Epiphany III

SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH  — MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
JANUARY 24, 2016

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Jesus reads from Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth – James Tissot 1894 (detail)

On this third Sunday after the Epiphany again we look at what God has given us in Christ. The word for Epiphany is “manifest.” What is revealed or manifested to the world by God in Christ Jesus? Jesus is God’s Word was made flesh. Jesus is the self-expression of God in a human life, God expressed in human terms. God, who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, becomes comprehensible in the life and work of Jesus. In other words,

God is like Jesus!
Which came first: • Let us remind ourselves that the Word that is Manifest is not the Book we call the Bible! The word of God is Jesus, the Christ.

• In addition, FedEx did not deliver a box of Bibles to a prayer group and the folks there sat down to put together a church, sort of like tinker toys. The sacred text grow out of the Church and the experiences of her body not the other way round.

• The Bible was written assuming that it would be heard read aloud, not silently.

• Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, came to be with Child through the hearing of the promise.

• We continue that practice today in this Eucharist.

Now, to the reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus went home to Nazareth and the people were excited to see the hometown boy who by all the rumors was doing some pretty impressive things. So they asked him to read at the Sabbath liturgy in the Synagogue. He stood and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah,

LUKE 4:18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Afterwards, he likely paused, as our lectors do,before saying, “Here ends the reading or the Word of the Lord.”

Every eye was fixed on him.  No one moved expect the peripheral glance, checking the reaction of the leaders.  Then he “began to say: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this scripture has been filled full! Filled Full because Jesus filled it full of truth, not abstract philosophy; but experience. The reading pointed toward Jesus and Jesus became the reading. They saw Spirit upon Jesus, right then, right there, and they knew it was so.

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue James Tissot 1894

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue James Tissot 1894

That was them there and then. What about us here and now?

Now turning to  I Corinthians 12:12 -13
Paul writes: One Body with Many Members 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Jesus became the reading he read,
we must become the reading we hear.

Whatever grace need is already in potential in our Baptism! We think that we have it and we do but a better question is, does it have us? As a Fr. Bronson Bryant, my mentor, often said, “We are always prepared to go to church and have nothing happen.” Are we afraid something will happen? If something happened then we would have to change.

There were five components in the early Church’s life through the graceful energy at tables like this one, thus becoming the Body of Christ in order to go into the world doing the work of Jesus.

Becoming the Gospel

Paul advocated a witness to the gospel that is both embodied and narrated, one that simultaneously practices, in an integrated way, what we today might call virtue, evangelism, reconciliation, and justice, all as aspects of transformative participation in the glory of God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus by the Spirit.

1. Church of the Spirit: at the core of the primitive church was a “transforming, communicable experience of the Living Christ.’

2. Formed by the common experience of the risen Christ vitality to go and do what needed doing.

Ritual Actions are postures, positions and movements that affirm outwardly our inner beliefs and commitments.  In and of themselves, they are not in any way essential. They can be helpful.

Back in the heyday of North Carolina basketball, a friend told me a story. Her sons and the neighborhood boys were playing basketball in the back yard. She happened to look at the window, only to see one boy shoot a free throw. Just before he got into position to shoot, he crossed himself. That was odd, given that the boy’s dad was the pastor at First Baptist Church in town. What had happened, was that the best free throw shooter on the University team was Roman Catholic and he always signed the cross before he threw the ball.

Fran Alexander

For the boys playing basketball, It was magic. I’m not talking magic.

I’m talking outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual commitment.

The Celebrant continues  And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this wine. We pray you, gracious God, (the celebrant traces the sign of the cross in the air above the bread and wine) to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. (People cross themselves) Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Book of Common Prayer page 369

The bread and wine are blessed becoming the bread of heaven and cup of salvation. We are  blessed, becoming the same graceful gift in the world as communion bread and wine is for us.

3. A Passionate People: a burning desire. What do you long for? What do you let nothing get in way of?

Interesting questions. We have to choose. The state and the culture will not only not prop us up. They will compete directly with us. We have to choose. Sports games on Sunday morning. We have to choose.

4. The Unbreakable Fellowship: there were no parties allowed. We simply cannot allow factions here in our body. We are in this together and we shall remain that way to the limits of my influence.

5. Risking Unconditional Love: a love for others which was not dependent on being loved, or liked or flattered. Serenity not based on Achievement or Performance  It was life-changing (and very helpful) when I learned that I didn’t have to like someone in order to love them. However, I don’t ever recall choosing to love someone without positive emotions following afterward.

The_Last_Supper_by_James_Joseph_Jacques_Tissot

The company of Jesus and apostles gather at Pentecost.

Beloved, as we take this sacrament at this table. Come expecting (if you will) that being fed with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation – we will become the Good News for somebody we encounter.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. THANKS BE TO GOD.  Amen.

© John W. Sewell

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