Sermon Epiphany 3

January 26, 2010 at 8:17 am Leave a comment

The Church and the world operate from a totally different mindset. Nothing makes that more clear than our calendars and our choice of what we talk about. On the world’s calendar, it is January 24, 2010; on our calendar, it is the third Sunday after Epiphany. If you watch the talk shows this morning, they will be talking about the Senate election in Massachusetts, the continuing crisis in Haiti, and the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision on corporations and campaign finance. Sports fans are interested in NFL conference championship games. I don’t know what’s coming up in the world of entertainment. But the Church today is remembering Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, reading from the scroll of Isaiah.

It is not that the Church is not interested in the world. Certainly the Church is at the forefront of the response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and the Church’s members vigorously debate political matters and how God wills us to live and order our lives. But the Church has had an epiphany, if you will, about who is at the center of life; about who has the power to release us from the tyranny of our current moment, the agonies of indecision, the life of concern about tomorrow and what the future will bring. It is similar to how the Israelites understood the Sabbath. ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work.’ It depends on your perspective how you view this commandment. Either God has taken away your freedom to work and accomplish things for yourself, or God has given you freedom to worship him and rest in him. Work can easily become a taskmaster, and in the creation of the Sabbath God hedges in work for the human being, says: this far, no farther.

The Israelites met on the seventh day to rest in God; the Church meets on the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We meet to celebrate the epiphany that we have been given, the revelation revealed to us, that Jesus is the one who reveals God’s face to us.

“Good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor.” What the world seeks has been revealed in the coming of the Messiah.

Now how strange that statement may seem! For the world seems to roll on in the same way since Jesus was born. We indeed have poor, captives, blind, oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor seems as far away as at any point in human history.

It seems to be so in our own lives as well. We still struggle with ourselves and our own relationships, with God and with others. We are no closer to perfection than the day we were baptized and someone told us we were a new person. Some days I don’t feel so new! And I don’t mean in years – I mean I feel like the same old, same old person, with the same struggles and problems.

The Church is also broken, individual congregations, denominations, and in this week of prayer for Christian Unity we feel the sharp edges of our divisions.

We have the same feeling that the Israelites, returned from exile, had in hearing the Law for the first time in years: they wept. They wept for their sin, for the gap between the people they were and the people they were called to be; the promises of what life in the Law would be and what their lives looked like. But Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites insisted that they should not mourn, for God had given them a holy day and his own joy for their strength.

The joy of the Lord cannot be earned, it cannot be accomplished in any way, but only received, revealed, like an epiphany, like the Sabbath which says, “There is a rest from work, not because work is all done, but because there is more to life than work.” Like Jesus walking into the synagogue and saying, “Healing, release, recovery, God’s favor is accomplished!” Not in the resolution of all conflicts, but in the presence of God which puts them in their proper place. Not in the accomplishment of goals, but in the receiving of the Messiah. The joy of the Lord is grace in the midst of sinfulness, peace in the midst of war, life in the midst of dying.

And so it is that we take this moment to rest from what is momentary, to rest in what is eternal. We put aside our problems, our diversions, our goals and tasks, and we say, “This far and no farther.” And we rest in the joy of the Lord our strength. For he is present – we have received his forgiveness, we have heard his words read, we receive him in bread and wine and are refreshed and renewed in his presence.

And we can be messengers of his grace, so that when others are weary of searching for meaning, when they have run up against their own sin and death, we might say to them, “Do not weep, for this day is holy to the Lord, and the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

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Entry filed under: Sermons.

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