~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
~ To respond to human need by loving service
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Between 1984 and 1990, the Anglican Consultative Council, which is part of our connection to the larger Anglican Communion, developed the “Five Marks of Mission”. At General Convention in 2009, these “Five Marks of Mission” were adopted as a way for churches to understand their mission in their local context. This summer in Indianapolis, these “Five Marks of Mission” were everywhere! As I walked from my hotel to the convention center, they were on sidewalks, signs, tshirts…everywhere. Not only were they meant for Episcopalians, but for any passerby who was wondering “so what are those church people up to?”
These “Five Marks of Mission” like our Baptismal Covenant, are a declaration of our ministry as a church.
In today’s gospel (Luke 4:14-21), we encounter a Jesus who has been baptized, sent out into the wilderness, and has returned. He is a different man than when he first entered the Jordan River. Luke’s gospel tells us that when Jesus returns to Galilee, he is filled with, or anointed by, the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be “filled with” or “anointed by” the Holy Spirit? Well, it might depend on who you ask. Historically, it has meant being given the authority to preach or teach; and women were said to be “too corrupt” or “too much like Eve” to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and therefore should not be given the authority to preach or teach. In some denominations, to be filled with the Holy Spirit means to have spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, ability to perform miracles, and healing. Spiritual gifts are Biblical, but they aren’t a pre-requisite to being “filled with” or “anointed by” the Holy Spirit; they are actually two different things entirely!
So what makes them different? Spiritual gifts are just that… gifts from God that empower people in their various ministries. But to be “filled with” or “anointed by” the Holy Spirit means to be called to ministry... it compels us to act and respond. While we aren’t all given the Spiritual Gifts outlined in scripture, through our baptism, we are all anointed by or filled with the Holy Spirit. Every time we confess our belief in Jesus, and are brought into love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors and all creation, we are doing our ministry in the world…we are declaring our mission.
Let’s go back to the gospel of Luke for a moment. When Jesus goes to the temple to worship, he is handed a scroll from Isaiah to read:
“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.”
He is declaring his mission…to tell the good news, to free us from oppression, to heal our hurts, and to open our hearts to God. In that moment, he’s responding to being anointed by or filled with the Holy Spirit.
So how do we know when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit? When we feel compelled to act; when we realize that we are responsible to God in a way that is bigger than ourselves. Any time we:
--proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
--teach and nurture new believers
--respond to human need by loving service
--seek to transform unjust structures of society
--strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
--respect the dignity of every human being
--welcome the stranger
…we are doing ministry. This is what it means to be Christians. This is what it means to be “the church”.
Today I invite you to consider what your mark of mission is. What is your declaration of ministry? When have you been filled with the Holy Spirit? How has this scripture been fulfilled for you?
A question that always comes up when I get in conversations with folks who aren’t “churched” is, “So what’s the point of going to church?”. Now I can answer this in a whole lot of ways:
1) The social answer: coming to church is an opportunity to visit with friends that you might not see during the rest of the week
2) The missional answer: we are fed and given the strength and courage to go out into the world proclaiming the good news of Christ
3) The ministry answer: we come to church to learn and study and continue in the teaching of the apostles
4) The liturgical answer: we come to church to sing great songs and participate in a ritual that spans the globe and has existed for 2000 years and to worship God
5) The “good Christian” answer: going to church will help you get into heaven
6) The “not-so good Christian” answer: free food
Perhaps you have some answers you’d like to add to that list.
None of these answers in and of themselves are wrong, and some may be better than others. The reality is, going to church is a social, spiritual, and emotional experience. Some weeks, you may come because you feel like you need to visit and eat snacks, and some weeks you come to pray. But the point is you come. It’s like a nun friend once said when asked “do I always have to say the Lord’s Prayer even if I don’t feel like it”…she answered “yes, you pray because everyone is praying; it’s part of being in community”.
For me, part of the point of going to church is about being re-membered. And what I mean here by “re-membered” is about being put back together, being made whole, and remembering who I am and to whom I belong.
So let’s look at the lessons for today.
In the reading from Isaiah (43:1-7), two things strike me. One is in the first verse “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” and the other is in verse 4 “For you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you”.
If you remember from last Sunday, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people in captivity and exile. They have been removed from their homes, overcome by Babylonians, their sons and daughters taken away, and they feel abandoned. And yet, in the midst of all this chaos and upheaval, God speaks to them through the prophet and reminds them that they are loved, protected, redeemed, and precious; words of comfort for a people in distress. And not only are they loved, but they have been called by name. Now this is significant in the ancient world. To be named by someone was a sign of “ownership” if you will. Not ownership in the sense of being a slave to, but ownership in the sense that you belong to someone who will look after you. So for these early Jews, to be named and thus belong to God meant that they were being cared for and looked after.
In the Luke text (3:15-17, 21-22) we have another “naming” story. Jesus has come to John to be baptized. And after Jesus is baptized, while he is praying, the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on him while these words are being spoken from above “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. In this moment, God names Jesus—the Beloved, and it is from this moment onward that Jesus embarks on his mission and ministry. God has claimed him as God’s own.
In Isaiah, when the people are reminded that they have been named and are loved, they are “re-membered” as children of God; they are put back together and made whole. Not that they weren’t, but they had forgotten. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first direct encounter with God, and he is “re-membered” as a child of God...he is put together and made whole for the ministry he is about to do.
This morning we will once again say our Baptismal Covenant and be sprinkled with baptismal water. We do this not because it’s in line with the lessons of the day, or because I like to fling water at people, but because it helps to “re-member” us. It reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. It is so easy to get caught up in the belief that who we are is based on our resume, on our paycheck, or on our standing in the community. Those things might be a part of who we are, but more importantly, we are children of God. And it’s even easier to think that we belong to the never ending cycle of emails, text messages, phone calls, budget meetings and a whole other barrage of issues that come at us daily, but ultimately, we belong to God.
When we are baptized, or when we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we are claiming our name as “Beloved” and we are giving ourselves over to God.
So what’s the point in going to church? It’s so I can be reminded of who I am and to whom I belong; it’s so I can be “re-membered”…put back together, made whole, and renewed. Why do you come to church?
“Arise, shine for the light of Christ and the glory of the Lord has come upon you”…I’ve now sang that three times since the fall, and here it is in our Epiphany lessons (Isaiah specifically) for Sunday.
So what is this Epiphany business all about anyway?
As I was preparing for Sunday, the commentators had a lot to say about traditional understandings of the visit of the magi’s and their gifts. The magi are representative of three non-Jewish cultures, and therefore serve as a symbolic representation of God’s revelation to the Gentiles. The gift of gold is a gift one would present to a king; the gift of frankincense is a gift one would present to a divinity…so these two gifts are symbolic of the combined nature of Jesus—both human and divine. And the gift of myrrh is a burial gift, foreshadowing the death of Jesus. These are wonderful and symbolic understandings of the magi and their gifts…if we want to keep them safely tucked away in our nativity scenes and children’s plays. But let’s take another look at the Epiphany and what it means for us today.
In the reading from Isaiah, we have the expression of deep joy by the prophet in the midst of the Babylonian captivity; there is an eagerness to return home, to overcome the enemy, to once again experience the love of God. And so Isaiah tells the people essentially, “rise and shine, the day of God’s glory is here”. This is a wonderful revelation of good news. And the prophet doesn’t stop there! Not only has the day of God’s glory arrived, but people will be reunited, sons and daughters will return home, the sea will provide a bounty, and many nations will come together. Rise and shine indeed! The prophet is reminding the listener that God is grabbing hold of things and that everything is about to change…this is what an epiphany, or a revelation, is about!
In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we are given the account of the visit of the wise-men…the revelation of God to the Gentiles. And while this is important because it lays the groundwork of all future revelations to “outsiders”, what I find so wonderful about this text is that it reminds us of God’s universal love for everyone. As great as the gifts of the magi were—I mean who wouldn’t want gold, frankincense and myrrh—these gifts are never as great as the gift of the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. No gift that magi, or we, ever present will be equal to or surpass God’s love. And there’s no shame in that! God isn’t keeping score on the value of our gifts, because really what we offer, we should offer with our whole heart…which is love in return. God’s gift of the Incarnation teaches us about generosity and the power to give to others out of love. That’s the revelation…that’s the epiphany.
Last year, Epiphany fell on a Friday. Some of us gathered together for dinner and an evening service of prayer and reflection. Part of our service together was a presenting of candles as symbols of the gifts we have to offer God. Answers included peace, love, truth, and justice. We are able to offer these gifts because they have been given freely to us.
So this Sunday morning, as you prepare for the exchange of Peace and the receiving of Holy Communion, ask yourself what gift you have been given that you want to share with others. “Arise, shine, for the light of Christ and the glory of the Lord shall come upon you”.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.