hs3rd

my miscellany

Epiphany 4, 2017 — 29 Jan 17

Epiphany 4, 2017

RCL A Epiphany 4
Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Saint Matthew 5:1-12

With the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John in last week’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is ready to begin his ministry in earnest. And he begins his ministry of teaching and preaching with the Sermon on the Mount whose signature is the Beatitudes, those sayings of Jesus about who is blessed or blesséd.

If we were able to hear or to read the Beatitudes for the first time, with our very culture as background, I believe we would be struck by how unexpected and surprising this collection of sayings is. They are not what anyone of us would give as an answer to the question about how to live one’s life. The advice many in our culture give about how to live differs greatly from the Beatitudes.

Specifically, we do not think of the poor in spirit, or mourners, or the meek, or those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as being happy or blessed. We think of those people as living on the emotional and spiritual fringe. And what do we think of the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the reviled for Jesus’ sake, do we not regard them as somehow interested in the wrong things? But Jesus says that they are not at all interested in the wrong things. He says that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[1]

The second thing to notice, I believe, about the Beatitudes, is that we have the freedom and the ability to choose to have those qualities. Jesus is not asking us to be what we cannot be. Jesus is asking us to choose to be poor in spirit, to be merciful, to make peace, and to thirst for righteousness. The happy or blessed conditions that Jesus teaches his followers to prefer are in their grasp. Anyone can be these things if one wishes to be them.

And so, the kingdom is at hand. We can take a single step and be in its very center. The Beatitudes represent the qualities we all can have if we determine to dedicate ourselves to them. They are not impossibly high mountains to climb. They describe all the saints together as a group. They describe all the saints in the church on earth and in heaven. They describe growth in the spirit if we direct our footsteps and ways toward them.

They describe exactly what Micah the Prophet had said in the First Lesson. For Micah prefers not bombastic pleading to the mountains and contending with God. But Micah prefers doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.[2] There is not one of us who cannot do these. And as the Psalmist today proclaims, “Whoever does these things * shall never be overthrown.”[3]

[1] Saint Matthew 5:10.

[2] Micah 6:8.

[3] Psalm 15:7.

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Epiphany 3, 2017 — 22 Jan 17

Epiphany 3, 2017

RCL A Epiphany 3
Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1 and 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Saint Matthew 4:12-23

The Lessons today astound me truly. In Isaiah, we have a prophecy, and in Saint Matthew we have its fulfillment. The rhythm of prophecy and fulfillment guide us to ask God and ourselves, “What prophecy do we intend to fulfill?”, or, in other words, “What prophecy does God want us to fulfill?”

The prophecy in Isaiah is this: “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”[1] Its complementary fulfillment in the Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is the area of the first devastation of the Assyrian invasion in the eighth century. Jesus leaves his home in Nazareth, travels to Capernaum, along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and begins to gather around him disciples, four ordinary fishermen of no special note. What distinguishes those disciples is their willingness to do the will of God and to follow Jesus in whom light did and does shine upon the world now as then wracked by sin and violence.

Prophecy and fulfillment. But what of us? What prophecy do we intend to fulfill? On the day of our Annual Meeting, I suggest to you that no prophecy is worth our while less than that witnessed by the first disciples of Jesus—the willingness to do the will of God and to follow Jesus, sharing his light with those whom God sends.

We are poised to do just that. After the abrupt and selfish departures of two rectors, taking substantial portions of our membership, we have stabilized, and we are steadily accepting our responsibility to be Jesus’ agents in a sinful and thoughtlessly selfish world. We have had excellent leadership, the best I have seen among vestries, and we are expanding that leadership, selecting and developing new leaders to take their part in Jesus’ ministry.

In the Gospel today, Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[2] Part of this proclamation is already here, but part of it is not yet fully realized. We know this first hand. We are the church, and want to be the church, but we know there is more to do and to be, another dimension that we are increasingly ready to grasp.

We shall be able to grasp that dimension and to deepen our fidelity to Jesus as we give a little more of ourselves to his enterprise. For that is the way God is. We give an inch, and God responds by giving us a mile. In this relationship, we learn easily, in the words of today’s Psalm, “the Lord is the strength of [our] life; of whom then shall [we] be afraid?”[3]

[1] Isaiah 9:2.

[2] Saint Matthew 4:17.

[3] Psalm 27:1, slightly altered.

Epiphany 2, 2017 — 15 Jan 17

Epiphany 2, 2017

RCL A Epiphany 2
Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Saint John 1:29-42

Last Sunday, I pulled the veil aside a bit and told you that John the Baptist was a major concern of the authors of the New Testament. Particularly, the authors were concerned that the mission and ministry of Our Lord be seen and proclaimed as preëminently superior to those of John.

Today’s Gospel is a bonanza in this regard. And, as clearly as is possible, the Gospel reminds us why we are here. First, we hear John proclaiming Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[1] Then John says that Jesus “ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”[2] Then the final blow to any thought of John’s equal footing with Jesus. John stands with two of his disciples, and Jesus walks by, John makes his “Lamb of God” comment again, and the two disciples of John turn and follow Jesus.[3]

The two disciples who turn from John to follow Jesus are figures for us, not because we were likely to prefer John, no. They are figures for us because they turn and follow Jesus, the only one to follow.

But also they are figures for everyone, for everyone is potentially a follower of Jesus. And this is most important. The purpose we have as followers of Jesus is to find more followers of Jesus. That is our mission, and that is our ministry.

We are here to attract followers of Jesus Christ; we are here to point people toward our Lord and our Savior. And we are to pursue that mission with the gifts he gives us for that mission. We are here to grow, and we’ve been given the gifts we need to grow.

You will easily notice that John does precisely that. He so understands Jesus and who he is that he easily turns his disciples over to him.

And we are to be exactly that: namely the followers, the representatives, of Jesus who direct the steps of others to follow him.

After years and years of declining membership, you might well ask what plan does the Episcopal Church have to grow, to direct the steps of others to follow Jesus.

What do we have right at hand that enables or strengthens us to fulfill this mission? I say to you that we have two eyes. When we keep one eye on Jesus and one eye on the needs of his children, we will attract followers to Jesus.

When we worship, we have one eye on God, and when we serve a hot meal to God’s children on a chilly day in January, as we shall do today, we have the other eye on God’s children. I dare to say that many of our guests today will and do get it. They know that the meal given to them today comes, really, from God. We are just the intermediaries and stewards of God’s blessings.

Which brings me back to John. He was perfectly content, as the Gospels tell us, to bring people to Jesus. Bringing people to Jesus is our chief ministry. May we never forget it.

[1] Saint John 1:29.

[2] Ibid., 1:30.

[3] Ibid., 1:37.

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