Sunday, January 12, 2014

Epiphany 1, 2014: Formed as servants

Lectionary: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our reading this morning from Isaiah is the first of four Servant Songs: poems depicting how God chooses a servant and gives them a purpose. The song tells us that the servant is then abused by the world for doing the will of God, but ultimately, is rewarded by God. Most Jewish scholars
interpret the servant in these poems as the Jewish people. Some Jewish and many Christian scholars also interpret them as referring to the Messiah to come.

In this first Servant Song, the people of Israel have been scattered along the coastlands of the Mediterranean, so God is sending someone to help them:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

This time, however, God is doing a new thing through this servant who will answer God’s call to re-establish righteousness but will go about it very differently:

"He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice."

Answering this call from God will not be easy for the servant. God makes plain that the chosen servant will confront enough difficulty to lead to discouragement, but God promises to uphold the servant as he does God’s will:

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

The prophet then reminds the listener who it is calling the servant: it is Almighty God

"who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it"

Knowing that this call and the way God seeks it to be answered is new and a bit disorienting, God speaks these words of assurance:

"I have called you in righteousness
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;"

“Kept” in this case translates as: FORMED and is the same word used in Genesis where God “formed” √°dam/humankind/Adam from the dust.

God, the Creator, promises to be with the servant, guiding him and gifting him, as he answers God’s call to serve. Clarifying was the servant is called to be and do, God says:

"I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness."

Listen carefully to what a servant is called to be and to do. God says, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, and take out – set free from the prisons all who sit in darkness.

I say listen carefully because this is the calling Jesus claimed for himself when he opened and read the scroll of Isaiah in the temple. It is also the calling he gave to us.

We who are servants of God, we who have been anointed and chosen… we are the covenant God gives to the people. We are the bearers of the light of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world; and all who hear this truth are set free from the prisons of darkness that hold them bound.

This is what Jesus demonstrated at his own baptism, where the Spirit of God descended upon him and a voice from heaven affirmed this union of heaven and earth in the flesh and bone body of the Savior, saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Did you know that it is from this Scripture story, found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that our understanding of God as Trinity is derived? The Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible. It’s derived from this story.

The Incarnate Word invites the Holy Spirit into his flesh and the Creator affirms that it is right and good. The three persons of God. In this moment, in Jesus, God and humankind are united in a whole new way and the truth prophesied in Isaiah became the truth realized on earth – from that time forth forevermore.

We have been blessed here at Redeemer to have baptized new children of God these last couple of weeks and months: Anna, Georgia and Sarah. Our experience of these unions of Spirit and flesh is fresh in our minds.

In the Episcopal Church, when we baptize a new family member into the body of Christ, we all renew our Baptismal Covenant. We will do this again today, remembering Jesus’s baptism, only today we do this as a new body, with a new calling. We will recommit to keeping our eyes fixed on God, who is within us and among us, who takes us by the hand, forms us, and shows us the way to go.

We know that for Peter, that meant going to the Gentiles - which was against the law for him. For John, it meant Baptizing the one who needed no repentance - which didn’t make sense to him. For us, it means trusting that God is still leading us in the way we should go. It also means living as the children of God we are. As one commentator said, “Jesus is unique as God’s chosen messenger and savior; but God’s baptismal pronouncement on Jesus as God’s beloved child applies to everyone. Christ’s salvific word has as one of its aims the awakening of everyone to God’s call in their lives.” (Source: Dr. Bruce Epperly.

That’s where we come in. God has anointed and chosen us to facilitate that awakening, to be restorers of righteousness, bearers of the light of Christ to all who are in darkness, that they might be set free from the many prisons that hold them bound.

Answering this call from God will demand much from us as it did Peter, John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and all the other children of God in our Scripture stories. Knowing the challenges they would face after he was gone from them, Jesus fulfilled the promise of God found in Isaiah and formed them, and to the best of their ability, Jesus’ followers received their formation.

I have much I’d like to say about our responsibility to ours and our children’s continuing spiritual formation, but suffice it to say that we need it, every one of us and all of us together, because without it, we might as well be trying to run a marathon while being malnourished and physically unconditioned. Our muscles would cramp, our energy would wane, and our bones might even crack and break. We probably wouldn’t be able to finish the race, and we certainly couldn’t invite anyone to go with us.

In this season of Epiphany we seek to learn the new thing God is doing in us as individuals and as a community. As we do, we must commit to building our spiritual muscles and share consistently in the spiritual nourishment of Word and Sacrament offered at our Sunday worship.

We must also offer the same to our children.

Only then can we, the servants of God, hear and answer the call of God and keep the covenant of our Baptism. Amen.

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