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Epiphany 3 January 24, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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Sermon for January 24, 2016 | Epiphany 3
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma Washington
January 24, 2016
The Rev, Samuel Torvend
 
 
A few years ago, a student named Jan asked me if I would serve as her faculty adviser as she began her senior thesis in religion. An Episcopalian, Jan was interested in a comparative analysis between the 1928 and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, focused on the liturgy of Holy Baptism. What she discovered was incredibly surprising if not shocking for the two books view Christian faith and life in very different ways. The text of the 1928 service tended to view Christian initiation and thus the beginning of Christian life with this kind of language: baptism as renunciation of the sinful desires of the flesh; as protection from the temptations of the world; as safeguarding the soul; baptism as the beginning of a life marked by triumph over the world and the flesh; as manfully – manfully – fighting under the banner of Christ and serving as a faithful soldier in his army; and all of this focused on one thing: the promise of eternal life. Such a view of Christian identity and purpose thus tended to portray Holy Baptism as a vaccination that should protect one from the temptations and sinful desires of life in this world (ironically, a world created by God) and, at the same time, as a shot of adrenalin that would empower the infant solider or adult combatant to triumph over the world.
 
The 1979 text offers a much different view of Christian faith and life. One is asked to renounce the evil powers that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; to renounce the sinful desires that draw one away from the love of God; to put one’s trust in Christ and his love; to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of Christ; to serve Christ in all persons; to seek justice and peace in all the world and to respect the dignity of every person. Rather than viewing Holy Baptism as protection against the world and a vaccination to protect the purity of the soul until it alone arrives in heaven, the 1979 Prayer Book envisions Christian faith and life as participation in the love of God revealed in Jesus and participation in a movement, a living body, whose purpose is the transformation of life in this world: through resistance to evil forces that destroy God’s creatures; through loving service to one’s neighbor in need; through the challenging work to secure justice and peace on this earth; through resistance to those who deny the God-given dignity of all creatures.
 
“As a young person,” said Jan, “I was taught that my purpose as a Christian was to give full-hearted support to an institution, as if church were a religious version of the opera society or the Junior League – you know, something that would look good on your resume. But Christian life, baptismal life, much differently now.” All of which brings us to Jesus and his claiming an ancient text as his purpose in this world: to bring good news to the poor, to release captives, to recover sight for the blind, to free the oppressed, and to announce a year of the Lord’s favor, that is, a time in which debt is forgiven and land unlawfully taken is restored to its first inhabitants
 
I sometimes wonder if what we do here on Sunday morning can be viewed by some people as a form of time travel. You and I hear about Jesus and his disciples – characters who lived in a distant past with their commitments and convictions safely secured in that past rather than intruding into our immediate present. While their participation in a movement shaped by the words and actions of Jesus heard in today’s gospel got them into trouble with family, co-workers, and the government, you and I can easily become the curators of an attractive institution, frequently associated with the educational, musical, and political elite of this nation, charmed by our own claims to inclusivity and open-mindedness, concerned more about “safety” and “security” in these troubled times than the risk and insecurity of giving one’s life to good news for the poor, the release of captives, and freedom for the oppressed. Ask the mothers of Flint, Michigan, if Jesus’ words are simply hot air breathed by a long-dead Jew from Roman Palestine or the energizing summons to seek justice and respect the dignity of every person, the dignity of their now damaged children.
 
It should not surprise us that Jesus’ first public act narrated in today’s gospel flows from and follows his baptism. It should not surprise us that whether we were baptized as infants or adults or are about to be baptized at Easter, you and I – whether you want it or not – have been consecrated by the Spirit of God as public agents drawn into a movement, a living body as Paul says, committed to the life of this world. 
 
At PLU, the evangelical and non-denominational students who sign up for my courses inevitably ask me: “Dr. Torvend, have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” As you might imagine, it’s a trick question to see if my answer will conform to their understanding of Christian faith and life. I always respond that their question is far too small for me. Befuddled by my response, they ask, with a tinge of annoyance in their voices: What do you mean, “too small?” And, then, I recite today’s gospel, you know, about Jesus bringing good news to the poor, releasing captives, recovering sight, freeing the oppressed, and declaring a year of the Lord’s favor. “Are you talkin’ about that Jesus?” I ask them.
 
Yes, dear sisters and brothers: are we talking about that Jesus: the One who is about to give you and me a taste of his life, inviting you and me to say “Amen,” let it be so, as you receive his Body and his Blood; saying Yes, saying Yes to his life and the mission with which he has entrusted you and me, for the life of the world?