Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Year C 3 Epiphany WED 2019 The High Road

Year C 3 Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 30 January 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“The High Road” 
Isaiah 49:1-12 
“...I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up…” 
Galatians 2:11-21 
“...I opposed him to his face… ...a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing works of the law,because no one will be justified by works of the law. ...I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” 
Mark 6:13-29 [Herod thought Jesus was a reincarnated John because of his mighty act. The story goes on to tell of Herod’s beheading of John the Baptist, who remained solid to the end.] 
We are in a strange place from the outside looking in. We preach grace, but then live by high standards. Supposedly. 
The accusations of hypocrisy are rampant, especially now that it is socially acceptable to be opposed to religion in the public square without major damage to one’s image. Atheism and Agnosticism are often far more acceptable. The rage which swept in the current administration was in many ways a response from the religious right in opposition to societal trends. It is in many ways like yelling at the tide not to come in, it may work for what seems like a while, but eventually the tide turns and there is no stopping it. And the backlash, it seems, will be severe. 
Paul recounts a struggle in the early church, where even Peter, the foremost leader in the early church waffled. We have accounts in the Book of Acts where he welcomed and invited in Gentiles, baptizing them. But when Paul comes to Jerusalem Peter (Cephas) had fallen in with the Judaizers, people demanding circumcision as a requisite to becoming Christian. Paul was apoplectic, he could not believe it. Even Barnabas, who had been on missionary journeys with him, had fallen in as well. In this letter to the Galatians, he recounts his demand that this heresy cease. Salvation cannot, does not, come from anything we do or could do. A little snip snip does not make one right with God. Not having a snip snip does not make one right with God. God is already okay with us. We have to claim that, we have to have faith in what Jesus did and does for us. [Singing...] 
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe,  
sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. 
A more modern way of saying it comes from Brennan Manning, “There is nothing that could make God love us any more, and nothing that could make God love us any less.” Paul said the same thing almost 2,000 years ago. 
Residing in that, we have a struggle, and Paul spoke of this, too, in various places. Since we are free, can we do whatever we want? NO! I tend to put it this way. We have been set free to live the way we should. We are free to do whatever we ought, not whatever we want. We are set free so we can take the high road God speaks of in the Isaiah passage. Isaiah 49:11  
I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up… 
We are called, in our lives and in our society, to smooth out the rough places, for God and in God. We do this out of love, not obligation. We do it out of our desire to be who we were intended to be, born to be. 
John the Baptizer stayed true to the end. Even in a jail cell he preached the right and wrong to the very end, and gave his head for staying true. But even here, he called Herod to a better place. He offered grace and forgiveness instead of judgment only. If not, would Herod have kept him around? It even says he liked hearing him preach, even if he was “perplexed.” 
In the public square, when we call out err, may we do it in such a way that Grace is lifted up. In our personal lives, may we be consistent, taking the “high road” so that we do not give others another excuse for falling away. When we fall short, may we lean on Grace, and look to our Master and Lord for the right way to go, to make amends for our wrongs, and model Christlikeness in all we say and do. 
 The High Road is hard, but only if we act like we are still hidden down in the valley. It’s the hypocrisy that makes it hard. God bless us all in the struggle. Amen. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Year C 3 Epiphany 2019 Present Tense

Year C, 3rd Epiphany, 27 January 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Present Tense” 
Collect: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  Luke 4:14-21 Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:   "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."  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 
Yesterday is history, 
Tomorrow, it is mystery, 
Today is a gift, 
And that is why they call it the Present. 
Time is our great equalizer, the one thing in which we are all equal. I have been thinking a lot about time lately. Some of the habits I have been working on in the New Year have me looking at my time, how I spend it, how I squander it. 
A few weeks ago when Mary Oliver, the poet, died, I heard repeatedly the closing lines of her poem, The Summer Day. 
Tell me, what else should I have done?  Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life? 
This moment, this now, is all we have. We cannot change the past. We cannot forge our future. The only area we can have is right now. We look today at our here and now. 
Epiphany, I remind you, is the revealing of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, the Anointed One, the Promised Messiah. Most of us have resided in that knowledge our entire lives. But as we look at the stories we present in Epiphany, we see people catching glimpses for the first time of who he is, and what he was about.  
On Epiphany, the day, we looked at the Wise Sages who had traveled far to come and worship the newborn King. And they did not get what they expected.  
Last week we had the miracle of the wedding in Cana. Mary, his mother, told the servants who had run out of wine to do what he said. They did, and they did not get what they expected. The BEST WINE. The superior. The water was transformed. Were they, the people, transformed as well? 
And today we come to Jesus’ hometown. Nazareth. This where they saw Jesus grow up. They some him helping Joseph do his carpentry. They saw him care for his mother. They knew him. They had preconceived notions. By this point in Luke much had happened. We are given the few stories we have of him between the birth narratives and the baptism. He teaches in the Temple. He gets lost, from his parents’ perspective. He grows “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 We have the baptism, the pronouncement of being God’s Beloved, and then the Temptations in the Wilderness. And when he returns to Galilee he starts teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Word gets back, and when his route brings him back home, we see the hometown boy put on the spot. They have heard the hype. How could this BOY we knew become this celebrated preacher?  The people of Nazareth did not get what they expected either.
At one point in my ministry it was time for me to leave the ministry setting I was in, and it coincided the pastorate being open at my home church. Now I grew up there. They encouraged and supported me. They let me preach and do all kinds of things to affirm my call to ministry from my earliest days. My mom called me up and asked me if I wanted to apply. God was with me. I did not laugh out loud. While as much as I love my home church and always will, what Jesus said is so true a few verses after today’s reading. “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (v. 24) Or as I tend to think, it is hard to be respected where people changed your diapers.  
There were preconceived notions. There were cultural assumptions of what he should do and be about, especially with his widowed mother. Also, double down on the assumptions when we look at their expectations of what a Messiah was supposed to be. Jesus takes it back to an old prophecy from Isaiah. It does not mention overthrowing any government, or kicking out any occupying army. It spoke to what God was about to do amongst the least of these. These two verses are from Isaiah 61:1-2. 
"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."   
The Poor. The Captives. The Blind. The Oppressed. These are not the first ones that come to mind when we think about changing the world. We definitely do not turn to them when we think about reshaping reality. But God is not us. And even 2000 years into the Jesus timeline we are still thinking that the powerful, the glamorous, the popular are what is important. Look at our headlines in our distracted and deluded age. 
I saw on Facebook this week a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa asking what would happen if churches were rated by those near them that were poor. Makes a preacher think.  
So many of the things that we do and call church could come into question if we rethought things and looked at them from this perspective, which was exactly what Jesus was asking his hometown fellows to do. They had an idea of what God meant by a Messiah, and Jesus upset their apple carts. It is so easy for us to have a preconceived notion on what Church is, or how we should go about it. Just like for the Nazarenes, we need to be careful when Jesus starts tinkering. 
Jesus announced to them that these Scriptures had become fulfilled in their hearing. Of all the things he could have said, this could not have been more scandalous. He is stating very clearly, that HE is the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the embodiment of the the prophet’s words. What exactly has come true? 
  1. Good News preached to the Poor. 
  2. Release to the Captives. 
  3. Sight to the Blind. 
  4. Freedom to the Oppressed. 
  5. The Year of the Lord’s Favor. 

When he sat down they imagined that he was going to talk future tense. He was going to give a sermon on Hope, like I did last week. [In fact, I know how it resonated with many of you because in speaking with several of you this week you said to me, “FEAR NOT.” If you meant it, it means I did my job, if you didn’t, it means that at least repetition works.] But Jesus was not talking about Future. He was all about Here & Now. Today this has been fulfilled. Jesus said the prophecy is PRESENT TENSE. 
Now if someone stood up in here right now, and declared that they were the Messiah, We would think one of a few things: a) they are off their medication, b) they need to be on medication, c) do I need to be worried about their delusion, d) wow, how sad. No one who would hear this would think that it was legitimate. No one would believe that it was true, no matter how much the pitiable speaker believed it to be true. 
We see this story, though, after the fact. We see this in the belief that what Jesus is saying here is true. His audience that day probably would not have. If any did it would have been his fledgling band of followers. And even they were not entirely sure (yet). 
Somehow we miss the shock and horror. Our reading stops with the revelation and does not make it to the dismay. We too easily forget that they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff for what he said and the implication of it. We are too easily NOT dismayed. 
We are here, our reason for coming together, is the same as Jesus. We are here to proclaim that TODAY is fulfilled that ideas that Good News is proclaimed to the Poor, release to the Captive, sight to the Blind, and freedom to the Oppressed. We can do this because we are marked as Christ’s own forever, and through that we have been Anointed. This is the Day, the Year, the Age of the Lord’s Favor! 
So, this week, as you travel to and fro, there will be someone you meet that makes your mind wander to the Poor, the Captive, the Blind, or the Oppressed, maybe just metaphorically, but know that your job is to make the Good News real in their lives. Literally. This will take a lot of forms and ways. And I would challenge you, even though the Poor, Captive, Blind and Oppressed may be metaphorical, our response to them is CANNOT BE. 
The Poor we still have with us. The Captives as well. The Blind, too. And the Oppressed, there are lots of ways to be oppressed. They need Good News. They need us to give it. As we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this morning: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” I Cor 12:27  
Here & Now. You are tasked to bring the Good News. Present Tense. Amen.