Sermon for Epiphany III, Year C

January 23, 2022

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 56, 8-10              Psalm 19                              1 Corinthians 12:12-31a                 Luke 4:14-21

          We began today’s worship with a collect asking God for the grace to “answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.”  This past week Gene Crawford recommended a book to me, Chasing Francis, which I read and would very much like to use for a book study. It is a fictional story of a minister who experiences a crisis of faith and goes on a pilgrimage to learn about St. Francis of Assisi. 

          I don’t intend to do a book review this morning, though I would like you to read it and let me know if you’d be interested in participating in a book study.  The real reason I bring it up is because, like the book I talked about last week The Dream of God, it challenges us to consider how we might answer the call of our Savior Jesus Christ to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation. 

          Both books have me thinking about what it truly means to be the church and to be the custodians of this sacred space.  True ministry takes place in the world in which we live – and with the exception of me (and Cathy), the members of St. Paul’s do not live on church property.  You live in the world where as the prayer says, “we live and move and have our being.”  You live in what some would call “the mission field.”  I’ll say more about this in a minute. 

Last week I also read a portion of a sermon my father once preached in which he said, “We are gathered here in the Lord’s house. This is a holy and hallowed place. Much has taken place here. We were baptized, joined the church here, some were married here, our loved ones have been buried from here.”  I look around this church and know this to be a sacred space filled with memories of these events for many of us.  And, I know this to be a place where many come to experience God’s presence.  God is everywhere and can be felt in the beauty of creation and the expression of love shared among family, friends, and strangers – but coming into St. Paul’s helps us set aside the distractions in our lives.  When we walk through the red doors we feel God’s presence more clearly.  The altar, the windows, the candles all direct our attention to God in ways that words do not.

Likewise, our liturgy can speak to our souls as we participate in rituals that are a part of the fabric of time eternal.  The key word here is “participate.”  Even if we sit in silence, our senses draw us into a holy place.  This holy space and our liturgy is full of our humanity – our questions and our doubts.  I am of the belief that a curious mind is a gift from God and that all good relationships involve curiosity.  It is the mark of a healthy relationship when we seek to know more about one another.  Seeking answers about God and God’s will for us is a sign that we are on a journey with God – a journey that brings us here and that follows us into the world in which we live. 

In our scriptures for today, the people of Israel are gathered in the square by the Water Gate inside of Jerusalem. They, as a people, have just returned to this sacred city, their ancestral home, after having been in exile in Babylon.  They do what we are doing this morning. They hear and respond to the scriptures that are read, they give praise to God, and then they feast.  They celebrate this milestone in the lives of their people with worship and fellowship.   

In the gospel, too, the people are gathered for worship and Jesus is the one who reads from the scripture.  Reading from Isaiah he says, “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.”  He then tells the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

What is fulfilled is the good news he brings to the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.  It is the same good news that we prayed for God’s grace to help us share.  God comes and lives among us not to be worshipped but to serve others.  Jesus shares the love of God with people who, I dare say would not feel worthy to step foot in St. Paul’s on Sunday morning, those who do not believe they would be welcomed, and those who cannot climb our steps.  God’s love needs to be shared in your world, which is your mission field, every day, and every time you have the chance to do so.  Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but he devoted his life serving those who are neglected and feel alone and sharing the good news that the peace of God, the Kingdom of God is here now.

How are we to do this, to share the good news?  How can we make a difference?  First, we must remember that God never asks us to do it alone.  St. Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, says the church is one body made up of many members.  We are all one in Christ and we are all important in the fulfillment of the church’s mission to serve others.  By using the analogy of the body to represent the importance of each member, Paul makes it clear that if one of us suffers, we all suffer.   We must care for one another to care for others. We need to celebrate the contributions of each and every member of our community of faith, and recognize that when everyone gives as they are able, we are walking the way of Christ.

My father’s sermon was preached in the 60’s when our nation was divided over race.  Our nation is again divided and the idea of working together to make a difference seems like a pipe dream.  My father spoke of his struggle to preach the gospel of inclusiveness and to be accepting of those with whom he disagreed – those who wished for Sunday mornings to remain segregated.  He said, “I need to ask God to forgive me and help me to look up – and love – and lift up others.”  Today, I want to close with the prayer he offered a the conclusion of his sermon. 

Let us pray.

 “God, I need thee every hour. Now and in these moments we all need thee to lead us on in the greater work of thy Church that we might help build the Kingdom of God. Fill us…mold us…make us…use us…in Christ’s Service.”  Amen.