Sunday, January 13, 2013

Epiphany 1 & Annual Mtg: Precious, honored, and beloved

Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

Today as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we also celebrate our life together as a church, gathering for our Annual Meeting at lunch. It’s a beautiful thing to me that these two events happened for us on the same day this year because the two fit so well together.

You see, at Jesus’ baptism, the world witnessed the bonding of the Holy Spirit with the flesh of humanity. Although the event was hard to describe all four of the gospel writers included in their story of Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, gently, the way a dove alights.”

For Episcopalians, “Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (BCP, 298)

Please notice that it is God who establishes this bond of flesh and Spirit, and it is God’s church we represent and serve, not our own. And God has made clear to us how this bond of flesh and Spirit works.
It has been recorded over and over again in our Scriptures and we heard it today in our reading from the prophet, Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord… who created you, O Jacob… who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We are offered an intimate relationship with the One whose power is so great as to be frightening when we think on it, but who approaches us gently, saying: “Do not fear... for I have redeemed you.” Then God goes on to explain again how this bond of flesh and Spirit works.

Notice that God doesn’t say that once we are bonded together, all of our trials and tribulations will end. On the contrary, God affirms that those will continue. The bond, however, assures us that as we pass through those difficult times, those chaos waters, God is with us so we won’t be overwhelmed. As we face the trials and temptations of our lives, God, who loves us, is with us, so we won’t be destroyed: “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. It’s a familiar theme by now (I hope).

Throughout our history as God’s people, however, we see evidence that we have succumbed to the temptation to make God so distant and so terrible as to be little more than frightening to us. We continue to see that happening in some religious expressions in current culture.

That Westboro Church comes to my mind. I believe the members of that church are trying to be faithful, even as they promote a terrible, hateful, and vengeful God. The bond shared with that kind of God can only be a bond slavery – always fearing that we might anger our master, never sure about how to be perfectly obedient, and feeling justified in wreaking God’s vengeance on others in order to lick the boots of this abusive master.

But God has always had a different kind of bond in mind. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…”

The “you’ in this statement is everyone whom God has created. Everyone is precious in the sight of God, honored and beloved.

And this is the message we are called to go tell on the mountain, to proclaim as heralds in our day. This is the light of God that shines in the darkness of the world and in our souls: “…you are precious in my sight, honored, and I love you…”

It is God who establishes this bond, but it is we who are asked to welcome, in the name of God, those whom God is drawing into the body. God says (through Isaiah): “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth - - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."


“Do not fear, for I am with you…” God says. I will bring them. You receive them.

God establishes the bond. We, the church give that bond a place to live and grow. We, the church, offer spiritual nourishment and resources so that everyone has a safe place they can go inward to heal, then reach out to serve. We, the church, invite all who have been formed and created by God into this bond, into this body, and we must speak out any time someone tries to withhold that bond from anyone else.

Each year, during my tenure at Redeemer, I have prayed and discerned a theme upon which we’ve focused, with a goal to bring us beyond any limits that might hinder our forward movement.

2010 was the Year of our Rebirth and rebirth we did. Our labor was difficult, our transitional labor was painful, but our birth was beautiful and new life was begun. This new life was manifest for us in many ways, but particularly through the birth of The Shepherd’s Table and Food Pantry ministries. Devoting ourselves to serving God’s people, using gifts we already had (our building, our kitchen, ourselves), enabled us to heal from our wounds and glorify God.

2011 was the Year of our Youth. Devotion to our children has always been an obvious gift at Redeemer, and while we continue to struggle to find a formation program that will excite and involve us, we did devote ourselves and our resources in 2011 to refurbishing our Youth room. Matthew Kiggen offered our youth his leadership gifts and his youthful energy, supported then by Deacon Pam and now Michele Wiltfong; and our youth developed their own way of serving God’s people. As a result, we have a beloved new “tradition” at Redeemer: the Christmas cards!

2012 was the Year of Hospitality. Our feeding ministries expanded to include the Community Garden, allowing us to welcome Shepherd’s Table guests, and even area churches too small to do it on their own, to grow fresh food on our land. Our hospitality did extend a bit further than we anticipated, until we put up fencing to ensure that at least some of our harvest went to people, not just God’s beloved critters in creation!

Focusing on inviting in those on the outside, we also prepared for and started our Moveable Feasts, building community among the 20-to-30-somethings who are often outside of church life. We joined with the LGBTQ community locally and across our state, witnessing the truth we know about God’s bond with everyone whom God has created.

We also extended hospitality to ourselves (in a balanced way), tending to our desire for bonding with one another. Parish Life provided us ample opportunities to eat together as we prayed and celebrated feasts and milestones such as weddings, funerals, baptisms and confirmations.

2013 will be for us the Year of Abundance. This was discerned during a discussion with our revitalized Stewardship Committee as they worked and planned last fall. It comes from our continuing experience at Redeemer. We’ve noticed that when we give away all we have, we end up getting back that much and more. It’s been an ongoing rhythm, a flow of living water. All we had to do was receive the gifts God poured upon us, then give them away again. It’s been a joyful, transforming experience, and it’s come from our willingness to die to ourselves and live to serve God and God’s people.

We’ve learned from our experience together that when we trust God, and God’s love for us and for all whom God draws to us, the heavens will open and God’s grace will pour upon us and we will hear God’s affirmation: “You are my beloved… with you I am well pleased.”

We are precious in the sight of God, honored, and beloved. It’s exciting, and a little bit frightening, to consider where God will lead us in this next year. But it requires our invitation. Like Jesus, we must go to the river. Like Jesus, we must submit to our Baptism – a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Like Jesus, we must pray and wait to hear God’s word for us.

Then we can live the bond of Spirit and flesh we are. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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