5th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead

And defeated the power of death,

Free us from its fear

And give us life forevermore.

Amen.

……………………………….

 

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life.

Everybody!

That’s why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Makes a joke about it being 42.

That’s why we started a class

Called God and The Good Place.

Because everybody – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics,

Watchers of television –

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life

So that they can live a meaningful life.

We may disagree, though,

About what makes life

Meaningful.

Philosophers have argued about it for millennia.

Since Aristotle first considered the question of eudaimonia,

The good life.

 But it’s a hard question,

Which is why those philosophers are still arguing about it.

Todd May writes about meaning in life,

As having a narrative quality,

Like a story.

Meaning is created by the values we live over time,

By the story of our life

That can be described by those values.

It’s not a what, like 42,

It’s a how.

How we go about our lives.

It can’t be measured by any one moment,

Like that one time we held the door open for somebody

Or dropped some change in the Salvation Army bucket.

Its primary characteristic is steadfastness,

Faithfulness,

What theologian Eugene Peterson has called

“A long obedience in the same direction.”

So the question to be asked

If we want to live a meaningful life,

We should ask, “In what direction

Should I be obedient?”

The Corinthian community asked that question.

They’ve got trouble in River City, my friends.

They are at each other’s throats

About the right way to worship.

Some people think they shouldn’t eat meat

That’s been offered to pagan idols,

Others think that’s baloney.

Some people observe special days,

Others say that’s stupid.

One guy’s sleeping with his stepmother!

We’ve been following their story in pieces for a month now,

And Paul keeps reminding them

That God makes them one.

That God has knit them together

Into one body

So could they cut out the arguing already?

But that doesn’t seem to be enough.

It’s not enough to just tell them to love each other.

Y’all who’ve parented children could’ve told him that, I bet.

I imagine that screaming at feuding toddlers to,

“Love each other, gosh darn it!”

Would go super well.

So Paul takes the time to remind them of the point.

He takes the time to remind them

Of the meaning of life.

Of why they are bothering to be the Church

In the first place.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Don’t believe him?

Think that sounds too wild, too out there,

Too good to be true?

Too wonderful to be believed?

If you don’t believe Paul, ask Cephas.

(That’s Peter, by the way.

The same Peter Jesus called first

Looking out from the crowd that surrounded him

At a guy who wasn’t even paying attention

Because he was busy washing his nets

To find the rock

Upon which he would build his Church.)

If you don’t believe Cephas, well the Twelve were there too.

If you don’t believe them,

Here’s five hundred other witnesses,

Yes, some of them have died,

But most of them are still around.

Available for questioning.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That’s the point.

That’s the meaning.

That’s the direction we’re walking,

That’s why we are bothering

To do this whole thing called Church

In the first place.

That’s why Jesus told Peter

To cast his nets in the deep water.

That’s why he told him those nets which were empty of fish

Would be filled to bursting with people.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Death is defeated.

Sorrow will be no more.

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Where, O Death, is thy victory?

Because God has swallowed you up forever.

That’s it.

That’s the whole point.

While there’s other good stuff about the Church,

It is all useless

If Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead.

Now, we at Good Shepherd are fortunate

Not to be at each other’s throats.

We do a pretty good job of not arguing

About the petty stuff.

But many Christians today, I think,

Wonder a bit about the point of the Church.

I mean, why bother?

With all of the scandals and the sins of the past,

With all of the time and effort it requires?

With all of the other groups out there

That seem more hip and with it and fun,

That don’t have the baggage that the Church does.

Let’s just stay in our PJs and make life easy.

Church is too

Inconvenient.

And faced with that attitude

Of indifference,

Those of us who have been faithful

May begin to wonder

About the point of our long obedience.

Will it matter

If there is no one to keep the flame

When we are gone?

There’s a narrative out there

That the Church is dying.

And it’s a scary narrative

For those of us who’ve given our life to this institution,

This place,

This people,

That’s provided meaning and value for us

For which we have sacrificed and laboured

In long obedience to the God we worship.

This narrative is all around us,

As budgets tighten,

As churches shrink and close,

As fear extinguishes hope.

A seminary classmate of mine has described his work as a youth minister

As that of an obstetrician

Whose only colleagues are hospice doctors.

“Yes, yes,” he says, “I’m sure that death indeed is taking place,

It’s just that I am so very occupied

With all this new life I’m seeing.”

I know how he feels.

I discerned God’s call to the priesthood

And served my first parish

In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

When I showed up in 2009,

That diocese wasn’t dying.

It had just been through a terrible schism.

And there were many who had laboured long to avert that schism,

Because they feared that schism would mean death.

And in a way it did.

Certainly, it meant extraordinary change.

But wouldn’t you know it,

The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead

Is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

That diocese had been through

The absolute worst thing we could imagine.

The worst.

Everything had broken to pieces.

But the Jesus Christ whose body was broken on the cross

Cradled our brokenness

And put it back together.

Because Jesus is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

And that’s the tradition I was ordained into.

That’s the spirit that my hometown gave me.

That we serve a God

Who is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

So I am not afraid!

When people tell me that the Church might die.

What have I to fear from death?

I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That my long obedience

Has been to no purpose

Because I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That the meaning of life might just be 42

And I have no idea what in the heck that means

Because the meaning of my life

Cannot be contained

Into just this mortal existence alone.

Our life is bigger.

Our God is bigger.

It cannot be threatened by death

Because our God resurrects dead things.

That is the point.

That is the meaning.

That is why we continue our long obedience in the same direction

Even when it looks like all hope is lost.

And that is why we keep looking past the crowd

For the unlikely folks who are washing their nets

To call them to come fish with us in the deep water.

It’s not easy.

It’s not convenient.

And sometimes it does seem like our efforts are wasted,

Like the end is nigh.

Like we’ve been fishing all night

And we’re too exhausted for another try.

But even in those times,

When even death itself clings so closely,

Don’t be afraid.

Our God is in the business

Of resurrecting dead things.

Amen.

3rd Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord,

That we might preach good news to the poor.

Amen.

……………

You gotta have a good opening line.

Back when I was trying to become a blogger,

Websites who advised up-and-coming bloggers

Used to tell us to spend about 50% of the time

Coming up with a post title,

25% of our time on the first line,

And 25% on the whole rest of the blog post.

Because that was about in line with the amount of attention

Your readers would pay to each part.

At preaching camp,

They told us the same thing.

“Never start your sermon with

‘Today, we celebrate the Feast of Circumcision of Our Lord’”

They would tell us.

You gotta have a good opening line.

It draws people in

Captures their attention

Convinces them that the rest of what you’ve got to say

Is worth listening to.

Today, we hear Jesus’s opening line.

As I mentioned last week,

The gospels differ slightly on order of events,

But according to Luke,

Jesus’s adult ministry so far has been to

Get baptized

Immediately head out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan

Then go home to Galilee

To be a good Jewish boy and go to synagogue.

He hasn’t even called his disciples yet!

Because before he asks people to follow him,

Jesus has to give them this thesis statement

This encapsulation of what he is all about

To convince them

That the rest of what he’s got to say

Is worth their time,

“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 favour.”

Jesus just lays it all out there.

This is the point.

When we look at all future teachings he offers,

All actions he makes,

Every healing,

Every miracle,

Every dinner at a tax collector’s house,

Even as he walks to the cross,

Jesus declares that

This is his mission statement,

Through which everything else he does

Should be viewed.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he says,

So he has been anointed by God

To share a message beyond human origin.

A message connected to history,

Because this is a quotation of the book of Isaiah.

And it’s the part of Isaiah,

Where God appoints the prophet to tell Israelites in exile

That they get to go home.

The Israelites who were living in Babylon

Believed that their exile was divine punishment

For their idolatry,

But Isaiah turns up to tell them they’re up for parole.

It’s good news, this message,

And specifically, it’s good news for the poor.

Not the poor in spirit.

Not the slightly disadvantaged.

Not the less than billionaires.

The gospel that Jesus preaches is good news

For the poor.

It’s also good news

For captives, who are now released from their bondage.

For the blind, who receive recovery of sight.

For the oppressed,

Who hear that freedom’s coming,

The Year of the Lord’s Favour.

Now, the Year of the Lord’s Favour

Doesn’t mean God is just smiling down on people,

Happy about them.

It doesn’t mean God is going to bless the crops

And make everyone rich.

The Year of the Lord’s Favour is something outlined in the Law.

It is a divine economic reset,

Intended to be carried out

Every fifty years.

All debts are forgiven.

All land that had been sold

Had to be returned

To its original owners.

Good news for the poor, indeed,

But not necessarily super great news for the rich,

Many of whom had bought up this land

And now had to return it

With no hope of a refund.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence

That the Israelites ever actually practiced this Law,

Which makes it kind of amazing that it never got dropped from the Scriptures

Over the years.

But it didn’t,

So everyone knew they were supposed to respond

To Jesus’s proclamation

With a radical reordering of society

That would leave many much poorer than their current state

For the sake of others.

It’s no wonder the crowd responds by trying to throw him off a cliff!

Now, we might be surprised to hear

That this is Jesus’s mission statement.

The Church,

As full of sinners as any other collection of people,

Seems to have forgotten our marching orders rather quickly.

While the Church in Acts is recorded as holding all things in common,

We can see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

That remembering we are all in this together

Was a struggle even from early days.

And nowadays,

People are shocked when I share with them

Christ’s love for the poor

His call to radical freedom

And total reordering of society

To render justice for the oppressed.

That’s not something they associate with Jesus at all.

Over the past 17 months I have served as your rector,

I’ve been running all over the city,

Having coffee with various non-profit leaders,

Trying to figure out how we can contribute

To the service they are offering our neighbours.

At some point,

In nearly every conversation,

The other person says,

“Don’t you …. worry you’ll get in trouble

For saying things like Jesus loves the poor?

For encouraging Christians to let those they’ve oppressed go free?

Shouldn’t you keep some of these opinions to yourself?”

At first, I didn’t know how to answer them,

So completely was I taken aback.

I didn’t realize just how terrible the Christian reputation was,

That people thought it would be controversial

For me to proclaim the very statement

That inaugurates Jesus’s ministry.

It’s been sobering

To learn just how few people

Associate the gospel of Jesus

With good news.

But we can change that.

We have to change that.

Because the body of which we are members

Is not just our human collective.

It is the body of Christ Himself.

It is not just that we all suffer

When even one member does,

Jesus suffers too.

And when we proclaim a gospel

That offers judgment upon the poor,

Slammed doors in the faces of prisoners,

“God helps those who helps themselves” to the blind,

And “get over it! That was so long ago” to the oppressed,

Then it’s Jesus

Who people hear making those claims.

So it’s our job

To live into his mission statement

As individual members of his body in the world

So that it’s no longer considered controversial

To proclaim that what motivates us

Is the same word that he lived, and died,

And rose again to declare.

As we gather today

For our annual meeting,

We will have some business to discuss.

Now, it may seem boring to talk about budgets and vestry members

And Robert’s Rules of Order,

But I want us to keep this mission statement in mind.

Because we are not a business.

We’re not even just a non-profit.

We’re a church,

Part of the body of Christ whom we worship.

Everything we do – everything!

From what we say to what we buy to who leads us

Should reflect the mission Jesus proclaimed.

Because if we won’t live into Jesus’s opening line,

How the heck are we going to follow

The rest of the example he showed us?

This is our mission.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.

Will we proclaim

Good News?

Amen.