Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: January 22

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A New Day has dawned… The Inauguration has taken place but I am not talking about what happened in Washington DC on Friday, with our 45th President.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus began his ministry. He begins calling the disciples. He is inaugurating a new way of living. This Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration. Not an inauguration of a new person in power, but an inauguration for those who will follow the call into God’s life and love as disciples of Jesus.

Following him is no small thing. He is calling them away from their families, their livelihood. They are sacrificing much to follow Jesus. And we hear their names… Simon Peter & Andrew, James & John, sons of Zebedee. He called the fishermen to come fish for people…

They left their nets, boats and family and joined his ministry. His ministry of healing, teaching, and preaching about the Reign of God that has come near. Repent & Be ready. It is a revolution. A revolution of healing & reconciliation in a time of brokenness and power imbalance in a land occupied by Rome, that longed for hope, for a messiah.

He left Nazareth, after John’s arrest by the authorities, and at the shores of the Sea of Galilee, gathers disciples and there it all begins…

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Matthew)

What a moment in history that must have been.

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Isaiah & Matthew – helps frame Jesus work)

The Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration, of darkness turning to light and those who came to follow Jesus in the years afterwards were brought into his ministry by the Holy Spirit.

But that doesn’t mean it always worked right. We humans are fallible creatures and boy we are so easily swayed into factions and partisans. That is not only true of today but back in that first century too.

In Paul’s 1st Letter to the Christians living in Corinth, He says “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you…”

Now the church has always struggled to maintain such agreement, part of our human nature to discuss and disagree, but we can get very divided when we lose sight of our purpose in Jesus, and think we know best. We can easily be lead to quarrel

“Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.””

Sigh. It has been from our beginnings to divide ourselves up. In Paul’s case, by those who baptized. Our days, we do it through our labels – Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat – we do it by saying some our heretics and we are not.

But for us who follow Jesus. Such division must not be our identity or our purpose.

“Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? … For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The cross is the power of God. It is salvation. It is life. And it is our purpose as beautifully stated in one of our morning prayers: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love…

This Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration. Not an inauguration of a new person in power, but an inauguration for those who will follow the call into God’s life and love as disciples of Jesus, who stretched out his arms on the cross for everyone, who calls us to reach forth our hands in love.

It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice on our part. But in it all, through our baptism, the Spirit of God will be with us. Even if we do not know what to expect.

Let me end with a favorite prayer by Thomas Merton that might help us consider this inauguration of discipleship and our part in following Jesus.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

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