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Sandi Albom's last sermon
A sermon preached by Sandi Albom on January 24, 2016


Click on the blue arrow at the bottom of this page to listen to the sermon.

You may have noticed that the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in Luke’s Gospel.  In the past few weeks we have witnessed Mary rejoicing the Spirit of the Lord is upon her and witnessed the Spirit coming upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism.  Immediately prior to this passage today in Luke, the Spirit had driven Jesus into the wilderness.  And now, “filled with the power of the Spirit” Jesus returns to his home in the region of Galilee and people are talking about him.

Luke approaches the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth very differently than the other Gospel stories.  Matthew, Mark and John simply mention that Jesus began to teach and all were astounded.  But Luke gives much more for us to take in. 

I found it interesting that this scripture is the oldest and most detailed description of what synagogue worship would have looked like in the 1st century CE.  In the service a portion of the Hebrew Bible was read and a teaching or explanation would have followed.  Any adult male in good standing in the worshipping community could have done this. 

So it would not have been out of line for Jesus to stand and read on the Sabbath, and we are told it was his custom to worship in the synagogue.  Here in Nazareth he likely grew up doing just that and in that place.  What is amazing is that right here and right now we are going to be hearing Jesus’ teaching for the first time.  And, there’s a fair amount of anticipation from the hometown crowd regarding what this man, that they knew as one of their own, and who was becoming somewhat of a sensation in and around the region, had to say.  Just what was this guy all about?

The scroll Jesus reads is from the prophet Isaiah.  He stands, as is the custom, and proclaims as forthright as message as can be spoken.  The portion of the scripture he chooses is a Messianic passage speaking of anointing, or blessing of a holy leader, and it is a job description of the highest order.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then, as would have been customary, Jesus sat down to speak to those in attendance.  All eyes were on him. Here are people who knew him when he was child.  Maybe there were men he hung around with as a boy, or elders he respected, perhaps the parents of his friends.  And what came out of his mouth was not what they expected at all. 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

WHAT?

This would have been more of a surprise to the hearers in that synagogue in Nazareth than we in our day could ever realize.  Jesus was claiming out loud, in front of these people who knew him simply as the carpenter’s son that he was going to bring to fruition these ancient prophetic words of Isaiah.  These are the words of a leader that would deliver the people from the crushing existence of oppression.  It would have been shocking.

There is no mistaking it; this clearly is Jesus’ mission statement! Here is his purpose among them; and not with only them.  There is wideness in this purpose, a radical inclusiveness beyond the hearer’s understanding.  God’s grace is boundless.  And as we will see, Jesus’ mission and message as it is played out, is incredibly scandalous to those in power.  And it will lead to lots of trouble. 

Paul is dealing with just that, trouble, as he writes to the church in Corinth.  The Corinthians have been struggling with each other across cultural and economic boundaries.  The privileged among them are hoarding the gifts of the Spirit for their own purposes and lording it the rest of the community.  Some people are fancying themselves as more important than others and worthy of more esteem.  Paul seeks to bring a little spiritual balance into the community using, what is to us, a very familiar and beloved analogy comparing the young Church community to a human body. 

The commentaries on this passage talk about how this is not an unusual illustration used for describing community relationship in the ancient world.  But for Paul, as with Jesus, the meaning is totally different than the norm.  The body analogy was typically used to define hierarchy and would insure where everyone fits into society and would ever remain there – the poor at the bottom and the wealthy and powerful at the top.  With Jesus and Paul the norms of society get flipped upside down.  In fact, Paul says the honored people are not to be the “respectable” members.  Those honors belong to the marginalized “inferiors” of the group.  It is about individuals being in mutuality, not exercising domination or oppression. 

Paul uses the Body of Christ to put forth the idea that unity is achieved only through interdependence.  The Body of Christ needs to be diverse in order to survive and thrive, but it cannot do either without the whole of its parts.  What is a head, he says, without the feet?  What good are eyes without hands?

Paul does not confuse unity with uniformity.  We all have varied gifts to bring that make the body whole and vibrant.  

The important thing that Paul emphasized is that within the whole of the body no part can be cut off from the whole once we are joined in Christ.  Think about this…. try to imagine yourself without any reference to Christ Church as you go about your daily life with your families, at work and at school.  Can you?  Is that possible?  This place and this family are who and what we are.  Once we are aware of the purpose and mission that God has for us, once we know that we are disciples of Christ, not merely members of a pleasant civic organization that meets on Sunday mornings, can we move about our lives as if we didn’t know the difference?  There is no “in here” and “out there” in Jesus’ mission statement.  There is no true living for us without Jesus and his mission at the center.

Being the Body of Christ is truly an act of scandal.  Paul is asking us not to allow our individuality to get in the way of the mission.  We are called to the very same mission and purpose that Jesus proclaims as his own.  It is not the watered down version of the Gospel some would have us settle for.  It is right there in Isaiah’s words.  Be good news for the poor, be healers, promote freedom and justice.  St. Augustine of Hippo in the 5th C of the Common Era preached a sermon on the Eucharist in which he uses Paul’s imagery.

“You are the Body of Christ.  In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward.  You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal Love.  Behold what you are.  Become what you receive.” (Sermon 57)

I’d like to close today with the words of Bishop Hayashi of The Episcopal Diocese of Utah, which he preached this past Sunday, and were also shared by Pam Werntz, rector of Emmanuel Church in Boston, at the ordination of a dear friend to the priesthood this past Thursday.  His words are especially poignant as we ponder them in light of Jesus’ mission statement and its incarnation within us and in the midst of us, the whole and complete Body of Christ.

“We in the Episcopal Church have made a covenant with God and with each other and our church when we were baptized. We renew that agreement over and over again. We say that we believe in God, the Holy Trinity, and because we believe in God and the church we will seek to serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we will strive for justice and peace among all people and will respect the dignity of every human being.

In this part of the Anglican Communion, we will have no second-class citizens. We will welcome all people. We will not exclude a person because of race, gender or sexual orientation. We will baptize, confirm, and join in marriage loving couples. Our vestries, bishop’s committees, councils, committees and commissions will be open to all of our people. We do this not as an act of defiance. We do this because it is who we are. We have no second-class citizens or members in our church.

And, if any person comes to this church who does not agree with this or does not hold the same convictions, then I say to that person – welcome. Let us worship God together. Come, gather with us at the Lord's Table.”[1]

In recognizing the immense diversity and mutuality we share as disciples of Jesus the Christ, may we claim His mission and purpose as our own and become what we are…… the Body of Christ.

So dear friends, The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,

The Spirit of the Lord has anointed us to bring good news to the poor,

The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to proclaim release to the captives,

The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to help the blind recover their sight,

The Spirit of the Lord has sent us to free the oppressed,

The Spirit of the Lord as sent us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[2]

Today, may the scripture be fulfilled in our hearing.

 

I’d like to take a moment to say a few personal words.

God has blessed me in so many ways.  Not the least of those is in the amazing gift of being born into, as Michael Curry, our presiding bishop calls us, the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.  I am blessed by love and the by life that Bob and I have built together, and by my loving family.  And you, Christ Church Andover, have blessed me.  You have blessed me with every interaction, with every smile, with every welcome.  You have blessed me in every Tuesday afternoon Senior Bible Study, and yes, you have certainly blessed me in every Conversations With the Clergy.  I am amazed by your willingness to wrestle with what God is calling you to be as the Body of Christ.  I am humbled by your willingness to engage each other in faith and to hold each other closely, in agreement as well as in tension.  I am inspired by the ways in which you are willing to reach outside of your own comfort to touch a troubled world that longs to know the possibility of all that God’s Realm is and can be for them.  You are the YES in answer to God’s call.

I cannot be more grateful for your love and support.  I cannot imagine being more nourished than I have been here at Christ Church.  And most of all, I thank you for calling Michael Hodges to be your pastor.  I could not have asked for a more amazing mentor and truly wonderful example to learn from and with.

As I leave you today, I promise to you that I will continue to pray for you as I have each day I have been blessed to be here among you.  And I ask for your prayers for me and for Bob as we continue on our journey in God’s plan for us.

May God bless you and keep you.
 

[2] Adapted – Hoffacker sermon  episcopal digital network.com/epiphany 3C_2013

Last Published: January 27, 2016 10:14 AM