The Spirit Has Horrible Boundaries
a sermon on the occasion of Rev. Lenny Duncan's installation as mission developer
All my sermon/prayer writing energy this week went into writing this sermon for Lenny Duncan. Many of you know Lenny from his book, Dear Church; A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in America or perhaps as my guest on The Confessional.
Lenny is being “installed” today as a church planter in Vancouver, Washington for a new worshipping community called The Jubilee Collective and asked if I would preach a sermon for the event.
The Spirit Has Horrible Boundaries
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 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 bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 16-21 NRSV)
Grace, Peace and Mercy are yours from the Triune God, Amen.
I just want to start by saying that it is truly an honor to be preaching at the installation of Rev. Lenny Duncan. A man brave enough … or depending on your perspective, foolish enough to answer the call to plant a church.
I mean, it’s not for everyone, the church planting business. It’s mostly for the otherwise unemployable. The ones who can’t really have bosses. The ones who don’t mind the highs being breathtakingly high and the lows being unspeakably low. But mostly it’s a job for people who have a van and don't mind setting up chairs pretty much all the time. Like forever all the time.
Now that I think of it, what it takes to be a successful church planter is eerily similar to what it takes to be a successful drug addict. So, like, who knew THAT was job training.
My friend Lenny assigned me Luke 4:16-21 for this sermon.
But I thought it might be ok in this situation to do an outlaw preacher thing and not stick to the verses I have been assigned. It’s not a massive transgression - just 3 little verses more. Because 3 verses earlier we learn the context for Jesus’ amazing sermon.
It’s like when you are about to watch your favorite TV show and they remind you what happened last week…
So, previously on The Adventures of Jesus:
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee
THAT’S the context for today’s episode:
When he came to Nazareth, he went to the synagogue as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled it and found where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. To bring good news to the poor and release to the captives.
So, I thought maybe we’d gossip for just a minute about That Spirit of the Lord – you know, like look up her IMBD page:
Because the Spirit that was upon Jesus as he preached good news to the poor and release to the captives, is The same Spirit, that hovered over the deep, that animated the words and actions of warriors and prophets and poets
The same Spirit, who strengthened Sampson and clothed Gideon and set Ezekiel on his feet and sent him to speak to a rebellious nation.
The same Spirit, who a repenting King prayed to not be taken from him.
The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus as he rose from a river and slapped a name tag on him that said “beloved”.
The same Spirit that descended upon those of every nation with a Pentecostal fire.
That’s her, Lenny, this is the same Spirit who calls forth the preaching of freedom.
But I wanted to start 3 verses earlier and look up her IMBD page lest we forget that The spirit of the Lord that was upon Jesus as he preached this banger of a first sermon is the same chick who led him into the wilderness in the first place.
So what I am saying is, preaching freedom is cool, but it takes some wilderness to get there.
It takes some temptations to get there.
It takes some tension, some resistance and some repentance to get there.
Because it was only AFTER going a few rounds with the devil, that he departed from him.
Then THEN Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit went about his ministry.
And like, who knew THAT would be job training.
But it is. And maybe it always has been
So, Messiah Lutheran/Jubilee collective, may you remember that it is Lenny’s poverty and not his wokeness that allows him to preach good news to the poor, to the unemployed, the underrepresented, the undervalued. Good news to the undocumented, the unseen, and unconsidered.
May you remember that it is every day he spent in jail and not every day he spent on book tour that calls forth the preaching of release to the wrongly accused, to the ones too poor for cash bail, and to those serving mandatory minimums set by the bolstered political careers of golf course owners.
It is the Spirit that makes liberation preaching possible … she just doesn't make it easy.
So yes, the highs of church planting can feel like River Jordan, doves all over the place highs…moments you know there’s a sweet sweet Spirit in this place and you know it’s the spirit of the Lord.
And the lows of church planting can feel like some real rough wilderness, no sustenance in sight and the devil whispering an accusing “If you really” in your ear.
But you are never actually alone in the wildernesses, because The Spirit of the Lord still hovers over the deep. Even there. Even in pandemics and economic collapse and uncertainty. Even in our addictions and ego trips and self-hating diets. There is no place too low for her. And she will find you because, let’s be honest, she’s got terrible boundaries.
So in closing, I just want to give you the gentlest reminder, Lenny. I want more than anything for you to know that every single Gospel thing the Spirit gives you to proclaim to your people, she gives also unto you.
When you call them to repentance, the Spirt is calling you to also be changed.
When you remind them they are beloved – the Spirit means for you to hear it too.
When you proclaim release to captives, it is your own bondage that the Spirit is calling you out of.
So, may the preaching of your own sermons be fulfilled in your own hearing.
Because there is and has only ever been one real sermon. That we – every one of us - are all in the category of The Hungry, and Jesus is in the category of Bread.
And I honestly can’t say for sure, but if it helps when you are setting up one more chair, think to yourself, The Spirit of The Lord has sent me to set up these dang chairs. Amen.
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