Sunday, January 24, 2010

Epiphany 3C

Preached by the Rev. Robert Franken at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 24, 2010

We are just 3 weeks beyond the end of Advent and Christmas, a celebration of birth that ended on Epiphany. We are a mere three weeks away from the start of Lent a journey, to Calvary and death that starts on Ash Wednesday.

In our liturgical calendar we are in the PAUSE between living out the two great stories of Jesus’ life: his birth and his death and resurrection – Christmas and Easter. It is in this pause that we find today’s gospel. For Luke this is the beginning of Jesus’ teaching … and in many ways the essence of it all.

In the translation of the Bible called The Message, translating from the vernacular of Jesus’ day to the vernacular of out time, the reading from Isaiah that Jesus picks in the Synagogue goes like this:
God’s spirit is on me;
He’s chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor.
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind
To set the burdened and battered free,
To announce, “This is God’s year to act.
Yet we know that there are still blind, burdened, and battered among us – and sometimes they are even us. These last 10 days we have witnessed … we have lived vicariously with the Haitian people as they struggle in their poverty with their batteredness from the devastating earthquakes.

These words are at the very beginning, and they are at the heart of what Jesus came to say and do. They set the tone for his ministry and mission. They set the tone for the Pause. And they set the tone for us and for our ministry.

Fast-forward for a second to Jesus’ final words before ascending, and hear what he expects from his followers – both then and now. ….when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses … all over the world.

He told them to witness – not to browbeat, not to threaten, not to judge – but simply to witness. Telling others what they had seen and heard. We too are charged, through our baptism, with witnessing when we answer the question: “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?”

This telling of stories in both word and action – stories of creation, stories of Jesus, stories of his first followers are echoed in the words of the Psalm this morning:
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
Stories passing from day to day, night to night from one generation to the next, building the blessed world in which we live.

Like all of God’s creation, we too are called to tell our stories – both in the way that we live our lives and the words we use to share what wonders God has done. We are called to witness. The quote most often attributed to St Francis seems to echo this message of sharing God through our actions: Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary. It is in living our lives and sharing our story of God’s work, that we become the witnesses that Jesus’ calls us to be.

In this vein let me share a moment with you from my story:

The last time I preached on this gospel was in 1991 at St John’ Chrysostom Episcopal Church in Golden Colorado in one of my early sermons as a deacon in that congregation. I preached from the split of the altar rail – sitting down. Two years, and two-dozen or more sermons latter, I started my sermon from exactly the same place but hesitantly walked over to the pulpit to finished the sermon. There was not a dry eye in the house – for they had never seen me stand.

You see, on the 21st of January 1975, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My MS became chronically progressive early on and by 1985 or 6 I was confined to a wheelchair. Then in late 1992 and early 1993 my condition started to improve. Not wanting to share false hope, I had kept this recovery a secret from all those around me.

This congregation had never seen me except in a wheelchair and had welcomed me with open arms – and provided me a place in which to exercise my diaconal ministry. A group of older ladies took it on themselves to pray for me regularly – even when I had given up any hope of a remission – they prayed.

That was almost 17 years ago. I never say the disease is gone – that would be arrogant and presumptuous – it also presents a real problem if it ever returns in force. I can still feel from time to time the twinges and limits of the disease.

In the 3-years leading up to my remission I had made some important life changes and engaged in significant “quality of life” work. But neither could have been sufficient reason for my remission. I am convinced that God’s hand touched my life in a special way at that moment. I don’t have good answers about why me, or why then, or for how long. That is not for me to know – it is not important. What is important is for me is to witness … for me to tell my story … for me to live my life in ways that witness to the power of our God.

You and I live our lives in the PAUSE between our birth and our death. Most of our stories are far more simple than that part of my story – and some may be even more dramatic. Simple, dramatic, or miraculous, we are called to share our stories. Share what our faith means to us in words …. and share what our faith means to us by how we live each day of our life.

The tie back to today’s gospel comes when we look at our own Baptismal promises. In our baptism, along with our promise to “proclaim by word and example” we promise to:
- …seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. To care for them and help them as Jesus himself would.
We promise to:
- …strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. To actively work for the disenfranchised, over burdened, and war ridden as Jesus himself would.

Ours is not to judge eternity – ours is not to threaten life or death – ours is not to browbeat another human being who has a different faith, or no faith.

• Ours is simply a call to live our lives in a ways that reflects these promises we made.
• Ours is call to spend our money in a ways that reflects our beliefs.
• Ours is a call to spend our time in a ways that reflects our faith.
• Ours is a call to share, to witness, the simple, the dramatic, or the miraculous.

In short, ours is a call to be in relationship with each other – within this community, within our state, within our country, and in our world through our sharing, helping, supporting, and praying.

This week we have witnessed hundreds of stories of hardship, survival, and yes, even death with the horrific tragedy in Haiti. We cannot get hardened … our lives cannot continue unaffected … we cannot simply turn it off because we are tired of it.

I urge you to act … to witness …. to share your life with theirs. Pray, give, act your faith to sisters and brothers, daughters and son whose lives have been ripped apart.

The other night on CNN I watch a little 12 or 13 year old girl in Haiti who suddenly found herself homeless listen to a reporter asking her about the increased level of violence – especially sexual violence against young girls – within the crowded tents where many of the 100s of thousands of homeless sleep. This girl took the reporter to her sleeping mat. On her bed mat was a bible. She picked it up and said, with a smile and a true air of confidence “I am not afraid, I have Jesus” This little girls shared a moment of her faith – her story – with the world, and in that moment became free.
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
And so must we – if we ever hope to truly experience the freedom from our burdens or prisons that Jesus came to bring to each one of us – to the whole world. “This is God’s year to act” - will you be his instrument?