1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21                                                          Susan J. Barnes

January 24, 2016                                                                                St. John’s, Minneapolis

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Every week we begin our staff meeting with Bible study on the gospel   Chad raised an intriguing question about this one.   When Jesus rose to read on that Sabbath, did he search out the verses he wanted in Isaiah?  Or was there a lectionary, a prescribed text for the week, like ours?  If that were the case, did Jesus have an epiphany of his own?   You recall that we are at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  These are his first public words in Luke.   While reading from the scroll, did he suddenly recognize himself and his mission perfectly expressed in Isaiah’s prophesy?   It’s not heresy–not in the Episcopal church, at least!–to imagine Jesus on the path of self discovery.   Led by the Spirit from the blessing of Baptism, to the strengthening trials in the wilderness, to this moment of homecoming and the revelation he spoke to the congregation.

“Today this prophesy has been fulfilled in your hearing.” However Jesus came to read the text, he let his home folk know he was no longer just the carpenter’s son.  He, too, was a prophet!

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. 

Jesus would fulfill that mandate in his ministry.   It is the great commandment in action: love of God and neighbor.

It’s also a good short answer to someone who asks you what it means to be a Christian.

If the words from Isaiah summarize well the “what” of our faith as Jesus’ followers, the passage from 1 Corinthians speaks to the “how”.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free….

We live our faith together as a Body of Christ.   We are different members, brought together by the Spirit, as one body.  The image is inspired, holy.   In this passage, Paul makes the point  that we have gifts differing and that’s a good thing!   As we complement each other’s gifts and work as one, we become greater than the sum of our parts–the Body of Christ living and serving in the world.

This Body of Christ at St. John’s does our part to address poverty and oppression here and abroad. We sometimes respond to a specific crisis. How fortunate we were to participate in the benefit concert for Syrian refugees!

That said, St. John’s international ministry is mainly carried out through long-term partnerships. In both Haiti and Guatemala we collaborate.  We nurture relationships of mutual respect and trust year in and year out.   Together with our Haitian and Guatemalan friends, we engage in projects that build upon our combined gifts.   When we join with our partners, working side by side, we become a new Body of Christ.   In the process we build bridges figuratively–and literally in Guatemala!

Although we have widely different backgrounds and actual circumstances, we are all equally God’s children, all equally and differently gifted.

How do we recognize our own gifts?   There are good spiritual gifts inventories, of course.   We use one in the Community of Hope training and we’ll lead off our Vestry retreat this year with it.   But my experience is that we best understand our gifts in action, in collaboration.  I find it’s particularly true on mission trips when you’re outside of your usual context and cohort.   You can see how the Holy Spirit brings forth your deepest gifts.   I see it again and again; God’s gracious provision for God’s work in the world.

Irrespective of our socio-economic and other differences, when we stand together on the ground of our gifts, we engage as a partnership of equals.

A partnership of equals.   That’s the holy model we plan to follow at home, too.  St. John’s will be building new cross-cultural bridges here–bridges that span the ethnic, socio-economic, geographic boundaries that racial bias has created and maintained in our own city.   That commitment was the upshot of the Missional Assessment Process (MAP) we undertook last year.   Bill Peterson and a small group of members and I are leading the current discernment  phase. I have every confidence that we–led by the Holy Spirit–will identify one or two congregations or organizations with whom we can engage in a mutually transformative, long-term commitment to do God’s work together.   Together we will form a new Body of Christ.

Preparing for and maintaining that engagement will be challenging.   True collaboration is hard for people reared to prize individualism and self reliance.   Partnership across socio-economic, religious, racial, even language boundaries, requires even more patience and humility.  But that’s what God is calling us to create, and what the Spirit will empower us to do.   We will seek expert training through people like Vina Kay.  And we will return again and again to our Baptismal promises: to seek and serve Christ, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Samuel Wells, rector of St. Martin in the Fields, London, writes about Christian mission, “The goal…isn’t independent, free-thinking individuals, released from all setback and problems…but an interactive and permeable community of interdependent beings who discover gifts where others might only see needs, and unearth treasure where others might only see trouble”.

Indeed, surface appearances can deceive. Just as the appearance of poverty can mask gifts and treasure, the appearance of wealth and success can mask spiritual poverty, captivity and oppression.

Jesus wants to set us all free from captivity to anything that binds us physically or psychologically, free from anything that separates us from one another, free from the problems of poverty and affluence, free from fear.

Beneath the surface of poverty, beneath the surface of prosperity, beneath surface differences of color, nation, gender, class, language, we ARE the same.   We all have our wounds, our brokenness.   We all need healing.   And we need one another.   We are one race–the human race.   We are one family–the family of God.

Modern physics has confirmed the deep interdependence that links us to one another and to all of creation.   That truth was revealed by the Spirit to St. Paul when he wrote, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

Nineteen hundred years later it was rephrased by Martin Luther King, Jr. in A Testament of Hope.

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made….it…is the interrelated structure of reality.”