- January 27, 2019
- 09:30 AM
Sermon for 27 January 2019 (Epiphany 3 Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Nehemiah 7.73b, 8.1-3,5-6,8-12; Psalm 19:7-14; Luke 4.14-21
Title: Anointed to Bring Good News
“Nehemiah said to the people, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions … to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8.10).
Mr. Senior Warden, Madam Junior Warden, members of the Vestry, my fellow Saint Marians, I am glad to report that the state of our parish is strong!
Will we actually hear the on-again / off-again State of the Union address this year? No one seems to know. But we CAN most certainly talk about the state of our parish. Thanks be to God! It is strong, and growing stronger all the time.
Now, please, hold your applause. Everyone is eager to get next door for the delicious food waiting for us.
But seriously now, Saint Mary’s IS healthy and strong. This is quite noteworthy when we look at the context in which we find ourselves.
We face powerful headwinds that are beyond our control. We are living among people who describe themselves in surveys as one of the least faith-oriented societies in modern times. And we live in an era of human history where the need for God is becoming relegated ever farther to the margins of existence.
In addition, our American society is dealing with profound levels of distrust and anger, isolation and division. These forces make it more difficult to share life together as the church of Jesus Christ, coming together to celebrate, to honor and to serve God in unity of spirit and purpose.
In the face of these challenges, we ARE moving forward. Now, are we perfect? Of course not. Do we make mistakes – as individuals and as a community? Absolutely we do. But are we moving forward in ministry and mission? Without a doubt, we are.
This will be the seventh Annual Meeting that I have shared with all of you here at Saint Mary’s, and this year marks the first time in our era together that we will celebrate the conclusion of a year in a break-even position.
Thanks to all of your dedication, we finished 2018 in the black! (We’ll speak more on that when we get next door.) Now, this is one small indicator of health and strength within this community, and there are more.
We are continually looking for new ways to celebrate God together, to honor Christ in one another, and to serve others in the power of the Spirit. We have been doing all of these things, but there is much, much more to be done.
After his baptism, and after his testing in the wilderness, Jesus went back home. He was ready to start. Ready to act. But, notice, what did he do first?
He went to worship. As – Was – His – Custom. As he always did, he gathered with folks to worship God in community. And he taught in the synagogues.
On this particular Sabbath in Nazareth, very early in his public life, the Master stood up to read and to teach. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He searched through it until he found just the right passage. And he read those words that have been described as the mission statement of the Church!
We understand these words to the Lord’s own self-description, mediated through the prophet Isaiah. But if that is true, then they speak also to the life of the Body of Christ which carries on his spiritual DNA, and passes it along from generation to generation.
So I ask you to find that Gospel passage in your bulletin, or to look on with someone next to you, because we are going to read it aloud together.
And we will read it out loud, not only because of what it tells us about our Jesus himself, but because of what it also tells us about ourselves! Are you ready? Together, please, these words from Isaiah:
“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.”
Now, wait just a minute! The Spirit of the Lord is upon who? Let me hear you say it! Upon who? “Upon ME.” That’s right, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you!
You know that our Presiding Bishop has spent the last few years reminding us that we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
What a profound insight that is. Because, after all, Jesus did not build an institution. He launched a movement! A revolutionary movement of people who agree to join him in his work! A movement that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to challenge and overcome those forces that keep the poor and the oppressed in their place, that keep folks locked away in prison, that keep the blind in darkness.
This is a movement that has always been turning the world upside down, beginning on that very first Sabbath day in Nazareth!
This movement is what we call the Church. But Church is not primarily about what we believe. Lots of people have gotten that wrong over the last few hundred years.
Don’t misunderstand: our core beliefs are important. Vitally important, because they shape how we view the world. But we need to remember that “Church” is a verb! It’s a movement. It’s what we DO.
And as this Jesus Movement, we ask ourselves over and over again: Who are we?
What are we doing to bring good news to the poor? To proclaim release to those bound in captivity? What are we doing to bring recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free? What are we doing to let everyone know that this is the time of God’s favor, the time of God’s grace and mercy?
Far too often we are timid and afraid, far more concerned about not offending anyone, not hurting anyone’s feelings, rather than having deep concern for the movement of God!
When we live and act in the way of Jesus, with the presence of God always first in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts, then nothing matters more to us than the mission of God and the reign of God.
So my fellow Saint Marians, my fellow disciples: the state of our parish is strong. God gets all the credit for this goodness! We are strong, but we have a lot more work to do. This health and strength has not been given to us so that we can pat ourselves on the back, so that we can rest now on our laurels.
Oh no! The health and strength in our parish family has been given by God so that we can stretch and grow and reach even more people with the transforming love of God in Christ.
This is what we DO when we BE the Church.
And we do all of this with joy, because we are never acting alone. As Nehemiah explained so long ago, the joy of the Lord is our strength.
So are you ready to keep moving forward together as the Jesus Movement, to BE the church in this time and place? Let’s make it happen. Amen.