Monday, January 22, 2007

The "Ahas! of God

The Year of the Lord’s Favor
Epiphany 3C: January 21, 2007
Susan Russell – All Saints, Pasadena

Years ago when our Bishop Jon Bruno was a parish priest and I was a parish secretary he explained to me that an epiphany works like this: God is forever tapping on each and every one of our heads trying to get our attention. Every once in awhile we look up and say, "Huh???" -- and THAT’S an epiphany!

And so, when we celebrate "epiphanies" we celebrate not the fact that God occasionally "shows up" -- but the fact that we noticed! We celebrate the relentless love of the God who is our Creator … forever “tapping on our heads”… forever giving us new and surprising ways to encounter God’s love for us – and calling us to share that love with others.

Two weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the “aha!” moment when the dove descended and God declared, “This is my beloved Son.” Last week the “aha!” wasn’t at a river but at a wedding – when Jesus, at the urging of his mama, turned water into wine. And the epiphany – the “aha!” – in this morning’s gospel happens when Jesus goes home to Nazareth – to people who knew him growing up as Joseph and Mary’s kid. He read from the lesson appointed for the day – the one we just heard from the gospel of Luke:

'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."

And if he’d stopped there it would have been fine. They would have all nodded and smiled and said to each other how tall he’d gotten and shouldn’t his folks be proud and then they would have all gone and had a have “cake on the lawn” and a reception honoring the village-son-returning-home.

Instead, he preached a sermon that began, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And that’s where the lesson ends today but that’s not where the story ends.
I’m going to jump ahead a little and give you a preview of “Part 2” that comes next week: when he challenged them to actually live out the lesson he read – to BRING good news to the poor – to LET the oppressed to free – to RELEASE the captives they had an “aha!” all right.

In fact, challenging their status quo was SUCH an “aha!” that the congregation turned them into an enraged mob that tried to throw him off the cliff. And I wondered if in some way this Episcopal Church … striving to “be Jesus” in the world today … isn’t facing precisely the same reaction from some of our Anglican hometown crowd.

This church has proclaimed that “the year of the Lord’s favor is NOW” by working to fully include all of the baptized into the Body of Christ, by raising up into leadership women with grace and faith and gifts and power and by embracing the Millennium Development Goals that push us to reach out to the marginalized, oppressed and captive in very real ways. But like our Lord Jesus before us, this proclamation has sent some of our Anglican Communion relatives looking for a cliff to throw the American Episcopal Church off.

The Good News, of course, is that our Lord moved through the crowd miraculously unscathed – you’ll hear about that next week -- and that, I pray, will be a miracle that will surround this church – and our Presiding Bishop Katharine -- as she represents us to the world. Listen to these words she preached last week in commemoration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.:

Nearly forty years have passed since Martin King was assassinated. Like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, like the threat Jesus posed to the governments of his day, like the prophets of the ages since, Martin threatened the structures of oppression and domination. The systems of domination in this world strike out when their poverty is revealed, when their selfishness and shame is exposed for the world to see. That exposing of evil is the work God asks of us all. May we be tireless lovers of our enemies, ever-hopeful of seeing them in the completeness for which God created them. As long as anyone is in bondage, none of us will ever be free.

As long as anyone is in bondage, none of us will ever be free. That is the good news we have to share. That is the “aha!” we celebrate this Third Sunday of Epiphany. That is the year of the Lord’s favor we pray that God will give us grace and courage to proclaim in our own time the way our Lord Jesus and Martin King did in theirs. Amen.

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