost, and what made the Christian ekklesia different was that the people worshipped Jesus as the Messiah and were born of the Holy Spirit.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit is important for many reasons, probably more than we can fathom, but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit marks the completion of God’s salvation of His creation. As Peter quoted the Prophet Joel saying, these are the last days. Pentecost marks the beginning of the end – the end of death, the end of sin, the end of suffering, sorrow, and pain. All that remains is for Christ to return. The longer our Lord delays His return, the more people are born and enter into His salvation. Between now and that moment, all Christians are to be filled with the Spirit and live as sons and daughters of God – which is the reason the text is from Luke 4 this week, instead of Acts 2.
In the last month or, I’ve come across three different report summaries that I believe Christians need to note. Gallup National Health and Well-Being polling recorded a rapid increase in depression in the American population. Currently, nearly one in five Americans is being treated for depression, which is a 70% increase over the 2015 survey numbering 10.5%. Additionally, rates of depression among Blacks and Hispanics saw the sharp increases in treatment while 25% of people under thirty (not classified by race) reported that they are presently being treated for depression, an increase of nearly 90% since 2017. Gallup attributed the depression rates to social media engagement, race conflict following the death of George Floyd, and the lack of meaningful work.
The second report led to an announcement by the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, that the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. How is that a surprise coming out of two years of national lockdown? Still, the figures are revealing because they are drawn from multi-year studies, the first reported in 2010, a second in 2015, and a third in 2020. Murthy’s announcement arose from an 81-page CDC report that revealed loneliness and isolation increase the likelihood of premature death by 60%, with increased risk of heart disease (29%), stroke (32%), and dementia (50%). In fact, loneliness has a negative health impact equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes every day and surpasses known health risk factors such as obesity and sedentary lifestyle. Not surprisingly, Murthy believes the government needs to address this health crisis.
Finally, I came across a Wall Street Journal/University of Chicago NORC poll from March of this year on American life and values. As it turns out, Americans are not particularly committed to their religious faith, nor are we especially patriotic anymore. Both of those priorities dropped significantly from a decade ago. The prevailing value among Americans today is making money. Americans care about their income and accumulating wealth more than we care about the God we worship and the unique nation that America is.
In a culture that believes emotions are truth and desires are reality, people all around us are competing to see who can run off the cliff first.
But, you, Christians… You are born of God. The Spirit that hovered over the chaos of Creation and brought forth order has, since the day of Pentecost, poured forth from our Father’s Kingdom to dwell in you. By this same Spirit, you are a brother or sister of Jesus Christ, partaking in the Divine nature of our Father. How hard is it to go out, find and love people who are lonely and depressed? In the chaos of confusion that is American life today, we are called to “proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
That is Who the Spirit anointed Jesus to be, and that is who we are to be in Him. We are surrounded by the poor and enslaved, the blind and oppressed, and sometimes, we are among them. Lord, have mercy…
The world is not wise. Scripture tells us that over and over again, and yet, we continue to accept that experts and authorities know what is best. To refute that, all we have to do is look at the fruit of the wisdom of the world. For all the advances, riches, education, and comfort we have, Americans are not flourishing. We look to political parties for answers, or we turn to medical and psychiatric specialists for answers to what plagues us. The worst plague among us is the absence of the life of God – the hope, the purpose, the grace, and the love of God that is more than sufficient for anything we face.
Look at what our society has become, and let your heart break for what you see. The intentional cultivation of animosity between races can only lead to distrust and violence. The illusion of relationships and the pretense of exciting “picture-perfect” lives overwhelm the reality of mundane life and the work of getting along with one another face to face. The utter abandonment of reason in the pursuit of individual sexual expression and gratification – in whatever form these take – is certain to end in utter desolation. One cannot reject reality for very long, and doing so at all only leads to delusions and destruction.
The depression and the loneliness are both deep and profound. For what is a person to hope? To earn more money? Riches can make life more materially comfortable, but riches do not heal broken hearts and relationships, nor do riches prevent disease and death. All wealth does is amplify the state of a person’s soul – for good and for evil.
The hope of the world lies within every Christian. Christ has given us His Spirit, the Giver of Life, of joy, of peace, of every good thing. We need to embrace our life in the Spirit, indifferent to worldly treasures, and live abundantly in God’s gracious gift. Then, as the Spirit leads us, we need to spread the Life and goodness of our Lord to our family members, our neighbors, and everyone we meet. All we have to do is listen, just listen, and we will hear of despair and sadness and loneliness.
If we do not embrace all that we have inherited as children of the Most High God, how can we possibly offer hope to the world? If we accept that emotions are the measure of truth, how can we share the truth of new birth by water and the Spirit – the truth that is the source of hope and life and joy and every good thing?
It does not matter if the world scoffs at our faith, for the world scoffed at our Lord first, and while the world was mocking Him and His followers, Jesus effected the salvation of the world. The Gospel spread regardless of every attempt to shut it down, and it spread because it is true and it is life-giving. The same Gospel that saved the disciples also saves us, and like the disciples, many people will mock, insult, and condescend. Even so, nothing – nothing –is greater or worth more than life in Jesus Christ, our Savior and our salvation.
The fruit of the world’s wisdom could not be more obvious. Whatever is touted as wisdom has turned out to be vanity. I am not advocating for a rejection of science and medicine, but I am pointing out that science and medicine, as they are currently construed, establish limits on what we will accept from Christ, and therefore, what we can give to others. As a result, we stymie the call of the Spirit within us “to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
We have received the Holy Spirit to share with every person we meet the God of hope, life in His love, and the fullness of His joy, and He wants to give them the same. No matter how great the darkness within or the despair that threatens to overwhelm, we have the Good News that what we see is not all there is. The best is found in what we cannot see, what is given to us by our Father.
Tell everyone you know that Jesus lives, and there is hope. There is always hope because life can begin anew any day and every day through the Spirit of God Who is poured out for all.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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