Sunday, January 27, 2013

Epiphany 3C, 2013: Confirmed to be inclusive

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

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

Yesterday your vestry and clergy met in retreat. We gathered ourselves together to pray, to learn, to pray some more, to eat, to pray some more, and to share with one another.

We intentionally opened ourselves to God, letting go of our plans and ideas, emptying ourselves, then we let God fill us anew, so that we, the part of the body of Christ chosen by God and by you to lead Redeemer in the year ahead, could live as one body and walk together in the will of God.

Your vestry is a beautiful blend of long-term members and new members, of young and …less young. There are five men and four women on the vestry, plus two clergy who are women.

We are introverts and extroverts, we touch most of the economic descriptors, we are surprisingly well educated, and all but one came to the Episcopal Church from other traditions. The gifts the vestry members bring to this ministry are as varied as we are - and we count that as a strength.

We talked about what the purpose of our church is and how we might empower every member to find, grow, and use their God-given gifts for the building of the kingdom. We reflected on how God is already at work doing that among us, and we gave thanks for that. We also gave thanks that we are so richly blessed with people and opportunities that excite and challenge us, that fill and stretch us, and that lead us to maturity of faith and fruitful ministries.

We talked a lot yesterday about inclusivity – a gift that Redeemer has in its very marrow. Redeemer’s commitment to being inclusive springs from the core of our identity, which was passed on to us from those who went before and is one fruit of our continuing obedience to the will of God.

How do we know it is God’s will that we be inclusive? We discern that like we discern most other things, the way Episcopalians do: individually and in community, using Scripture, tradition, and reason.

Our call to inclusivity can be found in the reading from the prophet Nehemiah, who tells us of Ezra, the priest, who went against the religious tradition and authority of his time, and read from the Torah to a crowd of people assembled at the Water Gate, a location outside of the temple precincts. The people to whom Ezra read were women, children, and others who would had been excluded from temple worship; people who had never been allowed to hear the story of God’s love for them.

But Ezra didn’t just read the Word of God to them. He went to extraordinary measures to include them, building a platform so that everyone could see him and hear him, and sending priests (the Levites) among the people to help them make sense of what he was reading.

Next we look at the letter from Paul to the Corinthians, which shows us that the Christian tradition of inclusivity is found in the earliest church. Paul uses the ‘one body, many members’ metaphor to show us that our unity is tied to our interdependence: “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--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

All who are baptized in Christ are called to live together in unity while honoring and maintaining the great diversity present in the individual members. “The eye cannot say to the hand, nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” On the contrary, Paul says, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”

But we know and we see that unity in diversity is a very difficult thing to manage and Christians have been dealing with disagreement over who is worthy to be counted among the family of God since the earliest days. Paul wanted to include Gentiles in his ministry, but Peter refused to allow it, until God spoke to him in a dream and opened Peter’s heart and the church’s mission to inclusivity.

We are the heirs of that first great Gentile mission, beneficiaries of their faithfulness to God’s call to be truly inclusive. Now it’s our turn to be faithful, seeking out those who are excluded and going to extraordinary measures to include them… living together in unity even as we honor our diversity.

It’s a messy business, but it’s our business, because being inclusive is faithful to the will of God. That’s why we prayed in our Collect: “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation…” …all people… all people.

We are called by our Baptism and commissioned by our Confirmation to do this. When we are Confirmed we are anointed for our mission as individual Christians who are members of the body of Christ. To be anointed is to have a divine or holy purpose conferred upon us, to be chosen for a special work and filled with the Spirit of God to accomplish that work.

Jesus claims his anointing in the gospel story from Luke and he proclaims that his mission is: to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is also the church’s mission, and as individual members of the church, as the body of Christ, this is our mission too.

Each of us has our part to play, our work to do according to our gifts, so we must be faithful in preparing ourselves. Knowing this work is hard, messy, and unlikely to win us much praise from the world, how do we prepare ourselves? Intentionally.

When Martin Luther King, whose holiday we observed last week, called people to join him in leading the country to racial equality, he required that everyone in the movement be prepared, schooled in non-violent resistance. According to Dr. King, “non-violent resistance didn’t make sense to most of the people in the beginning. We had to use our mass meetings to explain nonviolence to a community of people who had never heard of [it] and in many instances were not sympathetic with it. We had meetings twice a week on Mondays and on Thursdays, and we had an institute on nonviolence and social change. We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice… It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.” (Source:

Anyone who wanted to participate in the Civil Rights rallies and protests organized by Dr. King had to learn and practice non-violent resistance. Can we, as Christians, be any less prepared for our work?

The church is the place where we are prepared. The teachings of Christ don’t make sense to most people in the beginning. We have to gather together regularly to worship and be formed as Christians, to pray, to talk, to eat together, then pray some more, talk, eat, pray some more, share with one another… We have to intentionally and continually open ourselves to God, let go of our plans and ideas, empty ourselves, and let God fill us anew, so that we, might live as one body and walk together in the will of God.

I close with a prayer from our vestry retreat. Let us pray. Come Holy Spirit of Love. Come to us and bring us your peace. Rest in us that we may be tranquil. Speak to us as each heart needs to hear. Reveal to us things hidden and things longed for. Rejoice in us that we may praise and be glad. Pray in us that we may be at One with you and with each other. Refresh and renew us from your living springs of water. Dwell in us now and always. Amen.

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