Monday, January 25, 2010

Sermon for Third Sunday after the Epiphany, "Filled: With the Spirit"

Sermon 1/24/10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:4-21


Filled: With the Spirit

Every time I come across this week I the lectionary cycle, I’ve chosen to focus my preaching on the gospel text of Luke. It’s one of my favorite passages. It’s Jesus’ first sermon of sorts, at least the first that is included in the biblical narrative. In it, he returns, filled with the power of the Spirit, to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, as was his custom, we read. He stands up to read, and he reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. “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.” Then Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits back down, and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In reading this text from Isaiah, Jesus sets out, from the very beginning, with a very clear announcement about what he intends to be all about: good news for the poor, release for captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

But our other scripture text today keeps catching my attention, calling to me to give it a second look, because I feel it really contains a message we need to hear right now. Our text is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was a faith community that Paul himself founded, and he’d received word that “a lack of harmony and internal strife” had been troubling the congregation. So Paul writes this letter in response to the conflicts he’s hearing about, as a letter that reminds the community of how to live together as the Body of Christ. This chapter is one of the key themes in the book. Paul begins, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Paul then goes on to paint a vivid visual for us – he talks about the human body as the body of Christ, and compares each of us to parts of that human body, as we are part of the body of Christ. There is just one body of Christ, but there are different parts of the body of Christ, each of which has a different function. All of these roles are vitally important to the body of Christ, but none can exist on their own, none is more important than the other, and none has the right to say to the others, “I have no need of you.” Paul tells us that “God has so arranged the body . . . that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” We are individual members of the one body of Christ.

As we prepare for our Annual Meeting next Sunday, I think this text is something we need to hear and really consider. This week, our Pastor-Parish Relations Committee met with my supervising District Superintendent, David Underwood. He is also preaching today on Corinthians, and spoke to us about how this passage reminds us that the church is an organism, not an organization. The body of Christ is a living entity – filled with the Spirit, made of people, all of God’s unique creations. We are the body of Christ in the world – that’s a reminder that we hear every time we celebrate communion together. When the elements are consecrated, we pray, “make [these gifts] be for us the body . . . of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ.”

We are called to be the eyes of Jesus. Right in our gospel lesson today Jesus talks about bringing recovery of sight to the blind. He certainly does this in literal ways through his healing, but Jesus was also about opening the eyes of those who were spiritually blind. He spoke about spiritual blindness as a more troubling problem, and frequently called the Pharisees blind guides, blind fools, the blind leading the blind. But Jesus always sees situations, and sees us, clearly, seeing through the facades we put on. When I searched the scriptures for references to Jesus seeing, I noticed that most often, we read that Jesus sees with compassion.

Jesus also sees those that others don’t see. In the gospels he sees children, women, those in need of healing. He sees the faith of people who are on the fringes. He sees the ones that others walk right by. Jesus sees us as we truly are, as we hope to be, as we might be, as we are trying to be.

How do we see people? Who don’t we see? How can we be the eyes of Jesus in the body of Christ? When I think about this congregation as a part of the body of Christ, I can think of those who truly act as the eyes of Jesus, really seeing everyone. We have a couple of people who are most likely to see you if you are a visitor – one standout person is almost always the first person to introduce himself to someone new. And we have some people who always see people who need help entering the building, who are always right there to open doors, operate the elevator, and put someone at ease. We have some people who really see our youth and children, who notice what is going on in their lives. We have some people who are really good at seeing who is not here, remembering those who have been absent for our fellowship and reaching out. We are blessed to have some people who are the eyes of Jesus in the body of Christ.

We are called to be the ears of Jesus. All through his teaching, Jesus would end his parables and sermons with the words, “Let all who have ears, let them hear!” Or, “Let anyone with ears listen!” When he stayed at the home of Mary and Martha, he praised Mary for just sitting and listening, rather than being busy with household chores. To have someone’s undivided attention is such a rare gift, and it was one that Jesus gave to unexpected people. Think about how you listen to someone who is speaking. We spend much of our time listening to someone with our minds actually in another place – we’re always worrying about what we are going to say next, how we will respond, or a million other things – what’s on our to-do list, what’s happening next, or even how we will fix a problem someone is sharing. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people aren’t looking for you to fix their problems. They’re just hoping you care about them enough to listen to their experiences. Jesus gave his full attention to people. And he asks our full attention to what he teaches.

So how are we being the ears of Jesus in this part of the body of Christ? Who is particularly attuned to listening – to other people, to God’s call, to the Spirit’s leading? I know that we have some people here who have been good listeners when I’ve needed help. I know even just this week one in our family met to really listen to and talk with another member who has having a hard time. We have some people here who are anxiously listening for how God will call them, who frequently speak to me about wanting to hear God’s hopes for their lives. We have someone who volunteers many hours each week at a helpline and just listens when people call when they’re in times of deep crisis. We’re blessed to have people who can really listen when we are at meetings or council sessions and disagreements arise, who can really listen for the core of what someone is saying and understand another person’s perspective. We’re blessed to have those who embody the ears of Christ in this congregation.

We are called to be the mouth of Christ. Words are extremely powerful. Words can hurt or heal. I bet each of us can think over our lives and remember things that have been said – said in love or said in anger. Sometimes words are so powerful that years later we can remember word-for-word what someone told us. And because words are so powerful, we have to be careful, thoughtful, with what we say and why we say it. Every time we speak, we have an opportunity to be the mouth of Christ. Jesus said that it is what comes out of our mouths, not what goes in, that makes us clean or unclean. What has come out of your mouth that you are proud of? What have you said that has caused harm to another person? Jesus was someone who always spoke out of love, but also someone who spoke the truth, even when the truth was difficult to hear. When have you spoken up when no one else would? When have your raised your voice to call for justice, and when have you been quiet, letting an injustice go by without giving voice to the harm you saw done? And of course, Jesus used his voice to share the good news about God’s unconditional love, to share the news that we didn’t have to wait for God’s kingdom – that God’s kingdom was here, near, now.

How are we being the mouth of Christ in this body, this congregation? I urge you to consider carefully the power of your words, and how we speak to and about one another. We are blessed to have some people here who are so excited to talk to you about God and God’s love. We’re blessed to have a group of adults who are serving as teachers and mentors to our Sunday School students and confirmands – they, whether they realize it or not – are being the mouth of Christ as they share stories about Jesus and about their own faith journeys. We have a group of people who is dedicated to leading worship at an area nursing home every 6 weeks or so – they are acting as the mouth of Christ for people who don’t often receive that attention. We’re blessed with people who participate in worship through music and assisting and reading scripture – they are acting as the mouth of Christ. Some of you really work on inviting people to worship – some of our young people consistently invite friends to church or Sunday School or youth group – they are acting as the mouth of Christ, and we are blessed to have them in our congregation.

We are called to be the hands of Christ. Think about what you use your hands for. In Jesus’ day, most people’s livelihoods would come from manual labor – work done with the hands. What work do you do with your hands? In the gospels, Jesus uses his hands primarily for healing and blessing others, and again he focuses his that healing and blessing on those who are usually on the fringes of society, at the margins. Jesus also uses his hands to feed and to serve, even to wash the feet of his disciples. Physical touch can be a powerful way to communicate the love of Christ. I think of the feeling of holding a baby to be baptized, or the touch of hands that are joined with yours in prayer, or the connection made between you and me when we renew baptismal vows, or celebrate a healing service with anointing oil, or next month when we will be marked with ashes. We are called to be the hands of Christ – how do we use our hands as Jesus did?

We’re blessed to have hands in our midst that hold a shovel or bag of rock salt on snowy Sunday mornings. We have hands that helped with construction – or destruction – in our Sunday School wing downstairs, including hands that worked hard when no one else was around to see. A certain pair of hands frequently takes items from the narthex to the right spot in the food pantry. We have hands that do things like fill our altar candles, change our paraments which decorate our sanctuary, and ready communion bread, including hands that prepare communion bread nearly every single Sunday for our 8 o’clock service. There are hands that have mended my robe for me, and hands that have knit prayer shawls, and hands that have baked bread for food baskets. There are hands that collect and count our offering each week. We’re blessed with the hands of Jesus, hard at work in this community of faith.

And we are called to be the feet of Jesus. When I think of Jesus’ feet, I think of all the places his feet had to go. Jesus’ feet took him all the places no one else wanted to go. His feet took him to the home of a tax collector and the home of a Pharisee. They took him to Jericho and Syrophoenicia, to Sidon, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem. His feet took him to a leper colony, and up mountains to pray. His feet took him across the water, and eventually took him to his own crucifixion, where he gave his life freely. Jesus wanted us to think about where our feet take us too. Jesus said, “if someone requires you to go one mile with them, go with them also a second mile.” He was talking about a law that required Jews to carry the pack of an occupying Roman soldier for one mile if requested on the road. It was a law to travel that mile. Jesus told people to go further than was required – the extra mile. Where do your feet take you? I mean both literally and figuratively. When do your feet take you out of your comfort zone?

I see the feet of Jesus in this congregation. You’d be amazed, I bet, at the places these feet have been in the name of Jesus. Someone’s feet carry them to a city church to teach nutrition and cooking skills to those who really need to learn. Someone’s feet take them to P.E.A.C.E. right here in town to drop off food. Some feet have travelled on mission trips to serve those in need. Many feet have traveled to camp to learn more about God. Some feet will be traveling soon to serve meals to hungry people. Feet, young and old, stood in a mall ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. Where have your feet taken you? We have the feet of Jesus, right here in this congregation.

Sometimes we need reminding of how blessed we are to have such a full congregation of different and unique people. There is no one here who can bring to this congregation what you bring. And there is no one here who can bring to this congregation what the person who sometimes frustrates or challenges you brings. Yesterday, for a conference event I was attending, we had to read a document about leadership, which included words from a Luther pastor named Wally Armbuster. He writes, “harmony is not everyone singing the same note at the same time. That is monotony. Harmony is when everyone sings his or her own note and then listens carefully to others in order to blend together.” It isn’t always easy to live together and work together and be in ministry together when we have such different ideas about the best way to make things work. But what a blessing it is that we have so many people who are passionate about serving God in this place. Paul reminds us that we are bound together by something that runs much deeper than common interests or compatible personalities. We are bound together because we are one in the Spirit, one in the body of Christ. The tie that binds us is stronger than the differences that stretch us – and so we celebrate, and nurture those bonds, and we’re meant to nurture and care for our relationships within the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ in the world – we are the eyes, the ears, the mouths, the hands, and the feet that carry God’s love, made possible by the Holy Spirit that works within us. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Amen.

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