Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Beloved sisters and brothers, let us look to the Lord.
May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

One of my favorite geeky things to do is listen to Ira Flatow and Science Friday on WBHM, our local NPR station. This last Friday one of the topics they talked about was turning GirlScout cookies into Graphene, which is essentially a two-dimensional sheet of carbon fiber that is only one atom thick; at the molecular level it kinda looks like chicken wire. Instead of using really pure, really expensive materials which has been the conventional way to produce very tiny amounts of this material; scientists at Rice University in Houston showed that Graphene can instead be made from anything that has carbon, which is the basis for all organic life on this planet.

This is astonishing research that opens the door a little bit more towards a future that promises extremely light, extremely thin, and extremely strong structures in the development of nanotechnologies. Producing Graphene is still really expensive but with this new understanding that it can be made from virtually anything, we have the promise that it will someday be part of assemblies and systems that will transform our day to day life in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

Another amazing bit of creation and science is this human body of ours which has 206 bones, 639 muscles, and about 6 pounds of skin; along with ligaments, cartilage, veins, arteries, blood, fat, and all those other nasty bits. Every time we hear a sound, every time we take a step; every time we take a breath, hundreds of different parts work together so that what we experience is a single movement, our minds and bodies working as one unit. The greatest scientists and engineers continue to struggle to achieve anything remotely approaching it in mechanical form. The human body represents one of the most complex systems in existence.

I think that this is probably why, the body is one of the most powerful images for the church that is offered in Scripture. The metaphor conveys both complexity, and organic unity. Archbishop Tutu might say that this is also an expression of Ubuntu, that “I am, because We are.”

Often we can find that it is difficult to name our place in the church, to figure out what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. Though, and probably not surprisingly, when we’re asked to envision ourselves as a part of the body; children and adults have very little difficulty in identifying themselves as hands, feet, brains, or of course funny bones!

So, part of Paul’s metaphor emphasizes that there are a number of aspects essential to what it means to be God's church; that we are linked with one another in a relationship that we can't dissolve any more than we could have created it ourselves.

Something else that Paul uses this metaphor for – something that's become a popular word in Anglican circles, is interdependence.

Paul is saying that we need one another. He is not saying merely that the poor need the rich, the sick need the healthy, and the weak need the strong to protect or rescue them; he's saying that we all need one another.

Ubuntu, I am, because We are.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we have each been given individually, are also needed by all of us corporately for the benefit of our community.

These are gifts that are needed for our health as a body and as members of it, to be sure, but they are also needed for more than that. They are needed because, in Paul's terms, we're not just parts of a body; we're members of the Body of Christ.

That’s part of what we heard in our readings last week that expressed the theology of Third Isaiah: that who we are as God's people is intimately tied up with our call to engage in God's mission.

God has made us one Body of Christ, a sign – a living sacrament - for the work of what God in God's grace is doing in the world.

St.Teresa of Avila puts it something like this:

Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world. Ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good. Ours are the hands with which he blesses his people now.

We experience what it means to be Christ's Body as we engage in Christ's mission in the world, both within and beyond these walls.

If we want to know more about what that means, we have a really good starting point in our gospel reading for this Sunday. In it, Luke describes Jesus at the start of his public ministry, claiming a combination of passages as his mission; and in claiming this as his mission, Jesus offers himself and his life as a prophetic sign that "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

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.

These are inspiring words; they were chosen by our Presiding Bishop Katharine as a theme for her ministry, it highlights the continuing work of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide, and it is the basis for the network of over 600 Jubilee Ministry Centers throughout The Episcopal Church including the 11 that I provide support for in this diocese.

But they're not just words! What would it mean if we really believed that in Jesus, the words are being fulfilled today? How would we respond?

Also, I think that today’s reading from First Corinthians fits perfectly with the gospel. Our gospel reading shows Luke's version of Jesus, the Christ, saying clearly what his program, what his mission is.

If, we who seek to follow the Way of Jesus are the Body of Christ, this is the mission that we're called to be engaged in.

Perhaps, as a member of the Body of Christ, I should put that invitation up on my bathroom mirror, to see at the beginning of my day, to be reminded of as I make decisions throughout my day:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God 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, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

One of the things that I think we should draw from this passage is the simple fact that: I'm not Jesus, you and I are not Jesus, and none of us can save the world.

But we are the Body of Christ – here and now. We are not required to win some kind of pageant or even be able to get our ‘act’ together; it is by God's action, with Jesus having done all of the groundwork that is necessary.

We are called to live into that identity, and to engage in the mission that comes with it – not later, when we think that we have our act together, or when it's more convenient, or once the kids are in college, or after some kind of cosmic sign. We have our cosmic sign.

We have the life, the teaching and healing, the confronting and defeating of worldly powers, the death on a cross and the resurrection by God's action of Jesus, the Christ.

“The Spirit of God was upon him, because God anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord's favor.”

And here and now, we are the Body of the Christ, the Anointed. It's true. It's powerful. It’s Ubuntu, it’s “I am, because We are”. It’s this scripture being fulfilled in our hearing – and in our doing.

Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating King, Creating Peace

Celebrating King, creating peace

interview with yours truly as part of this article published by the Episcopal News Service in honor of MLK Day 2013