Sunday, January 22, 2017

Epiphany 3A

The scripture appointed for Epiphany 3A is here


First repent, then mend, then follow…

The church in Corinth was, quite frankly, a hot mess.  We know this, because Paul does not sugar coat the fact that he writes in order to address the many, many, problems that threatened the unity of the early Christian community in the city of Corinth. Put simply, the Corinthians were arguing about what we think of as the big three--sex, politics and religion.

The argued in part, because the early church drew together people from a wide range of backgrounds. Corinth was a boomtown with two seaports that had drawn into its boundaries people from throughout Africa and the Middle East. So, as the early church formed--coming together at a common table to break bread, to worship, and sharing their resources for the good of all--the Roman Gentile found herself at table with the Jewish Zealot; the slave at table with the free; women at table with men. One body, with many parts…

many arguing, cranky, imperfect, human parts.

I’m sure that they disappointed themselves and each other on a regular basis.

And, it was into this milieu that Paul, a Roman citizen, who spoke several languages, and straddled different worlds, spoke. He spoke with authority because his own narrative was one of transformation—he had given up his entire life and livelihood in his pursuit of the Gospel.

Paul had been transformed, once a zealot persecutor of the early Christians, he had become chief apologist. But, not as an apologist of himself, but of Christ. This is not about him it is about the foundation of the community, Jesus.

From Paul’s perspective, there is no room for narcissism in the Church—and Paul is leaping in to counter any notion that this is about anything OTHER than following Christ.

In Corinth this was not about Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (if you’ll remember, Cephas is Peter).  Just as I hope that here at St. Clement’s this is not about Clement, Joy, Mark, Susan, Christina, or any one individual.  Rather it is about all of us, as members of the Body of Christ, seeking to discern and do God’s will. Seeking to follow, as fellow disciples, the one who has, most fundamentally, brought us here.

Jesus Christ. 

We are called as followers of Christ, baptized into the household of God, set to serve all of God’s people.

And, within our culture, just as it was in the culture of Corinth, that means being part of a counterculture in which the emphasis is not upon what is best for any one of us…but what is, in fact best for all of creation.

Political science professor, Dr. Julia Stronks, at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, studies the intersection of faith and politics and is adamant that when we look at this from the Christian perspective it is clear that the Bible urges justice. We can debate about what justice means, what it looks like, and how best to achieve it but the fundamental question was are to ask ourselves as Christian’s “what's best for all of us together?”.  We may end up disagreeing about what's best for all of us, but, our politics ought to reflect pursuit of justice for all. 

I think that when we are most aligned with God’s intent, our priorities are not based in our personal best interest—but in the interest of the entire body.

That’s a hard thing to do. To possibly vote against our own interests and for the interests of others…

But, isn’t that fundamentally the power of the cross?  To die to self so that others might live?

To be transformed, not for our own good, but for the good of the world?

I turn to Martin Luther and his own thoughts on this subject,

“we are to give heed to do everything in behalf of our neighbor, and ever to be mindful, that Christ has done this and that for me; why should I not also for his sake freely do all for my neighbor?”

In redirecting our focus from ourselves to the other, I see the power of the cross made visible in love. 

For me, this is one of the key reasons as to why the cross becomes Good News and we call the friday of Jesus’ execution, Good. 

A strange turn perhaps, in this season of Epiphany, this exploration of the theology of the cross…

The cross, that place where the death dealing of the empire crumbled before the power of God’s love…a power that drew people in then, just as now. Drew them in even in a time when the cross at hand was a tool of destruction.

Today’s Gospel takes us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. John the Baptist is a prisoner of conscience and will soon face execution. Following Jesus is clearly not without risk. And, yet, we have Peter and Andrew accepting their calling as the first disciples.  Responding the the invitation to look beyond the beach and into a future that offered more—not just for them, but for all. To borrow a phrase, we can, because they did.

They followed, they bore witness to the good news, and they participated in offering healing to the broken. They turned away from what was and into what could be. And, became the first disciples.

And, now here we are, disciples. Not the first, nor the last, but participants in a way that demands that we look beyond our own narrow interests, our own nets as it were, and out into the world of God’s creation. A way that we commit to when we participate in the entrance rites of the Church

When I offer baptismal preparation at St. Clement’s I walk people through the examination—

the first four questions of which state—do you renounce…do you turn away from…will you follow another way

We start out by choosing a path, which means that we have rejected another path. This is quite simply an act of turning from one way to another—which is what the Hebrew word Shuv, repent, means.  

The next three questions are meant as a proclamation of what we will do instead—not that you’ve turned from that way, this is the way you will go. 

Following Jesus.

But, the liturgy doesn’t end there.

The baptismal covenant appears on the next page. Where, having repented and renounced evil; having affirmed the choice to follow Christ; we commit ourselves to the wider community of the Church—but not just the Church, all of humanity, the covenant we make is clear—we are to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons and honor the dignity of every human being.

Our liturgy of baptism reflects the pattern we see in the Gospel today.

Repent, follow, mend.

Repent, follow, mend.

This isn’t about me, it isn’t about you, this is about all of us.  

Repent, follow, mend.  Amen.

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