Sermon from 13th Dec 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (EHV)

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the afflicted.
He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release for those who are bound,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn,
    to provide for those who mourn in Zion,
    to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
    the oil of joy instead of mourning,
    a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit,
    so that they will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord to display his beauty.

Then they will rebuild ancient ruins.
They will raise up what was formerly devastated,
and they will renew ruined cities,
    which have been devastated for generations.
Yes, I am the Lord. I love justice.
I hate robbery in a burnt offering.
I will repay them in faithfulness,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring will be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples.
All who see them will recognize
    that they are offspring whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will rejoice greatly in the Lord.
My soul will celebrate because of my God,
for he has clothed me in garments of salvation.
With a robe of righteousness he covered me,
like a bridegroom who wears a beautiful headdress like a priest,
and like a bride who adorns herself with her jewelry.

11 For as the earth produces its growth,
and as a garden causes what has been sown to sprout up,
so God the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up
    in the presence of all the nations.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we rejoice at the coming of the One on whom the Spirit rests: our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

No-one wants to be a loser. Losing means defeat, which leads to devastation and broken heartedness.

But, if everyone’s trying to be a winner, then there’s always going to be losers. In fact, even the winners may also become the true losers.

For example, imagine a husband and wife having an argument. Both are trying to win the argument because each of them are trying to get their own way. Each of them think they alone are right and the other is wrong. Each of them will try to impose their own will and rule and opinion over the other.

We do this because our own selfish nature wants to be more important, more valuable, more right, more intelligent, more influential, or more powerful than everyone else. It’s not our normal nature to be humble, or gracious, or submissive, or to serve others. Spiritually, our selfish nature wants us to become our own god where the world and everyone in it should obey us and bow to our own wants and desires.

Our self-centredness results in us not being able to correctly assess our own words, action, or motives. This means it doesn’t matter if we’re truly on the good and right side, because even if we’re wise and correct in our thinking and desires, we often want to be so influential that we’ll often use sinful methods to force our will and opinion onto others. We want to win at all costs, even at the cost of truth and decency and love. We’ll want to win, even at the cost of our relationships.

So, let’s say for example the wife wins this argument. She may now think of herself as the winner, but what has she won and lost in the process of winning?

In this case, she may have got her way, but she’s also broken the spirit of her husband who no longer wishes to serve her out of love and faithfulness, but out of fear and resentment. Their relationship may now be strained and no longer functions as harmoniously and as graciously it should. Therefore, even though she might think she’s won the argument and got her way, both people became losers because their relationship is now strained.

This game of winning and losing is played out in every marriage, every family, every friendship, every workplace, every congregation, and every community.

While much of the ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ may be subtle and might seem easy to dismiss or get over (at least that’s what we attempt to fool ourselves into thinking), the scars of winning and losing is highlighted in Isaiah’s words about all those who are ultimately labelled as losers: the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, the grieving, and all those with a faint spirit of timidity and fear.

As you consider your own life and relationships, and as you think back on how you’ve either won, or attempted to win, your arguments and discussions with those around you, do you come here today as a winner? As you consider your relationships within this congregation and across the parish, do you consider yourself as someone who’s won your arguments, got the better over other people, and feel vindicated by your words and actions? And if so, what have you lost in the process of winning?

Or do you come here as a loser? What or whom have you lost? What pain and heartache over strained relationships do you currently bear? How have you been broken or crushed or scarred? Who do you now struggle to love and forgive because of the pain and heartache you carry?

In this case, who will rescue and heal you from your loss? Who will serve as the one who brings the good news of reconciliation, wholeness, restoration, and peace to you? For any loser, surely the one who brings such a miracle of life and hope and peace to all of the losers of the world would be so valuable, that no-one would be worthy to untie this person’s sandals!

Well, for starters the person longed-for in this ancient word from Scripture could be the prophet Isaiah himself who brings hope and comfort to the exiles of Israel who were longing to be restored to their own nation and worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. The good news of their restoration would lift their flagging spirits and give them hope of their reconciliation with God, his holy land, and the intimacy of worshipping him in the Temple once more.

On the other hand, the one on whom the Spirit rests could also be referring to the restored nation of Israel itself who was chosen by God through Abraham to be a blessing to all nations, as surely any nation or community who would bring such good news of reconciliation and peace to a troubled and conflicted world could only be one led by the Spirit of God.

But, as Christians who long to hear what Jesus is doing in your life, you should know that ultimately, Scripture provides its own answer when St Luke records Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth to read from these very verses written on the scroll of Isaiah, and then says: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

So, while Isaiah and the nation of Israel could be the one referred to, this text find its definitive identity in the person of Jesus Christ; who is the One on whom the Spirit of God rests. He is the One who is anointed to proclaim the good news to all you poor losers.

Jesus Christ is the One who has been sent to bandage your broken hearts. He is the One who proclaims amnesty for any of you who are captive to sin and fear and pain. He is the One who proclaims the year of grace and jubilee to you through his forgiveness. He is the One who brings comfort to any of you who are grieving.

As the anointed One of God, Jesus is authorised to tell you the good news that you’ve been forgiven, cleansed, made whole, restored, and reconciled with your God – not because he won any battle or argument over you (which would only cause you more pain), but he tells you this heavenly good news comes at the cost of his own losing for your sake.

Where everyone else wants to win and make you a loser, Jesus became the ultimate loser by willingly giving up his life for you so that you would win the prize of righteousness, salvation, and peace. You become the winner through his loss, and you receive all his love, mercy, grace, and blessing, simply through believing his words of promise.

This means when you were baptised and believed in Jesus, you received all the benefits of Christ’s obedience, suffering, death and resurrection through faith. You’re no longer a loser who is isolated and beaten and defeated. You’ve been welcomed into the royal family of God with all the heavenly benefits!

It also means, whenever you receive the broken body of your Lord into your mouth, and drink his innocent blood, peace and wholeness become yours through faith.

In this way there are no losers here. You become victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and are healed from all your scars, by trusting the words of your Lord and Saviour. You no longer need to fear any more loss, because what you have received through faith can’t be taken away from you. Through faith you receive forgiveness for all of your sins, reconciliation with God himself, and life eternal where you’ll get to see the fullness of what Christ has won for you: your full reconciliation and restoration to God.

But there’s a twist you may not have seen coming.

Here, as you receive and trust the good news of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and as you receive the promised Holy Spirit, you also become one of those whom this precious text of Scripture speaks.

You see, you may come here as losers, but through faith you leave this place as restored winners. As you go from here, you’re sent by the Spirit into this broken and hurting world; not to get your own back or punish all those who attempt to win their little games of one-upmanship, but you go to them as a restored loser to proclaim the same good news of hope and peace and wholeness to them.

As forgiven and restored people of God through faith in your Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord now also rests on you. Like Christ himself, you don’t attempt to win any arguments or play as God’s police force in the world, but you instead reflect the love and light of God to a hurting and bewildered world.

You’re sent out by God to your family and those around you, not to point to yourself as anyone special, but to point to Jesus, who is their only true hope and peace and life. The Holy Christian Church therefore, as a community of people who gather to be made whole and holy by Christ, is the messenger of forgiveness, grace, and love to a world filled with losers.

As those filled with the Spirit of Jesus (who was willing to lose for your sake), you’re also content to lose, because even if you lose, no-one can take away what you’ve won through faith in Jesus. Since you’ve already received the victory prize of what Jesus has done for you, nothing and no-one can take these heavenly blessings from you, no matter how much else you lose in this life.

This means your conversations after worship, and your conversations with people through the week, would change as you no longer need to win, but you instead look for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are hurting or struggling or losing.

Therefore, as holy and loved children of God who have received such good news which believes you’ve been healed and restored to wholeness and life through faith in Jesus, is it possible you could also say:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the afflicted. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit, so that they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord to display his beauty.”?

Then may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.