Epiphany 4 January 31, 2010

Jeremiah 1:4-10                                                                  

1 Corinthians 13:1-13                                                      

Luke 4:21-30

 One of the wonderful things that can happen sometimes at church is that something that had grown old is made new. A reading, for instance, a prayer, a hymn, an idea – that had seemingly lost its life through overuse is suddenly resurrected, given new currency. Those of us who were here last Sunday, when Canon Charles LaFond was our preacher and followed up in the afternoon with the retreat on discernment, experienced I think one of those “made new” moments.

It centered around what Charles said about saying “yes” to God. You remember that he started out by talking about how epiphany – this season of the Church year – is like a light going on. The star in the sky that the Magi followed to the Savior’s birth – a light going on. Jesus coming up out of the waters of baptism and hearing the voice of God pronounce him the Beloved – a light going on. Jesus turning the water into wine at the Wedding at Cana – another light. When God reveals himself, we experience it as a light going on. What had been unclear, confused, without purpose or direction – suddenly the light goes on, something clicks, and we see the way forward. These are epiphanies; this is how God calls to us.

God calls, and then it is up to us to respond. Charles talked about this in terms of saying yes. At his baptism, Jesus said yes to God’s call to move into the world, announcing the coming of God’s kingdom. When he sat down in the synagogue that Sabbath morning in his home town of Nazareth and announced that the prophecy of Isaiah he had just read was fulfilled then and there, in him, Jesus was saying yes – yes to God calling through the Scriptures.

Every yes we say to God entails saying no to something else, Charles pointed out – and he went into that further in the afternoon retreat. So after his yes in baptism, Jesus went on to say no to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness – a saying no which we will consider in just three weeks as we enter into the season of Lent. As Charles said so beautifully, our God is a God who fundamentally says yes to us. He is always holding out his yes in love – through the on-going unfolding of Creation, through his wild generosity in offering us gifts of life, through his repeated forgiveness when we fail or say no, through his offering of himself in the sacraments, and finally through the assurance of everlasting life. Yes, yes, yes, it is all the way yes with God.

This week the readings build on that theme of God’s yes to us and our response. We hear in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah about God’s yes to Jeremiah, who was only a youth, inexperienced, feeling inadequate and unprepared. God’s yes came in the form of a commission to Jeremiah: to go forth into the world, speaking God’s prophetic word of truth, pointing to realities people wanted to avoid or deny, tearing down old lies and deceptions, and then in their place building up and planting new ways, new forms.

Another of the canons on Bishop Robinson’s staff, Tim Rich, is fond of pointing out to parish vestries that they are the chosen leaders of their congregations. Like Jeremiah, God has come to them and said yes. Often, Tim says, vestry members protest that they’re not leaders. They don’t like to stand up and make waves. They can’t assume responsibility, create change, take risks. Like Jeremiah, they’re afraid. (For that is why, at base, we say no to God when God says yes to us. Fear wants to play it safe, let someone else lead.)

But what is the answer God gives to Jeremiah? Simply that God is greater than Jeremiah. That God will give the orders, God will supply the words; Jeremiah only has to be faithful, knowing that God will be going with him. This is the way it is all through the Bible. Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, King David, Jesus, the apostles, Paul – every one of them feeling inadequate, unworthy, afraid, but then saying yes back to God anyway and God going with them. Epiphany: the light goes on, God says yes to us. Walk in the light, Jesus tells us. Walk with God. Say yes back to him with our lives.

This amazing gospel (we’ve repeated last week’s passage because it leads into what’s appointed for today): Imagine this young man, Jesus, come back home to his local congregation right at the beginning of his ministry. He reads a very familiar passage, one of those things grown old from familiarity, announcing in the words of the prophet Isaiah the coming of the Lord’s year – good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and all the rest (old because so familiar to us). But then – what is so new! – Jesus announces that these aren’t just old words on a page; no, they’re God’s yes fulfilled here and now in him, in Jesus, fulfilled by his yes back to God.

Jewish males read the Scripture passages in turn, and preached on them in the synagogue. It was like being on the rota as a lector. You just did it (unless, alas, you were a woman). So which of our lectors, reading her or his appointed passage, would be so bold to announce: this is about me, this is fulfilled in your sight in me, in the response of my life? Which of us responds this way when we hear God’s word proclaimed to us? Remember: God is always saying yes to us. But most of the time we are too scared to say yes back to God. Oh, God, we are too young (or too old), too inexperienced, too uneducated, too poor, too busy, too ordinary, too . . . , too . . . , too . . . .

This is our Annual Meeting Sunday. How are we doing, God? You have said yes to us – yes abundantly, in our beautiful building, our young families, our great formation programs, our creative liturgy, our music, the successful pledge program, all the rest. Where are we afraid, holding back, from saying yes back to you? Where we are, Lord, open our hearts, empower our lives. For you are the God of yes and in your Light we see light.

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