Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

cross_punch_flower_283079_tnI’d like to begin by assuring you that I am prepared to live within the $500,000 cap on my salary. But in all seriousness I would like to examine our readings from the two perspectives of our collect prayed together just a few minutes ago and our readings.

Lots of people are concerned with the economy in the shape that it is in. Yesterday I attended the Faith Relations Committee meeting for Habitat for Humanity up in Newburgh. By the time the meeting was over, those working on the various homes came in for refreshments and fellowship, and one, a Hispanic whom I have often seen at these gatherings gave his name and contact phone number to a friend of mine in case he learned of a job opening.

The man with no job is there every Saturday working selflessly on homes for the homeless. I know my friend will do his best to keep his ear to the ground about this. And I am sure that both of us will be holding Pedro in prayer.

I am sure that in addition to the many who are losing jobs or have lost them, there are those who are wringing their hands about the state of their retirement income—and well they should.

Yet I believe that God’s word is as valid for us today as it was for Israel and Judea at the time that Isaiah wrote his message of hope.

Does God really care about our situation? The answer is yes. As Isaiah quotes God: Have you not known? Have you not heard? God is present in our history, and God is marshalling the forces to restore hope to people.

But in the midst of the secular society in a culture that believes that there is scarcity, there is enormous pressure to be trapped in anxiousness. But with God we are able to share in the liberty of that abundant life for which we prayed at the start of the service.

Isaiah quotes God: those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength. Let that be our faith response. By putting aside the anxiety our strength—emotional and mental—will be restored. That does not mean we sit around doing nothing; rather it calls upon us as with every past generation to do what we can to help our neighbors in this time of fear and need.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians is also instructive. It reveals Paul as one who is growing in experience during his missionary efforts. He has learned that each person is unique and that each person will respond to the gospel uniquely within cultural parameters.

Yet by this time in his ministry he realizes that not all will react favorably to his ministry. He says: “I have become all things to all people , that I might by all means save some.”

We use the phrase ‘by all means’ as a way of giving permission, but for Paul it means using every opening that might bring a person to experience the good news. The God who heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds seeks all.

Sadly no one seems to have the answer that connects with all people and some who occupy the pews of the churches of Cornwall ignore the empowerment of their baptism in bringing others to the good news to which they have been exposed.

But perhaps they haven’t found any good news. Perhaps they come because it is a long standing habit, and they’re neither really engaged nor are willing to extend themselves for another.

But Jesus is; he has already proven himself on the Cross. He has a message which is as valid now as it was then. He calls us into that abundant life for which we all prayed this morning and was willing to die that all might have the opportunity to live into that abundant life.

It is clear from our gospel reading today that the healings are byproducts, signs of his love and compassion for people. The important thing for our Lord is to proclaim the message and rid his hearers of anything that prevented their full participation in the life in God.

But is Jesus able to intercede in our situations if we are not willing to participate fully in the Christian life? Sure, all things in Christ are possible, but it is hardly a slam-dunk.

This week the manhunt for the last major Nazi war criminal was concluded because it was learned he had died of cancer. People were eager to share how ‘Uncle Tariq’ would give them candy and was a pleasant presence in the neighborhood.

Perhaps his conversion to Islam changed him from the medical monster he was in southern Germany and Austria. Or perhaps it was the most accommodating situation for someone who hated other human beings, particularly Jews, and exposed them to unspeakable suffering.

To my knowledge we will never know for sure. And there is no purpose to knowing other than a somewhat morbid curiosity.

What is it that makes humans suspend their humanity, compartmenting their lives. Doctor Death finishes a day at the office and goes home to play with the children.

Certainly God does not approve, and we are called to raise our voices for those who have been silenced. It is the Christian Way.