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.

 

 

 

2nd Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Fill us up, O Lord,

That the water of our lives

Might overflow with the wine of your love

For us, and for the world.

Amen.

……………………

I gotta tell y’all:

Jesus’s first miracle is weird.

As Anglicans, we have always placed an outsized importance on it.

It features in that exquisite opening prayer offered at weddings,

“Which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence,

And first miracle that he wrought,

In Cana of Galilee.”

But it’s weird, right?

As I was serving as author-in-residence

For the daily devotional website d365 this week,

I really struggled with what to say about this miracle –

Especially on a site intended for teens!

What could I say to teenagers

About God’s abundance

Expressed through the miraculous creation of wine out of water

That would be appropriate for them?

But that’s not the only element of Christ’s first miracle

According to John at least, he’s the only one who tells us this story,

That’s a bit odd.

Consider:

Jesus, his mom, and his disciples,

Whom he has just called,

It just happened,

Are at a wedding.

Whose wedding?

We don’t know, it’s not important.

Why is it Jesus’s mom’s job

To make sure they have enough wine?

Why is Mary making this her problem?

And Jesus actually declines to perform the miracle at first!

He agrees: this isn’t his (or Mary’s) problem.

But nevertheless, Mary persisted,

And Jesus, like most of us, ends up taking his mom’s advice.

He looks around and sees large jars standing nearby.

Now, the purpose of these jars is to hold water

To be used for the Jewish rites of purification,

But what I didn’t notice until reading it again this week,

Is that the jars were empty

At the time Jesus noticed them.

Jesus didn’t look around and find water that was to hand;

Jesus called for jars that were empty

To be filled.

He invited human beings,

Human beings who might not often be noticed,

Ie. servants,

Into participation in this first miracle.

And then, Jesus tells them to take the water from the jars

Out to the steward,

So that he could see the results.

There’s no hand-waving or magic words.

Jesus doesn’t even use spit,

Like he so often does,

Or lay his hands on anything.

He tells them to go out,

And in faith,

They do.

…………………

It is a great sadness to many Christians, I think,

That it appears we no longer live in an age of miracles.

While some, including me,

Would dispute the assertion that no miracles occur

In this modern age,

They certainly seem to be thinner on the ground

Than they were in Bible days.

And so I think there is a great deal of comfort to draw

From this story of Jesus’s first,

And strangest,

Miracle.

From Jesus’s reluctance to perform it

Perhaps we can learn that miracles

Are not his preferred way to work.

From Mary’s insistence

Perhaps we can learn that

Love, and relationship,

Are the ingredients that make miracles possible.

And I think there’s something to be learned from those empty stone jars as well.

Jesus doesn’t choose just any water for this miracle.

He chooses water

To be used for the rites of purification,

Rites that he decries in other gospels.

Seriously! He tells the Pharisees to quit worrying

About the ritual washing of hands

And focus on making sure that their deeds are actuallypure.

But here, he embraces those rites.

He makes use of water that prepares hearts and minds,

And honestly, bodies

For worship

To show forth his abundance.

And he makes use of people, too.

It’s not that Jesus couldn’t make the necessary wine

Without these servants’ help,

It’s that so often

In the Gospels,

Jesus chooses not to act alone.

Jesus chooses to build a community of disciples around him.

Jesus chooses to ask those who come to him

If they wish to be healed.

Jesus chooses to ask these servants

To bring him the supplies he will use

To manifest his glory.

And it seems to me that Jesus still chooses

To make miracles

Through that which is brought to him

By human beings.

My friends: it is our turn to act.

We are the ones

Whom Jesus is calling

To bring forth the water.

That water can look like the donations we offer

To the food bank every month.

That water can look like supporting our Green, Growing Sundays

By inviting children and youth you know to participate,

And by serving as an adult mentor.

It can look like opening our building to our neighbours.

It can look like serving on the cemetery team.

There are a lot of different ways to bring forth the water

Jesus will turn into wine,

But they all involve effort.

And time.

And while I can’t speak for everyone,

I think many of us would say that we’re a bit pressed for time,

And a bit exhausted by the idea of effort.

It’s tempting to ask Jesus

To not only turn the water into wine

But to get the water himself.

I wish I could tell you it worked that way, guys,

I really do.

But the biblical witness is that it doesn’t.

If we want to receive the Spirit’s gifts,

If we want to see the miracle,

Then we have got to show up.

Our efforts may appear paltry,

As water does to wine,

But it’s not about how good our offering is.

God will transform it into that which is needed,

For the sake of his kingdom.

We still have to offer it, though.

It is Jesus’s time.

He is ready to perform the miracle.

All that remains in the water.

Will we provide it?

Will we make possible

God’s mighty power

To serve the banquet?

May it be so.

Amen.

 

Baptism of Our Lord (1st Sunday After Epiphany)

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus,

At your baptism you demonstrated there was nowhere you would not go

To show your faithfulness to us.

Grant that all who have been baptized in your name

May remain faithful to you.

Amen.

……………..

Over the holidays I went to see the movie Aquaman.

It is a supremely dumb film,

But it’s a lot of fun,

So if you go in with the right expectations,

It’ll be a good time.

As you might expect,

It’s a movie about the sea,

And the creatures that live therein.

Early on, a teacher tells Aquaman’s grade school class

That we have better maps of the surface of Mars

Than we do of the ocean floor.

That’s true, by the way, NASA confirms it,

And the main characters in the movie are kingdoms and tribes of beings

Who live undetected by people like us,

Whom they call surface-dwellers.

The ocean is an unknown place,

Filled with hidden dangers,

Perhaps not the fish monsters put forward by blockbuster movies,

But dangers all the same.

In Jesus’s time,

The ocean was thought to be a symbol of chaos,

And the abode of evil spirits.

I mentioned last summer that in the Enuma Elish,

A Babylonian creation story,

Creation itself is conquest of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos

And the sea,

And the Psalmist uses these images

As he sings of God’s victory over the great sea creature Leviathan.

The depths of the ocean are unknown,

And frightening to us even now,

How much more so to our ancestors

Who had told and retold these ancient stories

Of the monsters hiding in the deep?

And so today we celebrate the feast

Of the Baptism of Our Lord.

The Baptism of Our Lord is something of a surprising feast.

The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four gospels,

Even those gospels that do not tell the story of his birth.

It’s Jesus’s first public act as an adult.

It’s remarkable that these gospels,

Who so rarely agree on the order in which events

In Jesus’s life happen,

Sometimes even where or how they happened

Agree on this.

And yet it makes no sense theologically.

Because the baptism that John was offering

Was for the remission of sin.

The book of Acts makes clear the distinction between Christian baptism

Commanded by Jesus

After his resurrection

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

And the baptism of John,

Which is a ritual washing away of sin.

But the Scriptures are also clear

That Jesus,

Our Saviour,

Did not sin.

Jesus did not need his sins to be washed away in baptism

As we do,

Because he was without sin.

So why was he baptized?

There are many reasons, I think,

But one of them, surely, was because of water.

Jesus begins his ministry

By being submerged in water.

He has entered the home of the evil spirits.

He has completed God’s victory over Leviathan,

By entering Leviathan’s abode.

Scott Sharman, a priest in this diocese,

Posted an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Jesus’s baptism this week.

“See how the monsters hiding in the deep

Scramble to flee as his body touches the water,”

He says.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus

Is a continuation of the sign of the Incarnation

Began at Christmas:

That there is nowhere God will not go

For the love of his Creation.

All those places of our lives

That we keep hidden,

The places where evil loves to dwell,

The secret corners of our mind that torment us

With worry, fear, anger, despair

Those places are not closed off to God,

And God will conquer them too,

For our sake.

No matter what monsters of the deep

Threaten our peace of mind,

God is there.

No matter what unknown futures

Send us into spasms of worry,

God is there.

No matter how often we feel crushed by the pressure of the waters around us,

God is there.

We who are baptized

Can journey through the deepest waters

Because our God went there first.

And so today we come to baptize Malik.

In so doing,

His parents and godparents,

And all of us, really,

Will make some pretty big promises.

Promises that sometimes feel too overwhelming to keep.

At our rehearsal,

I mentioned to the family that when we promise to

“Respect the dignity of every human being,”

It really does mean EVERY human being,

Not just those who respect our dignity in return.

That’s a hard promise.

We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,

Which means we can’t prioritize our own wealth or safety

Over that of our neighbours.

That’s a hard promise.

We make these promises

Not because we are confident in our own ability to keep them,

24/7/365

All the days of our lives,

But because we are confident

That the Lord who is faithful

Who came among us as one of us

Because he did not choose to be God without us

Who went down unto the abode of evil and chaos itself

To show us the safe way through

Will not let the rivers overwhelm us.

Whatever waters are rising in your life,

Know that the God who has stretched to fill the deepest depths,

Beyond what we even still know,

Thousands of years later,

Will never forsake you or abandon you.

We who have been sealed in baptism

And marked as Christ’s own forever

Can be confident

That even in the deepest waters

We will fear no evil

For God is with us.

Amen.