01.24.10

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1.24.10 sermon notes

I Cor. 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21

1.  Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been in the season of Epiphany as a time of ‘revelation’ and how Jesus is being ‘revealed’ to the world in Luke’s gospel.  At each point in the story, something about Jesus’ identity, his power and authority in the world, and his vocation as the messiah, the anointed one has been revealed. And this week, as Jesus preaches in the synagogue, we hear Jesus himself not only affirm that identity but also reveal his mission statement.

“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 then, returning to his seat he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I expect that it took a while for the full impact of what Jesus had just said to those gathered to sink in. And as we’ll hear in next week’s gospel, the reaction of the congregation was not entirely positive.

Jesus’ mission statement proclaimed using the words of Isaiah –It’s pretty clear, and it’s consistent with the rest of his ministry as we see it in Luke – caring for the poor, the sick, the captives, the lost, the forgotten. And what about us?  Paul tells us that we are Christ’s body in the world now. How consistent are we with the mission of the one we claim to follow? Have we lost our way from the course Jesus set in this inaugural address? As Robert M. Brearley puts it, “we have buildings, budgets, staff, and members, but do we have the power of the Holy Spirit?” Could we walk into our churches on Sunday and proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” or on us? Several writers have interesting responses. First, Ernest Hess speaks of our current interest in leading lives of “purpose,” helped by Rick Warren’s best-seller, “The Purpose-Driven Life.” Hess observes: “Citations from Scripture fill this book, dozens in every chapter, which makes it even more surprising and troubling that Luke 4:14-21 is never quoted. Apparently, this succinct and powerful statement of Jesus’ own purpose is not considered relevant for informing a Christian’s “purpose-driven life.”  And Carol Lakey Hess invites us to consider Jesus’ words here as a kind of “plumb line” to which “we should keep coming back to this text to measure our work….The primary question is not so much, what does God demand for righteousness? It is, rather, who needs attention and compassion?” I think Hess is right on when she speaks of “[w]hatever we take to be the heart of the gospel” that “will be the central shaping force in our life of faith.”

Are we so busy running our churches that we forget to be open to the Spirit of God among us? How are we living out the heart of the gospel in our lives and as a community?  Where do we need to seek peace and reconciliation and move forward?

v.1. Come now, O Prince of Peace, make us one body. Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.

2. Paul speaks about the way a community is made up of unique individual parts who come together for a larger purpose – like a body.  And not only are we more effective when we work together, we need each other.  We’re not made to do this alone.  Understandably, there has been so much news coverage of Haiti these past few weeks, and I have appreciated hearing about the moments of beauty and hope that continue to emerge in the midst of so much tragedy. I heard a story on NPR the other day about a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that was not as badly damaged, but was still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake. The community has no power, and people are afraid to go into their homes in the event of more tremors. They have set up in the street, lighting candles and singing together looking somewhat like a cross between a street party and a refugee camp.  The reporter talked with a 28-year-old telecommunications student there who has taken it upon himself to walk the crowd every night and make sure everyone’s okay. He’s become the head of the impromptu neighborhood watch. He said that the reason they organized this camping area is because a lot of prisons were destroyed. In his words, “Now there are crooks, murderers and thieves everywhere. So we want to watch everybody. You’ve got these guys roaming at night. We want to see who’s coming in and out of the neighborhood.”  And the communal body has other parts as well who have emerged during this time of great need.  Somebody tapped into the water line in the middle of the street and installed a spigot for communal washing and drinking. And cooks share their rice and beans and plates of tomato and chicken. And to pass the time, they sing sacred music.

v.2. Come now, O God of Love, make us one body. Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.

3. Paul doesn’t just talk about the Christian community as a body:  he turns the body metaphor on its head.  In the Greco-Roman world in which Paul wrote, the body metaphor was not new. It was often used to reinforce hierarchies, making the head more important than the “lesser parts”, identifying the clear differences between the parts of a system, but making it clear that some were far superior to others.  But here, Paul is doing something very different that would be been quite subversive in his time.  Yes, the body is made up of many parts.  But we all are made to drink of one Spirit. And what we tend to think of as the lesser members are given a place of honor. Every part is important.  But not every part is the same, and that is ok.  Our differences can be appreciated – even celebrated.

This is a relatively small example in the grand scheme of life,

but when I was in college, I worked at an Eddie Bauer clothing store. After I learned how to clock in, Day 1 training was all about folding shirts.  My manager showed me many many times and watched me attempt the delicate art of long-sleeve vs. short sleeve. There were diagrams, and I had a special plexi-glass folding board to ensure that each and every shirt looked identical on the shelf. There was only one way to do this right.

I felt so constrained by this and annoyed by the attention to detail.  But then, I realized that in my own life at home, I did the same thing.  The only difference was that it was my way. Mom – laundry – refolding. I bet if I had three towels here and invited 3 of you to come up here and fold them, each of you would probably do it differently.  But ultimately, aren’t all the towels folded? What good does it do anyone to worry about how they are folded?  I said this was small in the grand scheme, but you can see how we do this in other areas of life too, right?  The point being that the purpose is accomplished even if we have different ways of going about it.  Why do we think we all have to do it the same way? How can we feel free to express our God-given gifts and not allow others to hold us back? Why do we feel so threatened when someone else exercises their gifts in a different way? Why do we try to hold them captive to our way of being and doing things? Aren’t we better able to bring good news to the poor and imprisoned and ailing when each of us are freed to faithfully do it our own way? Doesn’t the body function better when we let go a little bit?

v.3 Come now and set us free, O God our Savior. Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile all nations.

4. All of which brings us back to who Jesus is, what he preaches, and how that message shapes us today, as those who claim to be his disciples. Was Jesus “just” a really good preacher, someone whose sermons moved people, at least for the moment, or was he much more than that?  Renita Weems observes that in this sermon “Jesus was claiming to be more than a rabbi. He claimed that he was God’s agent of promised salvation.” And this salvation, scholars of Luke’s Gospel assert, is often described as, or at least facilitated by, “opening the eyes of the blind” or “restoring sight to the blind.” Yes, there are stories of such healing on two levels: sometimes Jesus actually made a physically blind person see, but other times he had the much more difficult task of getting the spiritually blind to open their eyes to the truth.

Perhaps it’s too easy to read this text and assume that we would have reacted differently than the crowd that day, gathered around Jesus on the Sabbath. On our Sabbath, we go to church and often hear a similar message, and yet, when we leave our houses of worship and return to the world beyond our walls, have we closed our eyes to what is really happening?

Indeed, the churches have spent so much energy and time in arguing over that which is not at the heart of the gospel, or even goes against its core message, that we have squandered resources, both physical and spiritual, for living the gospel itself. And notice that it is not only justice that matters, or inclusion, it’s spiritual healing and wholeness: it’s salvation that we are about, and not just in the sense of earning our way to heaven or persuading others to accept our beliefs. It’s about restoration and reconciliation of the body – the whole body. Some speak of the balance of a “ministry that is both one of justification and one of justice. It has been difficult for the church to hold these ministries together….The sight Jesus brings is meant for those made blind for lack of vitamin A and for those blind to the love and grace of God.” And if we focus too much on one and not the other, we miss the opportunity to minister to the entirety of God’s children and to address both their spiritual and physical needs.

These two texts boldly proclaim that We ARE the body of Christ, anointed by the Spirit of God to proclaim good news to the poor. And these words HAVE BEEN fulfilled in our hearing. We just have to work together, get out there, and act like it.

v. 4.Come Hope of unity, make us one body.  Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile all nations.

Amen.

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