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Sermon: Cathedral Eucharist - 24 January 2016

Sunday 24th January 2016
Cathedral Eucharist
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Luke 4: 14-21
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‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me’

+ In nomine Patris…

The great prophet Samuel set off one day to anoint a new king over Israel. The first king, Saul, had been an unmitigated disaster, as the LORD had warned, and so a new king was chosen.

Samuel’s task was to find the one God had chosen and to anoint him king over Israel.

This was a treacherous act. Anointing a new king, when the old one was not dead, implies regime change, and rulers and powers don’t like that.

Samuel filled a horn, - possibly a ram’s hollowed out horn - with pure olive oil and set out to find the new king.

He didn’t use a customary flask so as to be discreet, just so that the outgoing king, Saul, didn’t find out.

You can read the detail in the first book of Samuel. (1 Samuel 16.1-13) Suffice it to say Samuel uncovered the least likely candidate, as the LORD’s chosen, and that was David, the youngest of eight sons.

Samuel anointed David by pouring the oil over his head: David was the Anointed One, in Hebrew, Meshach, in Greek Christos, in English, Messiah or Christ.

The Sprit of the Lord was upon him; and he was anointed as king.

Many years later the prophet Isaiah spoke of the Spirit resting upon someone, someone who will spring from the stump or root, the family tree, if you prefer, of Jesse. And Jesse was the father of David, the Anointed One (Isaiah 11.1). The descending Spirit would be one of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Then, in a later part of Isaiah’s book we read what Jesus read from the scroll in the synagogue that day:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me; (Isaiah 61.1a)

Isaiah describes one who is anointed for a purpose. Being anointed is not an end in itself or a cause for self-satisfaction: it is a commission, a sending, to proclaim to bring to liberate.

He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…release of the captives and proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4.18-19)

This is the messianic promise and challenge. This is what being anointed means.

Our first reading shows that anointed life as being in baptism and in the Spirit:

‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body
– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free –
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12.12)

The scriptures today give us the empowering, liberating theme of the anointing power of the Holy Spirit.

This gift is both personal to you and me, and corporate, to us as the Church.

Baptism is the possibility, promise and challenge of being anointed by the Holy Spirit.

One of the beautiful actions at baptism is the act anointing with oil. This very action performed on prophets, priests and kings, it draws us into the royal priesthood of the Church (1 Peter).

Oil is the wonderful, sensual symbol of this, and like all true symbols it speaks beyond itself.

Oil soothes. If ever you have dry, cracked or gnarled skin, oil will soothe it and relieve it. The anointing Spirit of the Lord has the same effect on dry, cracked and gnarled human hearts, softening, soothing and freeing them.

Oil lubricates. To undo an overtightened screw just needs a drop of oil. So oil releases and eases things that might not work otherwise. The anointing Spirit of the Lord releases. She opens up apparently intractable situations, allows stony hearts to flow with living water. Anointing means that possibilities open up for things to change.

Oil gives light. Before electricity oil has been fuel for lamps. The anointing Spirit literally in-spires us, ignites, kindles, fuels us, to proclamation, service and vision. The anointed one brings recovery of sight to the blind. As the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus says,

‘Enable with perpetual light,
The dullness of our blinded sight’
This is talking about enlightened hearts.

Oil heals. You might recall that the Good Samaritan on finding the man beaten and dying by the roadside bound up his wounds (Luke 10.34) after first pouring oil and wine into them. Olive oil is known for its healing properties.

So it’s little wonder that the Holy Spirit is associated with anointing: for the Spirit soothes and is balm to the heart; she lubricates and releases; enlightens, heals and gladdens the heart.

This is the Holy Spirit that rests on and in the Anointed One, Jesus Christ.

And what Jesus declared at Nazareth he bestows upon us at baptism. Through water and the Spirit we are born again and the Spirit anoints us.

In the context of baptism the anointing oil touches us as prophets, priests and kings. In the words of the Jesuit, James Quinn, in his contemporary translation of the Veni Creator Spiritus,that ancient hymn used at ordination and confirmation,

As once on Christ the Servant’s head
the oil of sevenfold grace you shed,
so now anoint from love’s deep springs
your chosen prophets, priests and kings.

The Eucharist draws us together, and sends us out, as a royal, prophetic and priestly people. Now, we draw down this anointing power as we gather at the table of Jesus Christ.

Lord, send you Holy Spirit

on this bread,
on this wine,
on your people.

The Church is called to be bound together as one, and so is human society bound together like the oil and flour that bound together, made small cakes for the prophet Elijah, and the widow of Zarephath who hosted him. The oil and flour were inexhaustible, carried on feeding them him and her and sustained them beyond their expectations. (1 Kings 17.8-16)

We gather now, as God’s anointed ones: sharing in the life of Christ; drawing on the life of Christ; feeding on the life of Christ and anointed by the inexhaustible Holy Spirit. For she anoints us and, in the words of the 23rd psalm, we say,

You spread a table before me …
you have anointed me with oil,
and my cup shall be full. (Psalm 23.5)

That day, in the synagogue in Nazareth, the congregation heard the scripture fulfilled in their hearing.

Today, in this cathedral church in Guildford, may we in Christ’s name and anointing power find that we, too, are the fulfilment of this scripture.

© Andrew Bishop, 2016