This Week in January

Sermon preached on January 27, 2019 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

This Week in January

This week in January: On Tuesday, I got a text from Mackenzie while I was in the office, she had picked up our mail and there was an orange envelope in it. That could only mean one thing – the Pooley 2019 calendar was here!! Because I was living with this week’s texts, it made me wonder – maybe the gifts of the Spirit should come as well marketed and packaged as my Shutterfly calendar. I had this image of each of us receiving our own orange envelopes, with our gifts clearly written out, the ways we are gifted by God to meet the challenges of the days in which we live.

This week in January: began with Martin Luther King Jr. day, and began another week of the longest government shut down in the history of this country. For me it was Tuesday before I was able to spend some time reading and celebrating the remarkable legacy of Dr. King and considering the work still before us all. As the government shut down continued, I wondered how many of the most vulnerable of us were being disproportionately affected? In my reading and searching for answers, I found that Sojourners was asking for written prayers. The leader of that organization, Rev. Jim Wallace, would then take all those written prayers, and physically present them to the leadership of the Senate.

So, I did my research, learning that Senator McConnell is a Southern Baptist, and figured that a Scripture-based prayer was the best approach. I wrote a prayer asking God’s forgiveness for all of our senators, particularly for Mitch McConnell, who claims God’s ways, that God not judge him too harshly, even though in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 23:1-4), Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for sitting in seats of power over the people and not practicing what they teach; for they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. My prayer went on to ask that God have mercy on Senator McConnell and the other Senators, in proportion to the mercy they show others. Were the gifts of the spirit signaled by orange envelopes, my orange envelope listing my gifts might say: audacity mixed with hope, or wildly optimistic that small acts matter, and we can make a difference.

This week in January: we endured the last week of the long government shut down. Which has been painful on many levels because it’s injustice that impoverishes many who are least able to bear it. Whenever there’s widespread injustice against the least of us, it hurts all of us. It changes who we are as a people. Some of what’s been lost will not be easily recovered; trust and loyalty are difficult to repair once they are broken. Certainly, the government was finally opened, at the end of our week, but the memory remains of innocent people who were treated as pawns for ultimately no purpose.

This week in January: another mass shooting hit the news on Wednesday. As a former Parkland student pointed out after the shooting at SunTrust Bank in Florida, we’ve already had more mass shootings in the US this year than any other country will have in an entire year, and it was only day 23.¹ Unfortunately, the student is privileged to comment on that statistic by virtue of one of the worst mass shootings of last year – an orange stole moment for us. His orange envelope listing his gifts of the spirit might say: courage to speak out, determination to make a difference for others, on behalf of those who have died.

This week in January is just another week, filled with the challenges of 21st century American life. How do we respond? We’re here, together, and that’s a start.

From our Gospel: ‘Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee… When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.’ We are here, in our place of worship, on our sabbath day, as is our custom. And if we listen to the texts and pay attention, we are reminded how to be the people of God in our own day. Essentially, each of the texts tells us, that in every generation and context, we are gifted with God’s Spirit for the well-being of everyone.

There are no orange envelopes mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. Paul has his own way of illustrating this idea, explaining how being gifted by the Spirit works for us as individuals and members of one body, with our gifts working together in concert, needing one another equally. Paul points out how interdependent we are, that it’s important we care for one another. Noting what we’ve already mentioned – our suffering is shared; and Paul adds, as is our rejoicing.

In our Old Testament text, the people are gathered in the square to hear the words of the Torah read aloud by their priest, Ezra. It’s around 445 BCE, and they are returning from exile in Babylon to their homes in Judah. But restoring their lives there won’t be easy, and some things will never be the same. So, God’s people go back to the basics. Ezra reads the Torah to all who will listen, men and women gather and listen for hours. They remember their roots, and they repent, remembering what unites them as a nation and people, as they begin to rebuild their identity.² They recall God’s faithfulness and steadfast love to them, and they extend that love to others; sharing with all. This is what it means to be God’s people.

The same is true for us. When we are rebuilding and reshaping our community and our future from a place that feels broken and untenable – we do it together. With trust in God and one another, with faith in the scriptures, sharing what’s been given to us with others. This is what it means to be God’s people.

In the Gospel text this morning: When Jesus is handed the scroll from the Prophet Isaiah, he chooses to read these words: “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.”

Jesus is proclaiming the dawn of the Great Jubilee. Like the time of the exiles coming home to Jerusalem, this will be a time that liberates, restores, and brings people home. Jesus is clear – the core of God’s good news is lifting up the lowly.³

Humming Mary’s song, Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. The Lord’s Jubilee is not just for the benefit of the poor – it’s for the health and well-being of society as a whole. When people are free from anxiety and debt, and can see the light of new possibility, the whole community benefits – that’s the heart of Jubilee. Jesus is announcing himself as the one who is sent by God to fulfill these promises: to proclaim God’s Jubilee for the well-being of all God’s people.

For those of us who follow Jesus, that means sharing in God’s work of liberating, restoring and bringing people home. Participating in God’s Jubilee for those who are most vulnerable. We are called to proclaim good news to the poor, and to help build a world worthy of that proclamation.⁴  We are each empowered by God’s Spirit; we are given particular gifts for the well-being of all people. When we use our particular gifts of the Spirit to participate in proclaiming God’s Jubilee – everyone benefits. Grace upon grace. That’s how and why we respond, every week, to whatever challenges we are facing in our 21st century lives.

This week in January: we responded to the government shut down, now ended, at least temporarily; we continue working toward racial reconciliation and healing in this country; and working to end gun violence. (That’s all, for this week anyway.)

Because that’s what it means to be the people of God. Because we’ve received the gifts of the Spirit, and we trust that together we can respond to challenges before us. And because we’ve heard the words of scripture read by Jesus this morning, and we know that they also apply to each of us.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon us because God has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. God has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.’ Together, may we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And work to make a world worthy of our proclamation. This week and every week.  Amen.

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[1] Matt Deitsch, @MattxRed tweet, January 23, 2019. Verified: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit organization that provides online public access to information about gun-related violence, the attack in Sebring is the nation’s 19th mass shooting in 2019. (29 people have been killed in those 19 shootings.) The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any single event in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker.
[2] Rev. Wolfgang W. Laudert, For Luther Seminary’s GodPause, Monday, Jan 21, 2019.
[3] Jubilee! SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Three, www.saltproject.org, January 23, 2019.
[4] Jubilee! SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Three, www.saltproject.org, January 23, 2019.