Sermon February 4, 2018
So y’all know that 1 quarter of my week is spent doing work for youth ministry in our diocese. I typically go to the diocesan office every Tuesday and spend time with the bishop’s staff. I have made several new friends there, one is a young college student who works with our communications. She is an active Christian but certainly not Episcopalian. So sometimes or most times she wonders why we do the things we do in church.
This week she came with me to our Wednesday service and we sat and chatted for a while afterwards. She was curious about why we do what we do. Like, why do I wear a robe, why we say prayers that are written out instead of just making them up on the spot, why we have candles, why we have this why we have that.
I gave her quite the history lesson on why we do these things. To which she asked me, why do you still do them?
For many things I have good answers for why we still do them: For example, we say communal prayers together that we as a church have agreed upon so that one person, usually a man, does not get to decide what is prayed each week. We feel there is power that churches all over the world are praying the same prayers and reading the same scripture together each week. Speaking in unity creates community and is powerful.
But for other questions, I don’t have amazing answers for why we do it? Like why do we light candles. Historically we lit candles by the Bible and on the altar for light, so we can read and see what we are doing before electricity. That was the actual purpose but now with electricity we don’t Need the candles but we choose to keep them, because they are pretty and because it makes this space feel special and set apart. Why do any of us light candles in our homes but to help create a special environment.
So then she asked, well what do you want? What do you think about all of it?
To which I said, “I have many different thoughts and opinions about all of the things we do. I grew up in the Episcopal Church so a lot of the things that seem strange or even pointless to others hold a lot of meaning to me and bring me comfort. But I also recognize that we need to be open to change and transformation so that we can reach all the people that God is calling us to reach out to in love. If I were to just start a church from nothing, with no history and no people yet, it would probably have aspects of this church, other churches I’ve attended and some totally new things. But that would be very unhelpful to do to a community of faith, as it is not about what I want, it is about meeting the needs of the community to glorify God, make space for more people to do ministry in this place, be open to what God is asking of us and then helping equip us to answer that call from God. It isn’t about me and what I like.”
I hear the Apostle Paul saying this his letter to the Church in Corinth.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
To our ears today this might sound manipulative, like I’ll pretend to be one way so you will let me in and like me and then I’ll be another way around other people.
He is talking about sacrifice. How many of us have friends on special diets and we gladly will eat what we are served? Or how many of us have friends or family who have certain customs around their house, like leaving shoes on or taking them off and we do it, even tho we may not care about that ourself. But we do it because we want to be in their home and share our lives.
We have to make sacrifices for one another in order to live in community and as followers of Jesus we are called to do this with love, generosity of spirit and radical hospitality.
In the gospel reading, Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law. Her response to the gift of healing she received from Jesus is to serve with radical hospitality. His presence is blessing her and she does what she can to bless Jesus. Now unfortunately this scripture has been misinterpreted by many Christian faith traditions to keep women in the kitchen, to prove that a woman’s place is to serve men.
But this is actually about her response to God’s grace, which is to give in return.
Imagine you are Jesus for moment and you have a gift to heal anyone. In fact your friends are asking you to heal everyone in this town and you know you can do it. This is a small town, Capernum. I’ve been there. The synagogue where he was teaching is across the street from Simon and Andrew’s house and not many people lived in this town. He could have cured everyone in one day.
And I think that if I were Jesus that is how I would want to spend my time, curing people and gaining in fame. Instead Jesus discerns God’s call that his call is to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. To make disciples of this Good News, Good News that God loves you and is with you. The healing comes out of Jesus’ call to proclaim the Good News. People come to him in response to his teachings about God and he heals in response to their faith.
So, Jesus says, no Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Likely this is Jesus sacrificing what he wants to do for the sake of the greater good.
And that is our calling my sisters and brothers. For us to live together as the body of Christ in Saint James church we are called to do the same. To listen to God’s will, and discern when God is calling us to sacrifice what we want for the whole of the community. To listen for God’s voice telling us to serve others and how to serve them. And to do all things with love. With love, joyfully and with radical hospitality and a generous spirit.
Why do we make these sacrifices?
To glorify God and to usher in God’s realm here and now. A realm, a kingdom, a community where people who are vastly different from one another and yet remarkably the same share their lives, share space, share what they have given, where children laugh and cry, where we mourn together and rejoice in the life here and to come. Where all are welcome and where all come together to forgive ourselves and one another, to exchange the peace of God and to share meals and share this holy meal, drinking from the same cup.
So let us go forth together. Let us continue to feel and embrace God’s movement here in our church. Let us, like Jesus go to the neighboring town and proclaim the good news that God is good, that God love you, that God is here right now with you in your life and God needs you. Dear loving and gracious God, help us to listen to your voice and to your will, that we may serve one another joyfully, with generous spirits, with love and all to glorify your name and to make thy kingdom come and thy will done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.