Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 6:27-38: Way of Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Like in the last week’s lesson, Jesus continues to turn traditional viewpoints on their head. Love enemies, bless people who want harm to come to you; pray for people who bully you, turn the other cheek. Again, we could skim this and miss how revolutionary it must have been when he first says it.

Jesus says we shouldn’t be praised for loving those who love us–that even sinners love those who love them. Anyone can love someone who loves them or do favors for those who can return the favor. But Jesus has a harder teaching–love your enemies, give without expecting something in return. Don’t judge or condemn, forgive and you will be forgiven.

This is indeed a hard teaching, but also one Jesus links to our relationship with God. The more we live this way of love, the more we can draw near to God.

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 6:17-26: A New Way to See the World

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is with a large crowd; people from all over have come to hear him teach and to be healed. Jesus heals them and begins to preach.

This is one of those things I don’t want to paraphrase:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20-26 (NRSV)

These are the Beatitudes. Most of us have heard them before–perhaps so often, in fact, that they have become clichéd. But consider them in the context of when Jesus first speaks them–turning expectations on their head. The poor have the kingdom? The hungry will be filled? Those who weep will laugh? It’s not how the world sees things; it’s not how we see things day-to-day, but it’s how Jesus calls us to see things and how he calls us to seek justice in the world.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 5:1-11: Fishing for People

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus is beside Lake Galilee and a crowd is pushing to get closer to him. He escapes the scrum by getting into a boat with a fisherman named Simon. Then he teaches the people on the shore. When he’s done he asks Simon to take the boat to deep water to catch some fish. Simon protests that he caught nothing all night, but he agrees to try. Sure enough, they catch a ton of fish, so many that their nets are breaking.

Simon falls down before Jesus, saying he is a sinner. His friends James and John are also amazed by Jesus. Jesus tells Simon not to be afraid, and tells him from now on he will fish for people instead of fish. The men from that day left all they had to follow Jesus.

Here Jesus acquires some of his disciples with the help of a miraculous catch. Then he brings them along to catch people with him. I’ve done some fishing in my life and it comes with no guarantees. It involves attracting the fish in some way, hooking them, and bringing them aboard a boat or up to a dock and then to shore. It’s a combination of work and good fortune–or perhaps the good fortune can sometimes be a miracle. These men had worked all night without a catch until Jesus stepped in. The same can be true for fishing for people. We can work our little hearts out at church to attract people and evangelize and run programs, but it takes some Jesus to actually catch any hearts and bring them to God. We do our part, but we must stay in sync with God to do his work.

Please also note where Jesus begins his ministry. He doesn’t go straight to the temple in Jerusalem, the religious hot spot. He will eventually get to that, but he starts out in the countryside in smaller towns. He goes straight to the people, not to the religious leaders. His heart is for those on the margins, not for the rich and powerful.

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:21-30: Service to All

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

In last week’s lesson, we see Jesus proclaim that the scripture from Isaiah is coming true in the presence of the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. In this week’s lesson, we see what happens next.

People are amazed and exclaiming “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” Jesus tells them he knows they will expect him to do the same things he did in Capernaum there in Nazareth, but he says a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. He tells the story of Elijah, who was sent to help only to one widow in Israel among many–and how Elisha healed only one leper among many, and that a man from Syria, not Israel.

The people don’t like this and they try to force him out of town–taking him to the edge of a hill to throw him off, but he walks through the crowd and walks away.

Jesus is telling the people of his hometown not to expect preferential treatment from him–he won’t play favorites. Followers of Jesus today often also fall into the trap of expecting to be special to God to the exclusion of others, but that’s not a game Jesus plays. He serves all and wants us to also serve all. We are to welcome and serve with no preference for people who are like us.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:14-21: Jesus’ Mission Statement

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

I’m preaching this Sunday so what follows is basically my sermon (though it will no doubt change a bit in the moment).

Just imagine something for a moment with me. Father Owen on a Sunday morning reads the Gospel as usual. We are all watching him (or maybe we’re reading along in our bulletin, but hopefully we’re paying attention). Then he just sits down and says “OK, that scripture is fulfilled today” and that’s the end of his sermon. We’d be like, “What? What is happening?” But you’re out of luck this morning, I have a lot more to say—you won’t get off that easy.  But keep that in your mind as we move on.

Next let’s bring our imaginations to the time of Jesus. This is a little more difficult since we haven’t been there. Jesus has been baptized and then he has been tempted in the wilderness. He then returns to the area of Galilee where he grew up. Today’s Gospel says he returns “filled with the power of the Spirit.” What does this mean—filled with the power of the Spirit? It’s no small thing—when Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, he’s letting us know that now we’re getting down to business. You don’t describe someone filled with the power of the Spirit if they’re just planning to have a snack, take a nap, maybe catch a football game. Being filled with the power of the Spirit means something significant. He begins teaching in the synagogues of various towns, and word begins to spread that he is something special.

Then Jesus’ ministry truly begins with today’s Gospel, and he announces it in his own hometown.

He arrives in his hometown of Nazareth and is asked to read from the scriptures on the Sabbath. Someone hands him the scroll of Isaiah. He finds a particular passage (now take note this is also what we do on our Sabbath day–we look into the scriptures to learn something every week).

I’m going to read this again; it’s important: 

“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.”

Luke 4:19 : Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6

What’s interesting to me is that he is very deliberate about the passage he reads, and he adds a bit from another part of Isaiah. So he knows exactly what he intends and this makes it more meaningful.

Then Jesus sits down. (From what I understand it was common practice for someone presenting in the synagogue to read a scripture and then sit down before explaining it.) He then says, as everyone stares at him expectantly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “This text is about me and I’m about to blow your minds.”

The response of the people of Nazareth will be continued in next week’s Gospel reading–you’ll have to come back for that (I feel like I’m giving you a cliffhanger—but you can also read it in any of the Bibles here). Today it’s all about what Jesus is saying. You could call this passage Jesus’ mission statement, because it’s indeed what he goes on to make the focus of his ministry–to bring good news to the poor, to tell the captives they are free, to proclaim sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to tell everyone the time has come for the Lord’s favor. 

His carrying out this mission is apparent in everything he does—in what he teaches, in his healing ministry, in his surprising responses to questioning by religious leaders, in his miracles—and this mission is what leads him to the cross. Then he rises from the dead and his mission continues in the hands of his church. Sometimes the church has followed his mission and done it very well and of course sometimes it’s done it poorly or even as if following a very different mission.

Let’s break this mission statement down. First, to bring good news to the poor. Jesus was very focused on poverty. He was very focused on money. There are people who count these things and they have calculated that he talked about money more than anything else–but he talked about it in the sense that earthly things are fragile and fleeting. In that time people who were wealthy were often considered blessed by God. Honestly there are a lot of Christians who think that way today. They think if you’re poor, you must have done something wrong—never mind income inequality, the effects of racism, classism, the difficulty in affording higher education—poverty is somehow a sin and a reflection of bad character according to some people. Recently Franklin Graham (he’s the son of the famous Christian evangelist Billy Graham) said in an interview, “A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume.” This was in context of him saying that the United States has been a force for good because of its wealth. I think I get what he’s trying to say, but it comes across very dismissive of the poor and their intrinsic worth, worth that Jesus would never deny.

 There are ministers (some are themselves multimillionaires) in the pulpit this morning telling their congregations that they just need to pray harder to be blessed with money. They teach that they lack faith if they struggle financially. But later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are you that hunger now.” Jesus had no disdain for the poor but only for those who mistreated the poor and trampled them on their way to their own riches. He often contrasts the poor with the wealthy. After blessing the poor, he says, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” His words of comfort were for those who needed it, not for the already comfortable. Most of us probably know the story of Jesus watching people donating money at the temple. He saw the rich men donating large amounts very ostentatiously—obviously showing off their wealth while they were at it. Then he watched a poor widow give two copper coins and he said that she had given more than all the rest, because they gave out of their abundance and she gave all she had. That was how Jesus cared for the poor. He brought good news to the poor because they likely saw themselves as unworthy as well. They internalized that harsh assessment of poverty being their own fault, but Jesus gave them comfort and intrinsic value.

Next, Jesus said “proclaim release to the captives.” Often this is interpreted only metaphorically—freeing people captive to sin or freeing us from certain ancient laws. It’s true that I can’t recall an incident of Jesus personally setting captives physically free—but he did have a message of hope and freedom. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and 20 percent of the world’s imprisoned population. Do we really have more law-breakers than other nations? Even as the rates of violent crime and property crime have gone down, our prison population has increased dramatically for decades, thanks to harsh sentencing and mandatory sentencing laws and I think also due to a certain culture of condemnation and retribution for even minor offenses. Our prisons are disproportionately populated by people of color. In addition to our regular prisons, we have those detained at the border seeking asylum. Our country has increased spending for prisons dramatically compared with the increase in spending for education. The amount of tax payer money spent for state and local prisons increased at triple the rate, compared to public school education. If Jesus began his ministry in this decade, I think he would call us out for all of these alarming statistics.

Jesus also talked about recovery of sight to the blind. This was very literal in the Gospel when he healed the blind and many other people. Healing was an extensive and essential part of his ministry. Healing should also be a part of our ministry, whether spiritual or physical. Healing is complicated and difficult, but it’s part of our calling as followers of Christ. Of course, we should work to make medical care more accessible and affordable for people and that’s important, but healing isn’t synonymous with curing. To cure someone is to eliminate their disease. To heal someone is to make them whole. That goes beyond the medical. How are people healed? Sometimes they are literally cured, yes. Sometimes they are healed of addictions. Sometimes they are healed of their own closed-minded bigotry. Sometimes they are healed of loneliness. We may not experience the kind of miracles Jesus performs in the scriptures, but healing still happens and we are called to care for our fellow children of God.

Jesus also says he’s called to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Isn’t that a beautiful thought—freedom for the oppressed and the Lord’s favor? So many of us have been treated badly, so many people have been marginalized and abused by society and by other people. And Jesus had a message of hope for them, for us. And he calls on us to carry on this mission, a mission to the poor, to the captives, to the blind, to the oppressed—to all the people our culture has rejected and neglected.

Today’s reading from Corinthians is also about the church, the Body of Christ, and how we are called to live out the mission of Jesus. We are all part of that body and we all have our own purpose within it. We all have gifts and skills to use for the church and for society. Those gifts are all different. Your gifts are not the same as your neighbor’s. Those gifts work together to make a functioning and thriving body of Christ, working together for the good of the church and the world, carrying out the same mission.

I want to challenge all of us to think about Jesus’ mission over next two weeks as we approach the date of our annual meeting. How are we fulfilling our role within the body of Christ?—both as members of Grace and members of the larger church. How is Grace working toward these goals? I could tell you some wonderful things Grace is doing, but I challenge you to look into it in the coming week. You can check out the website for information on all the ways this church is at work fulfilling Jesus’ mission or you can come to the annual meeting on the 10th and hear the voices of those doing that work and inviting you to join in as well.

So let’s go back to where we began—in our imaginations. We have heard the scripture. The Holy Spirit is within us as followers of Christ. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to heal the broken, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim the goodness of God. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing. Amen.


Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: John 2:1-11: Abundant Life

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus and his followers are at a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. His mother is also there, so maybe it’s a family friend. They ran out of wine and Mary hustles over to Jesus to tell him. He asks why he’s telling him; he says it’s not time to begin his work.

Like so many moms, she apparently ignores his resistance (hey, I’ve done it with my kids). Also, how lucky are these people to have Jesus around when it was their poor planning that led to a lack of party wine? She tells the servants to do what he says.

Jesus tells the servants to fill some nearby jugs with water and then tells them to take some of the water out and bring it to the man in charge of the feast.

When the man tastes it, the water has become wine, and very good wine at that, because he compliments the bridegroom on saving the best wine for last instead of using cheap stuff on guests who are already drunk.

I kind of love that Jesus’ first public miracle was to make a party more fun. We should remember that when people act like Christians should be serious and dour all the time. We are allowed to celebrate and enjoy life. Jesus is often described as socializing with all kinds of people.
 

The miracles were also lessons for us–revealing something about the character and desires of God. In this case, God desires that we be joyful, in addition to the things we usually think about him desiring (that we do good, that we conversely not do harm, that we help the poor and seek justice). As Jesus says another time, he came that we might have life, and that we might have abundantly. (John 10:10)

Are you living an abundant life? Are there changes you might need to make to have a more joyful and abundant life? For instance, I recently deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. I found that they were sucking up too much of my time, and often not making me feel better about myself or the world afterward. I feel I have a more abundant life when I can focus on other things. That is maybe not what you need to do, but just an example of what I’ve seen in my own life.

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22: Years of Preparation for Service

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

As we did a couple weeks ago, we read about John baptizing people and telling them that one was coming who would do much more. Then Jesus arrives to be baptized, too. While Jesus is praying, the sky opens and the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. A voice from Heaven says “You are my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with you.”

I was reading various resources about this passage and this particular sermon from Sermons that Work at EpiscopalChurch.org stuck with me as she asks the question: “But why did it take so long for Jesus to make this decision to become public with his understanding of the character of God? In that first century, which afforded a much shorter life span, thirty years was a very long time.”

This question made this become personal for me. I am already 44 and just beginning on the path to become a priest, though the inkling that I was called to ministry came to me when I was just a child. Like Jesus (and I don’t often compare myself to Jesus, I can assure you), I am starting my ministry later than might be expected, but on the other hand I can only imagine his whole life was leading to that point and mine it its own minor way has been leading to this. This gives me some assurance that it’s o.k. to start a little later in life, knowing that the age of 30 must have seemed much older back in that time. We become adults later and die much later (on average), after all.

The sermon I linked goes on and is worth a read, but I particularly love the end.

Jesus’™ thirty years of preparation before his public baptism remind us that it takes time to get ready for God’s mission. How many countless hours did Jesus spend in prayer? What study, what thought, what agony he must have undergone before appearing in front of John to ask him to baptize him. It is never too late for any of us to say “€œyes” to God.

The courage of both John and Jesus calls us to repent from fear, to turn our backs to the voices that urge us to be cautious. Justice must be proclaimed, even at the cost of endangering our lives. The chosen of God, the beloved of God are not guaranteed happiness and prosperity, but life in him who calls us to himself. Oh, to hear the words “With you I am well pleased.”

You Are My Beloved, Epiphany 1 (C) – 2007 by Katerina Katsarka Whitley