Year C, Epiphany 3
January 27, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, * O, Lord my strength and my redeemer.”
The Greek word mysterion, which is translated into Latin as sacramentumis translated into English as either Mystery or Sacrament. In the context people gathering ritually, in the context of the liturgy, Mystery and Sacrament are synonymous. What they refer to, in the words of the late Fr. Thomas Keating, are “…a sacred sign or symbol… of a spiritual reality that transcends both the senses and the rational concepts that depend on them.” That is the heart of our experience here at this table, here in The Church (with a big C), experiencing a spiritual reality that transcends both the senses and the rational concepts that depend on them.
Our primary Mystery or Sacrament is the life of Jesus Christ. What His presence amongst us is a sign of is the presence of the very Living God. The Mystery of the Incarnation is the sign of the union of God and human. Fully human and fully divine. That indissoluble union enabled the saving graces He bestowed upon all He met and taught and healed and saved (and harangued and drove crazy). What is important for us today, what our readings ae all about, is that activity of Jesus Christ continues to take place through the Mystery of the Church. The Body of Christ, us, here, now, in what we are and do, is the activity of Christ. This is very important, for as Fr. Keating observes, “whenever and wherever the action of Jesus takes place, the life of God is transmitted.” The life of God is transmitted… that is what I’m talking about! If the life of God is transmitted through the action of Jesus Christ, and if Jesus’ activy continues in the Body of Christ, that here, in the Body of Christ in our Mysteries and Sacraments, the life of God is transmitted.
Throughout this Epiphany season we are reading St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Last week we heard about spiritual gifts – uttering wisdom, knowledge, prophesy… there are many of them, as many as there are followers of Jesus Christ. What is important is that those spiritual gifts are all given by the Holy Spirit. From the ministry of Martine Luther King, Jr. to last week’s Dona Nobis Pachemoffered by the Choristers that boued me through my shower this morning, it is all from the same spirit.
St. Paul continues in that vein in this week’s epistle, that all of us, with all of our gifts, are joined together not as a body of people, but as the Body of Christ. “For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one Body…” The Spirit that animates our wills and souls also binds us together in one organism which through Jesus Christ does all He does, from bringing good news to the poor and release to the captives to the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is Paul’s explicit definition of the Church as the extension of the life of Christ, and by what we do, the acts we do in the name of God are signs of God’s presence and activity in the world right here and right now. That’s good stuff.
So we each are given gifts by the Holy Spirit, and together, existentially, we are the Body of Christ… As Christ’s Body, through the signs and symbols, we receive the consciousness of Jesus Christ. We are one Body, and one Spirit, there is one Hope, one Lord, one faith, one Mind, all of Christ. In the celebration of the Sacraments, in the conduct of the liturgy, we receive (or at least have the chance to receive) that consciousness of Jesus Christ. This consciousness opens us to God our Ultimate Reality, which is infinite compassion, and that infinite compassion flows into us, and through us, it flows into the world. Infinite compassion, another way to say love, which is another way of say the Life of God… this is one of the ways that that, the Life of God, Christ’s action, the Spirit’s gifts are expressed in the world: through us, Christ’s church. The air is getting a bit thin, but stick with me.
This is what our readings from the prophet Nehemiah, Psalm 19 and St. Luke’s gospel are about; they are about that happening, about the transmission of the Life of God into us, and through us, our being and our action, into the world.
At the Water Gate, Ezra read from the book of the law of Moses. The many of people the people gathered there were veterans of the Exile. They were a hardened people; they had suffered deeply, and now there were home again, now they were back in the land of their fathers and mothers, but it wasn’t all rosy. Not everyone had been in Babylon; there was conflict between those returning and those who had never been taken away. As that sure and wise testimony was proclaimed to them those hardened people bowed their heads and were reduced to tears. Ezra the priest begs them not to mourn or weep but to “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lordis your strength.” What Ezra is saying is that the very presence of the God’s law amongst the people changes the nature of reality. What happened in that liturgical gather, in the proclamation of the word of God, was and encounter with God, the transmission of the Life of God right there, right then. The world changed for it as those people were changed. “…for the joy of the Lordis your strength.” It really was, Ezra was not speaking metaphorically.
Fast forward 450 years to Nazareth and Jesus walks into His home synagogue and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In these words, spoken in the midst of a Holy gathering of the people of God the Life of God was shared. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That is more than “Good sermon, preacher.” The Word came alive! They became a sign of the spiritual reality that transcended “…both the senses and the rational concepts depending on them.” The Life of God was transmitted. That’s what the story is about. That is the Scripture being fulfilled in their hearing. (And it continues in our hearing, too).
Let’s recap. First off, “What?” Each of us, in one Holy Spirit, are not only blessed with spiritual gifts, but are also bound together in the One Body of Christ, The Church. OK? That begs the question, “So what?” Gathered together in the Mysteries and Sacraments, the actions of Jesus Christ continue in history, in this very moment. And by and with and in the continued presence of Christ in the Sacraments, the very Life of God is transmitted to us. That’s some Good News. We are gifted, gathered, and the Life of God is transmitted to us! To you! Which brings us to the all-important, “Now what?”
We fully encounter the great Mystery of God in Christ each time we gather around this table and proclaim God’s Word and partake in the Sacraments of the Church… the Life of God in God’s self is given to us. To you. Can I hear an Amen. Either through insight into the Mystery of Christ or with the Infusion of Divine Love, you receive it. Now what? What are we doing with that?
Well, we, the royal we, we are doing this, being a church. Our mission statement, sensibly taken from the Book of Common Prayer is to “invite all people to unity with God and each other. We pursue this mission as we pray and worship, proclaim the gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.” We’ve got a lot of work to do on this. Our corporate worship and public lives of prayer are pretty darn solid, if I do say so myself, but we can tighten it up. We always need to make the Word hearable in deeper ways for those of us here and broader ways to bring more diverse people into Christ’s loving fold. (Yes, that means evangelism, spreading the Word). Our work with our unhoused neighbors, the plumbing problems notwithstanding, is similarly strong, but can always be stronger, more of us could participate, or give more towards our outward mission. We can always be more generous as community, more patient and loving with each other and with our neighbors in all the forms that neighbors can take. All of us could be better at forgiving our family and friends let alone strangers and enemies.
But what about you? The Life of God creeps into us and is often known only in the fruits of our lives. For a few of us, our vocations are primarily here, Jesus’ support staff in His work transmitting the Life of God. The Church is the primary site of our work. (Let me restate that… for most of us the firs site of our vocation is our life in our family: being a patient and kind parent, a forgiving and attentive partner, a responsible and generous neighbor). For a small number of us, our outward vocation is church based. But the church is not an end, not at all. Jesus gave His precious body to the world. We must continue to generously give of His body through the Church. It is a place of renewal and support, of inspiration and healing, of forgiveness and empowerment for you to go out into the world and shine the light of God in your life in the 165 hours each week that you are not at church. And do you know what you have to give? What you, yes you have to offer the world? The Life of God! Ordained in Baptism into the priesthood of all believers, you carry with you into the world the Life of God that you receive here. Hide it under a bushel? No! Let the Light of Christ, the Life of God shine in and through you! You have gifts that, in the Light of Christ, need to be shared. And in the blessed zero-sum economy of God, whatever it is that you have to give, someone out there needs it.
In the lives of relative comfort that many of us lead, it is easy to be lulled into complacency. Sometimes it is that the troubles seem so vast and insurmountable that we assume that there is nothing to be done (or nothing we can do). Sometimes we begin assume that our experiences are more universal than they are (like the commerce secretary suggesting federal employees get bank loans rather than visit food pantries). For most of us, though, it is just easier to stare intently at the steering wheel than acknowledge the suffering in the face of the person on that street corner, it is easier to ignore, forget, look away than it is to accept that some people suffer unimaginably, and needlessly in a land flowing with the milk and honey of late stage free market capitalism. When we do that, and most all of us do, I do, curled up in a bed enjoying the blowing rain pounding on the windows forgetting all those huddled in wet sleeping bags around this church, when we do that, we are withholding the Life of God from the world. We need to knock it off.
And we can. Because it is not on us, not on our will alone. Look at Nehemiah and Jesus in Luke’s gospel. When the Life of God was transmitted, what was the result? Sharing a portion of the fat and the sweet wine, Good News to the poor, release to the captives, freedom for the oppressed. These are the natural consequences of the presence of God in our lives. We, you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, blessed with the light of Christ, imbued with the Life of God and you know what you have to offer. It is right there waiting for you to notice. So breathe in the spirit of life, breathe out the love of our creator. Bask in the glow of this table and the love of this community, and feel where you are being led to love and serve the Lord in this place and beyond. With the ways things have been, the way thing surely seem to be going, it is all hands on deck. Great is the mystery of faith, and great is the power of the faithful. AMEN