Sermon for March 6, 2022

First Sunday in Lent, Luke 4:1-13

Luke reports that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan” where he had been baptized by John and where the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove while he was praying.

What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? You may know that my Ph.D. is in the field of Christian Spirituality. Thus, I’ve expended a great deal of time and energy considering what it might mean to be full of the Spirit.

When I taught at the seminary, and in other ministry settings, I often heard students and others say things like, “I really felt the Holy Spirit today.” And I would ask them what specifically did they mean by that? Most could not respond with specifics about the actual qualities or attributes of being full of the Holy Spirit.

For many, to be full of the Spirit is to have strong feelings and passions. Or to be in the Spirit is to depart from an established agenda, as in the freedom of the Spirit.

Spirit, of course, has to do with spirituality. And when it’s all said and done, spirituality these days may mean everything and nothing. Viewpoints are all over the religious maps. Thus, for Christians interested in the question of what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, we are beckoned back to our original sources, namely the scriptures, the word of God.

There we learn a great deal if we look closely enough, for example, in today’s gospel reading from Luke, the story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil during Jesus’ forty day in the wilderness.

To cut to the chase, according to Luke’s reporting, it seems that being full of the Holy Spirit basically involves being full of the scriptural word of God. For every time the devil presented Jesus with a particular temptation or test, Jesus replied by offering a scriptural passage.

When, in response to the extreme hunger from fasting, the devil said to Jesus, “If you are he Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” Jesus answered by citing a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

When the devil tempted Jesus with giving him authority over all the dominions of the world if only Jesus would worship the devil, Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God; the Lord alone shall you serve.”

When the devil tempts Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple to prove that he’s God’s Son, the devil himself quotes scripture at Jesus, namely, portions of Psalm 91. Jesus counters the devil’s scripture drawing from another passage from Deuteronomy, again in chapter 6, verse 16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Again, this exploration suggests that a principal quality of being full of the Holy Spirit, at least according to Luke, is to be full of the scriptural word of God, that is to say, to have the capacity to draw on God’s word and its strength and its objective claims when times get tough, that is, in times of trial, testing, and temptation.

And this is not about using the Bible as a weapon to proof text our own agendas with bits and pieces of scriptural language. Even the devil engaged in such biblical combat with Jesus by quoting Psalm 91 at him. No, to be full of the word of God is the fruit of long seasons of dwelling with that scriptural word, hearing it in worship, studying it at home, even memorizing crucial passages so that the word is incorporated into us. Then we become, as it were, living concordances such that we can draw from the deep wells of scriptural wisdom even when we are weakest and most liable to fall prey to temptations. In short, it’s not about using scripture as a weapon, but more about employing God’s word as a shield of protection, where the dynamic power of God expresses itself through the scriptures.

The apostle Paul captures the essence of what it means to be thoroughly immersed in the divine word in today’s reading from Romans. Paul writes: “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” This word leads to confession of belief, that is, to faith, to trust, and faith connects up with justification and salvation such that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (cf. Romans 10:8b-13) All of this results from our abiding in close proximity with the word, on our lips and in our hearts. The intersections between word and the speech of our lips and the deep places of heart and mind are precisely where the Spirit is living and active and present in fullness via the word.

By citing the scriptural word of God from Deuteronomy, Jesus revealed his trust in the divine word, he who himself is the word of God in the flesh. Thus, in essence Jesus called on the name of the Lord which made for Jesus’ capacity to withstand the trials and tests of the devil.

Like Jesus in his wilderness sojourn, we are surely burdened by our own times of testing, trial and temptation in wilderness journeys. Lent, a season of 40 days that parallels Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness, is an occasion to gain heightened awareness of our captivity to our own brokenness in the wilderness of our lives when we are most prone to succumbing to temptation.

And it’s clear that our wilderness journeys are not limited to these 40 days of Lent. For the past two years, and now entering into a third year, we have endured crisis upon crisis upon crisis in our troubled world: the pandemic and its upheavals and upending of routines and taking of unthinkably huge numbers of lives; racial injustice that filled the streets with protests; the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a riot at the Capitol on January 6 a year ago that almost prevented the peaceful transfer of power after an election; continued divisiveness in our society and world; and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which may usher in a new Cold War or worse.

We are worn down and tired and prone to succumbing to temptations of one sort or another, a big one being the temptation to lose hope for any kind of meaningful future.

But we are not without help in these times of trial. We, too, are full of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are full of God’s word. That is to say, we are full of grace, and the liberating gospel that frees us from captivity to sin, Christ leading the way in our own wilderness journeys, accompanying us as the very word of God made flesh, the power of his Spirit unleashed through that word as a fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Think of our time together on Sunday mornings when we are full of the Spirit by being full of the word. Our whole time together is bathed in the word of God from beginning to end – four readings from scripture; liturgical texts and songs and hymns that are either based on scripture or are often elaborations on scriptural themes. Then there’s the acting out of scriptural stories in our sacramental life together – baptism and baptismal remembrance, absolution, the Eucharist. Our whole time together is modeled on scriptural tradition.

Take for example, the story in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. This passage is basically a set of instructions for worship, for how to give an offering of thanksgiving to the priests of old. These rubrics instruct God’s people to tell again the story of forty years of wandering in the wilderness on the way to the promised land and how God was leading all the way.

Once the story is told again, then the offering of first fruits of the ground can be made to the priest and the people worship God by bowing down. Then all the people together – with the priests and even the aliens residing among the people – celebrate the bounty of God’s blessings.

That’s the basic pattern of what we do here each and every Sunday. We assemble before God; we tell the story of salvation; gifts are offered at this table; and we all share God’s bounty in the richness of a simple meal of bread and wine which makes known to us the real and abundant presence of the resurrected Christ.

And then with our leave-taking back into the world, this abundance is shared also with others, aliens, as it were, not of our fold but who benefit from our generosity in the various community organizations which we financially support.

Do you see the parallels? What we do here reveals, in the spirit of Luke’s gospel, what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit. It is to be so abundantly full of God’s sacred word in Christ that we are strengthened to meet the trials and tests of our wilderness journeys and then to have enough abundance left over to share with everyone, even those beyond our fold.

Thus, full of the Spirit, full of the word, let us continue our wilderness journey in God’s abundance, sharing with all in a needy, desert world. Thanks be to God. Amen.