NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON:
11:00 a.m., January 24, 2010
St. Andrew’s Old Roman Catholic Church
1st Lesson: Ephesians 2
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
“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. “
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
During the season of Epiphany, the time between advent, when we look forward to Jesus’ birth, and lent, when we look towards Calvary and beyond, we are offered the chance to walk with Jesus as he lives and works with the people of Middle East 2,000 years ago.
Last week we heard of the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry—the turning of water into wine at the marriage feast of Cannah. Christ began his work in community, sharing in the life of those around him. These weren’t strangers—he and his mother wouldn’t have been at the wedding feast if they didn’t know the bride and groom. Jesus’ miracle made it possible for a family on the verge of public humiliation to continue to show generosity and hospitality to those who came to share in a moment of joy.
Today we see this action, this caring for those around him, expanded. We hear Jesus announcing that there is something for everyone, that everyone is invited to the banquet of creation. Today we hear Jesus announce what he prematurely announced at the wedding feast—that God is with us and he can make all things new.
Today’s gospel sets out clearly the manifesto of Christianity—what we are called to do and who we are to most directly express God’s love for. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 and stated that the time for the kingdom of God, the shalom kingdom, is now, and that in this moment begins the rebirth of creation, the restoration of what was offered to all.
Jesus announced his care for those within creation, the poor and hungry and imprisoned and lonely and afraid—he did not announce immediate perfection but immanent compassion. He didn’t claim to be offering something new, other than hope, but reminded all those around him that their traditions, their vision of a good society included making sure that everyone was welcomed, everyone good live with dignity, everyone could live without fear.
This was good news promised by Isaiah and made real with the incarnation.
What was different to the ears of those around Jesus was that this wasn’t good news for only some people but for all people. It wasn’t only his friends and family that were called to the feast, but everyone. All people were included in the good news; if they were excluded it was up to those that heard the word to bring them in—to make sure that they had bread, had warmth, weren’t suffering due to illness or the actions of others. And, with his reference to the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee he called for something that had long be overlooked—personal and communal responsibility for the shared resources of creation. Every fifty years, the year of Jubilee, all debts were to be forgiven, the land given the change to renew itself, land and other goods returned to their original owners—Jesus stated that it was now time, like it would be fifty years later, for all things to be renewed, to be healed, to be shared again. It was a chance to start over again to build a right relationship with God, with one another and with all of creation. And it was reminder that this was a part of the covenant—an agreement between God and humanity. There was acknowledgement that we are less than perfect, that there is greed and wrong decisions as well as good well and compassion, and that every generation or two things need to be restored so that everyone can freely participate in the life of the community, everyone can have a chance to shape the future.
This taking on the shared task of ensuring that everyone in creation can share in the gifts of creation is not always easy. We can’t carry the burden of compassion on our own. But as Paul reminds us in today’s epistle, we aren’t on our own. We are part of a community of people that are able to put aside the customary social divisions and share a calling to service. We are not expected just to act but to be open to the grace of God so we can act with assurance and confidence that we are not alone in showing the potential of divine love revealed among us. Action alone isn’t sufficient to transform ourselves, let alone the world around us; it is only the presence of a sustaining, nurturing spirit that makes it possible for us to become near to acting justly, fairly, compassionately in the world.
We walk down the streets of any city and see hands stretched out for a little spare change. It is all too easy to develop calluses on our souls that blind us to the shared humanity that exists between us and the panhandler and which encourage us to forget that they share with us the good news promised by Jesus. Good news to the poor doesn’t start with spiritual salvation but food, housing and a chance to meaningfully contribute to the community. We know that there are people in prisons, know that the situation for these people is dehumanising and not rehabilitate and yet too often choose to deny that they share in our common humanity and therefore share with us the good news promised by Jesus. Good news to those imprisoned starts with the chance to transform their lives, being healed of the injuries they have sustained and provided with a chance to help with the healing of those they have harmed. For those feeling spiritually damaged, angry at the divine for their person reality good news doesn’t start with a potluck dinner or a victim/offender reconciliation programme but with a chance to find a new direction towards the divine. Jesus preached good news for all people based on what individuals need. Jesus preached a good news that is rooted in what different people actually need instead of a blanket offering.
And he preached something else important—that if we fail to achieve a just society, if we haven’t yet established the shalom kingdom, we aren’t to give up. Instead, we are to try again. We are to forever bring the love of God to life in new ways when we forget the old; to seek a new way to live in harmony with the physical creation, to share the abundance we’ve accumulated with those who have not done so. The acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee, is now and fifty years from now. With God’s grace we fill in the time between the jubilee where the spirit moves us to service, seeking the wisdom to know when we ourselves need sustenance and healing and the compassion and understanding to reach out to the individuals around us to preach the good news offered to them—peace in times of war; food in time of hunger; transformation in times of imprisonment; liberation in times of oppression—God with us in all times.