The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Jesus is on the loose now. The Holy Spirit is all over him – at the river Jordan when God claims him; hanging with him in the wilderness when Satan tempts him; traveling companion when he goes to hometown, Nazareth. Son of God is also Son of Synagogue, faithfully in worship. They know him there, but not as teacher and healer. Guest preachers from afar sound more brilliant than local ones. When I go off and preach somewhere, people actually say they like what I say. “What will Jesus say to us? What tricks will he do? He is our boy.”
The presider hands Jesus the scroll of Isaiah. He unrolls it. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Then he reads Isaiah’s words spoken to exiles, hoping God remembers them. Jesus deliberately reads the divine mission of reconciliation and reclamation: “good news to the poor; release captives; set free the blind and oppressed.” Jesus returns the scroll and sits. Silence again – “And yes Jesus – what else?” “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” People matter to God, all people, especially with those who can’t add any value to lives.
Do you know this is our mission too? Many churches have forgotten. They think God wants us to fill pews, add members, come up with enough money, make church comfortable. Close, but not it. That’s not Jesus’ mission, nor ours. It’s bigger. The church shapes us for mission, to take and be the good news to all Jesus comes for. How well do you think we’re doing?
We value our relationships in this church. You are warm and welcoming to all who enter. We pray to see God in all others, and treat each other with love and compassion. All of this is critical. Jesus’ mission is also relational – pushing us outside these walls, to do this for others. In parts of the Anglican Communion, some think they know who God welcomes and doesn’t; who’s blessed and who’s cursed. In the Episcopal Church we affirm God’s love and our welcome to all who want to be here. Archbishop William Temple said a century ago, “The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Jesus opens our eyes and hearts to see the world of the poor, oppressed, captives, and blind – to set free, heal and reconcile those who feel alienated, hurt and think they don’t belong. That’s the mission: reconciliation and reclamation. As Presiding Bishop Curry says, the church’s inclusion is as wide and as generous as the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross. If we focus on ourselves only, we become complacent, boring, and irrelevant. We are to go where people are– into our neighborhoods, the church neighborhood, at the water cooler, with people we already know. To neglect mission is a sure path to demise. Our reason for being is to engage and invite people into the life of God. Maybe they’ll actually come to church. We won’t know if we don’t go.
God runs a strange economy. When we focus on others’ hurts, hopes and concerns, we grow and prosper. Presiding Bishop Curry says think of Easter Sunday morning. An angel says, “Dudes, catch up with Jesus who is waiting for you. He’s up, and loose in the world again. Meet him in Galilee.” Jesus waits for us to go and meet those he’s already with – those who hunger for joy, hope and meaning – for what we have found here. Out there is our Galilee. Sometimes I wonder if we really believe that.
Our mission is to listen, not fix people – to be with people who matter to God, those who live physically and spiritually deprived, people held captive to the wrong gods, the blind, the stranger, your neighbor or family member. Others are doing this, and we can learn from them. The modern American church needs to step out of its fear and go – GO love one another. Jesus is all about this and the Holy Spirit empowers us with the passion to risk and do this. It’s our mission.
The first step, we cultivate gratitude in our lives. We begin by remembering all of us are sinners, forgiven by God with the cross of sacrificial love as our sign. Gratitude is a choice we have to make, a lens we choose, or don’t, to see the world and others. Gratitude grows from our relationship with God – God’s love, healing, a vision of world peace and justice where we all live in the loving grace of God’s reign. Out of gratitude we look for the good – not what is wrong. So, remember those who helped divine love find you, and you to divine love, to belong, to hear and learn you are God’s beloved, to move beyond shame and pain, find your fear is cast out? That’s transforming grace. Take some time this afternoon. Write down their names and how God touched and changed you through them. Maybe, if they are still alive, let them know. You will be overwhelmed with gratitude. And that’s the faith story you have to share. In that intersection, Jesus is present.
Our default position is to tinker with institutional things to fix the church. They are important – only to fine-tune us, see how we are doing, and breathe new life into us to go and “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
In October, 2007, I invited the vestry in here for the opening devotional of our first meeting together. Lights were turned low. We quieted ourselves before God, centering in the awareness of his presence already with us. I then invited us to open our eyes, look and imagine these pews filled with young and old, rich and poor, the blind and captive. I have not given up on this dream, nor should we. Giving up has never been in God’s vocabulary. God keeps loving us, and sending us. We are a people on mission of recovery and reclamation.
We begin the 178th year of this parish. And for those who wonder, no, I am not the founding priest of this parish – I just feel that way some days. We can do this. We have what we need, the people we need. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor, sends us to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the time of the Lord’s favor. We have all we need – WE CAN DO THIS!