Jesus accepted his Messianic mission in his home church at the Nazareth synagogue after reading from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19 KJV).
The anointing of the Lord in our lives is cast in today’s Bible readings within the rich history of anointings throughout human existence since time immemorial. The sacramental anointings continuing in the rituals of today’s church celebrate the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit to persist in carrying out the mission of Jesus in every generation.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on March 19, 2023, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
Bible Readings for the 4th Sunday in Lent:
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors]
Several Hebrew words in the Old Testament are translated into versions of the English word “anoint.” The most frequently used refers to consecrating someone or something for a particular purpose, such as in today’s reading from 1 Samuel, where David is consecrated to become the King of Israel. One refers to thriving and success, as it is used in the Psalm, “thou anointest my head with oil” (Psalm 23:5 KJV). Another word similarly alludes to the healing and saving grace, as used by the prophet:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing. (Isaiah 10:27 KJV).
This usage reminds us of the Great Invitation of Jesus:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 KJV).
The Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as forms of the English word “anoint” shift their emphasis to even more spiritual senses of consecration and providence, and salvific healing. We often quote the admonition of St. James in his letter,
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15 KJV).
Consider how many of these ideas are brought together in the New Testament Greek word “chrisma” as used by St. John in his letter to all Christians translated in the New Revised Standard Version:
As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 4:27 NRSV).
The anointing of the Holy Spirit is a part of our daily lives and relationships.
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13 KJV)
The Holy Spirit came upon David. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon the gathered believers at Pentecost and then has continuously been poured on all those who come to believe, including us. The promise of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit will eventually be poured out to everyone. Through this spiritual chrisma (anointing) comes the distribution of our chrisms (spiritual gifts). Our calling and consecration are empowered and led by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our personal and corporate lives.
Even in the most unlikely circumstances, God anoints us abundantly.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psalm 23:5 KJV)
Even in the presence of our enemies, referring to our most difficult times and places in life, God is present to bless us and strengthen us, and see us through. Constantly throughout our lives, God is present with guidance, providence, and love. We affirm with the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6 KJV). The Holy Spirit moves within us and among us, and blesses those around us through each of us and through our faith community
We might not know how or why God has anointed us, but we do experience the effects.
He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. (John 9:25 KJV)
Paul noted in his letter to the Corinthians that “not many wise… not many mighty… not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26 KJV). Jesus used the metaphor of the wind in talking with Nicodemus. He pointed out that we can’t see the wind blowing, but we can hear it and see its effects. “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” he explained (John 3:8 NRSV). No one knows ahead of time what our lives have in store…”So do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus encouraged (Matthew 6:34 NRSV). Each day we trust and learn and grow and move forward and discover more about life and love and spirituality. Our spiritual gifts and callings are a discovery to be explored throughout this eternal life.
We are anointed to please God.
Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10 KJV)
Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10 NRSV)
Note this important difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Under the Old Testament, the prevailing thought was that we should find out what was not pleasing to the Lord, and try to keep from doing that. People thought they should try to appease God and keep from doing anything that might make God mad because they were afraid God might reign down terrors of wrathful vengeance on them for the least infractions. Under the New Testament, (although some people still have that Old Testament view), we are encouraged to find out what God likes and do that, not from fear but from love as our response to the great love we are realizing God has for us and for all, as Jesus demonstrated.
Humanity was assigned at Creation (anointed, consecrated in a manner of speaking) to be stewards of the earth, according to the Bible in the first two chapters of Genesis. Learning how to take good care of God’s world, or vineyard as Jesus used to say in his parables, is one way of pleasing God. That includes the environment, our fellow creatures, and each other. Jesus prayed in the garden, “Not my will, but thine, be done,” (Luke 22:42 KJV), and taught us the same principle in the Lord’s Prayer. Reconciling ourselves with God and humanity, even when it sometimes means sacrifice and compromise, is part of the discovery process as we, in the Message paraphrase of this verse, “Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it” (Ephesians 5:10 MSG). The key verse in the whole Bible for unlocking the mystery of what pleases God is this all-encompassing commandment Jesus gave, “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34 KJV).
Fanny Crosby, in her hymn, “I am Thine, O Lord,” alluded to our being anointed by the Lord,
Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
By the pow’r of grace divine;
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in Thine.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Image: "Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam" by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York City. From Vanderbilt Divinity Lectionary Library