Employment was different in Jesus’ day. There were no headhunters or online job boards. Most people didn’t even go on interviews. They just woke up in the morning and pretty much did whatever their father did. Shepherd’s kids become shepherds. A fisherman’s kids become fishermen. And the carpenter’s kid, well, he built things like his father did.
Then one day, Jesus set down the hammer and took on a new job. It was something he seemed to be pretty good at because word was spreading around of all the amazing things he had been doing. When Jesus returns to synagogue in his hometown everybody’s there, eager to welcome back the local kid who’d done good.
Like we talked about last week, Jesus is invited to read the lesson for the day. They hand him a bulky scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus unrolls it looking for a familiar text. When he finds it, he reads:
“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 Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat. Again, if you were with us last week, this was the cue for the congregation to listen to his interpretation on the reading. Although Jesus said very little, it was a lot for the people to take in. It was only one powerful sentence. One that is still just as provocative today.
Looking out at all those familiar faces, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In one powerful sentence, as Charles Hoffacker describes, “Jesus claims those ancient prophetic words as his own personal mission statement.” And what a statement it is.
Imagine a company posting a job description like this on monster.com. Who among us would submit a resume? The workload seems endless, the hours look horrible and the pay isn’t that much better. And let’s not forget the risk to your personal safety and well-being. But let’s say you want to apply, where does one even get the skills or qualifications for this kind of work?
I could argue that at his baptism God’s Spirit empowered and employed Jesus for this role: to bring good news and announce the Jubilee Year when God’s justice will reshape society.
I could also argue that we’ve been empowered and employed by the same Spirit, for the same purpose, haven’t we? Yet, how many of us are lining up to apply for this job opportunity?
watch the message here
Given the state of our world these days, I fear most of us are standing in the line with those Nazarenes who want toss Jesus off the cliff then do what we just heard him say.
I get why the people in seats of power are upset. They hear Jesus and fear they have to give up their unfair advantage. Who among us is willing to give up our power and privilege?
It also makes sense why those who were complacent in their faith are upset. They hear Jesus and know he’s forcing them take an honest look at their habitual infidelity to God. When was the last time you took inventory of your faith? And how did it make you feel?
But not everyone was upset. Those who knew the severe pain of economic inequality and social injustice hear Jesus differently. To those who were out of work, crushed by debt, or had been crying out to God for rescue and reprieve this was good news.
Just as it had been to the foreign widow, the only one who God fed in the middle of a famine. Or the enemy commander whose leprosy was the only one God cured in the midst of a war. To those who needed the year of God’s favor to be upon them, their savior had come.
As so many gospel stories will attest, Jesus not only spoke these words. He lived them out as well. So much so that he was considered a threat to the order of things.
Katie Hines-Shah writes, “Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth is his ministry in miniature. His job will be misunderstood, downplayed, and disrespected.” She later adds, “Jesus followers are not guaranteed acceptance” either. We need to keep this in mind, since we've been empowered and employed by the same Spirit of God that was upon Jesus.
I’m sure his life would have been easier had he remained a carpenter. Likewise, our life might be easier to just go with the status quo. Wake up, go to work, pay our taxes, and buy stuff. That might be fine with you, unless of course, it’s this status quo that’s made your life a living hell.
"These words from Isaiah 61 – where the prophet proclaims God’s care and reversals of fortune for all those in need – Jesus has claimed them as his own personal mission statement."
What then does that say to you and me, and to all who take the name of Christ as our own?
Today, four football teams will battle it out for a chance in the Super Bowl. The job of their quarterbacks is to get the ball in the hands of those who will score goals. It’s the job of the defense to stop him from succeeding. Jesus is calling us to work. Will we take the ball for God? Or rush to stop God’s will from being fulfilled?
Before they try to throw him over the cliff, our Lord reminds this angry mob that they are covenant partners with God. They’ve been empowered and employed to live their lives in such a way that all people would see God among them. And find salvation in God’s heart. The job is still the same today as it was then.
In Christ, God’s covenant is given to us. In our baptism, God blesses and anoints us for the task at hand. As such, we are called to be living examples of God’s love as a community of faith, hope, and charity for all people. If the scripture is to be fulfilled, if good news is going to reach all people, then we need to move into that space between hearing God’s word and doing what God has employed us to do.
Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to sit back and let me handle it. Instead, he sends all of us out into the furthest corners of the world to be the good news of God’s great redemptive love. We can sit here and wait for miracles to happen. But Jesus is calling us to go and be the miracle. Go bind up the brokenhearted. Give hope to those without vision. Liberate the oppressed and release people from whatever debts they carry.
The job of Christ is the job of all who claim his name. It’s not enough to be hearers of the word. Our job, as Christians, is to live in Christ’s likeness – to embody the Word of God by literally becoming it.
As we move into Anamesa, our job is to be little Christs in every space; making great things happen for those who need it the most. For it’s in the sacred space between our hearing and doing, others find hope and freedom, mercy, grace, and love...lots and lots of love.
We are the body of Christ Jesus, a Church filled with the Spirit of God. His mission is ours now.
For the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed you and me 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 has sent us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Today, may this scripture be fulfilled in our hearing. And in our doing.
Hines-Shah, Katie. "Living By The Word." Christian Century, January 12, 2022. (accessed on January 28, 2022)
Hoffacker, Charles. Jesus’ Mission Statement. January 27, 2013 (accessed on January 25, 2022)
Kubicek, Kirk Alan. We Are His. February 3, 2019. (accessed on January 28, 2022)
“The Bible tells us that Jesus had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58), which is another way to say he was homeless. Jesus was trained in carpentry—a form of manual labor akin to low-wage work today—and he relied on the hospitality of friends, many of whom were also poor, to share meals and lodging with him. Jesus, the disciples, and those to whom they ministered were poor, subjected, and oppressed. They were the expendables. . . .
“Jesus was a poor man” is a theological statement. It is more than saying “Jesus cares about the poor,”—how Matthew 25:31–46 is often interpreted. In Matthew 25, what is usually translated as “the least of these” is the Greek word elachistoi, which literally means “the smallest or most insignificant ones”: in other words, the expendables. Jesus’s identity as one of the least of these is not a romantic, charitable notion; it is Jesus’s reality. He is saying that the social class of expendables are his people. The homeless, the poor, the incarcerated are Jesus’s friends, family, disciples, and followers, and Jesus himself…
“Interpretations of Matthew 25:31–46 that diminish Jesus’s ministry to that of charity miss the gospel message and actually help to maintain inequality. But when we understand that the Roman Empire considered Jesus to be expendable—much the same way the United States considers poor and low-income people, nearly half of the population, to be expendable—we see that being a follower of Jesus means something deeper than charity. Being Christlike means joining a movement, led by the poor and dispossessed, to lift the load of poverty.
Richard Rohr comments on Matthew 25, reminding us that:
Jesus teaches there is a moral equivalency between himself and other people. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to others, you do to me” (Matthew 25:40). How you treat other human beings is how you treat Jesus. That’s nondual thinking. Many Christians would read this statement and firmly say, “This is the Word of the Lord.” But it isn’t their actual practice. As long as they remain at the dualistic level, they can go to church and worship Jesus and be greedy, selfish, and racist an hour later, not seeing any conflict with that at all.
All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. He read from it facing the square from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law... And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground...So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Ezra the priest...said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD..." (Nehemiah 8:1-12)
Thanks to the pandemic, churches will look a little different than they used to. Some have used this time to make massive, well-needed changes in their worship. Others are waiting until they can return to the old tried and true ways they’re used to. Either way, as churches around the world reopen, they will carry forward certain rituals that date back to this particular reading.
After 60-years in exile, God’s people have returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the temple and their city. But there’s another construction project underway. As Nehemiah points out, Ezra and the priest are assembling what will become the Torah – the Hebrew scriptures that make up the first five books of our Bible. Men and women, the religious and common folk alike, have gathered to worship with Ezra and have their spirit refreshed.
You might notice, scripture is the centerpiece in their worship, just as it is here in Anamesa. But just as important as reading scripture, Ezra takes the time to interpret the text. Much like I’m doing now. He taught the people what God’s words meant and how it applied to the situation they were dealing with. Having been reminded of God’s providence, the people go home rejoicing – sharing what they have with those in need.
This last point is important to remember because God’s word cannot be held in a vacuum…or sealed away in a book. It must be lived out and shared. This is how God’s word meets us where we are. And how God makes sure no one is left out – especially those who have nothing to offer.
Now, Blake was a freshman in high school when he signed up to be a reader at the church. There were many people who thought it would be a mistake to give him the responsibility. You see, Blake was born with vision and hearing issues that affected his speech. Some worried that the older members would have trouble understanding him. But I knew Blake’s heart and his desire to serve. So, I went ahead and let Blake do the readings one Sunday. And like I thought, he did a great job connecting the church community to God’s word.
Blake’s story reminds me of another story from our lectionary. One where some people thought Jesus couldn’t do the job either.
“Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "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." 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. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:14-21)
Once again, scripture takes center stage. When Jesus is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he follows the example of Ezra by reading the passage to the people and then giving them his interpretation. His was a simple message: “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Like Blake, there were people who had trouble understanding what Jesus was saying. Not because he had a speech impediment, but because they were only able to see him in one way. To them Jesus was just a kid from the hood, a local carpenter’s boy…no one of any prominence. Who was he to bring good news to the poor?
I think what Jesus was saying to them, he is also saying to us right now. Just as Jesus is revealing his true self to his community…he is also revealing who we are or who God has created us to be. Like him, we must embody God’s word, live it out to make sure no one is left without.
The gospels give us numerous examples of how Jesus embodied God’s word in all the ways he response to human need. Stories of healing, forgiving, feeding, and of course, sacrifice - putting the needs of others before his own. In Jesus, the word of God truly becomes flesh and blood, to meet us where we are, and to bring us back to where we need to be. In him and through him, the will of God is proclaimed perfectly. And no one is left out.
The way I see it, worship isn’t just prayer, praise, and preaching. It’s about hearing and doing of the will of God for the building up of God’s Kingdom. As Blake taught us, we all have what it takes to embody the Word of God. To make it one with our own flesh and blood.
This takes us to the third lectionary reading from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit…Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose…As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you…” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,…and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect… If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
While scripture was the centerpiece in the first two readings, the focus now shifts to us…the body of Christ who has called us to carry God’s word into the world.
Paul makes it pretty clear that God wants everyone to partake in the worship experience. More than just butts in the seats, God wants us to actually show up and bring our spiritual gifts to the party. The way I see it, God’s word becomes more meaningful and multi-dimensional when it’s lived out together. And not necessarily in the same building, but in the same Spirit.
As Christ’s holy body, the church is called into Anamesa – that sacred space between heaven and earth. We are called into this space together – to bring good news to the poor; to liberate the oppressed; and provide mental, physical, and spiritual care to the least of these our brothers and sisters.
To follow Jesus means to embody his way. And to make the word of God come alive in our communities. We have been given the Holy Spirit to do just that.
Like Jesus pointed out to those who questioned his intentions, it’s not enough to honor God with our lips. Our words will fall on deaf ears if we refuse to honor God with our hearts and hands as well. True worship – that which is truly pleasing to God – is being the manifestation of God’s glory in all that we do. We see this throughout creation.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world... (Psalm 19:1-4)
Richard Rohr argues, “Creation is the first Bible.” It’s shear brilliance reveals the path to God. If a beautiful sunset or a grand mountain can awaken someone to God’s greatness and glory, what then does that say about our call as a community of faith? We are the body of Christ, called to be the living incarnation of God’s word.
Katie Hines Shah writes, “The living word is not just text it must be embodied, meeting God's people today in their deepest need. Our hands belong not over our hearts, but at work for our neighbor if we are to have the word take flesh in us.”
Your words and deeds might be the only way someone meets God and discovers their true worth in God’s heart. This is important to remember for no other reason than you might be the only Bible someone will ever read.
So yes, we are a bible-based church.
For we are the Body of Christ whose various gifts work together to reveal God’s salvation upon the world. We can do this in a beautiful building or in a simple backyard. We can do it in person or online, at work or at school. God doesn’t need a steeple or stain glass. God needs us.
For the truest form of worship to God, is being the visible and tangible expression of God’s love and grace in the world. As the psalm continues to remind us:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
Brothers and sisters, God has entrusted us with the same Spirit that was given to Jesus himself who embodied the Word of God perfectly.
If a mountain can do it, so can you.
If people like Blake can do it, so can any one of us become the body and embodiment of Christ, the very word of God made flesh for us and for all.
May his heart be your heart.
His hands, an extension of your own.
And his words be yours, holy and pleasing to God, our rock and our redeemer.
Based on an original sermon Are You The Word of God? from January 26, 2019.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Hines-Shah, Katie. "Living By The Word." Christian Century, January 12, 2022.
The first of Jesus' miracles takes place in a familiar setting. The celebration of a wedding, the coming together of families and friends to surround the bride and groom with love and support. Jesus is there, with his mother and disciples, to share the joy and folly of life.
Weddings were different back then. Ceremonies took place at the groom’s house, and not in a church. While most weddings today often drag into the night, it was common for an event like this to last a week or more.
In ancient times, when hospitality was a mark of social pride, the host supplied everything. Especially at a wedding, one made sure there was plenty of food and drink for everyone to get their fill.
Now, I can’t recall how much booze we supplied for Halloween party, but the empty bottles and cans that I cleaned up the next day filled at least two recycling bins! On top of what we supplied, most of our guest brought their own and more to share.
At this wedding, the host either calculated wrong, or the guest enjoyed themselves a little too much. By the third day there was no more wine left. Jesus’ mom notices this social faux pas. And incorporates her son to help. While Jesus is hesitant, he does what his mom asks of him.
It’s here, between water and wine, Jesus preforms his first public miracle, revealing who he truly is. This is all it took for his disciples to believe. Not healing a sick person or bringing someone back from the dead. They believed because Jesus made more wine to keep the party going.
watch the message here
According to John there were six purification pots - each held 20-30 gallons of water. If my math is correct that’s roughly 150 gallons of wine! At five bottles of wine per gallon Jesus made roughly 750 bottles or 62.5 cases of wine. And not just any wine, but the best wine!
With a quick Google search, I learned Sine Qua Non was voted the best premium wine for 2021. It’s a California Syrah that sells for $450 a bottle. Call me cheap but I’d have to be drunk to crack open my wallet to make such a frivolous purchase. And you can bet I’d never offer it to someone who has already emptied my liquor cabinet. They wouldn’t appreciate its quality muchless the cost.
Yet, this is exactly what Jesus does. He makes the best wine. And gives it to us, even when we aren’t in a place to appreciate it. Jesus knows our joy is priceless to God and doesn’t hold back. But he also knows what this miracle will cost him later. Yet, he’s willing to pay the price for us.
It’s no coincidence that this epiphany moment happens at a wedding. Throughout the bible, marriage is a metaphor used to describe the union of God and humankind. A wedding, of course, is a public symbol of that union.
In Christ, God has made a union with all of us. And this union is cause for celebration. So, why wouldn’t Jesus want to keep the party going? He knows God loves to celebrate us so much so that God came in flesh and blood to keep that party going for you and me.
While only John mentions the wedding in Cana, all four gospels give countless examples of Jesus celebrating with people - people sharing meals, people getting healed, people being liberated from the demons in their lives.
Jesus carried that spirit of celebration wherever he went proclaiming God’s mercy, grace, and love. As he did, lives were transformed, relationships were restored, and communities healed. Talk about miracles! He turned the bitter water of sadness and sin into the finest wine of joy and redemption. And he’s called us to follow him.
The Incarnation didn’t happen so God could drag us off to a heaven. It happened so God could bring the very best of heaven to us. And through Jesus we can enjoy all the abundance that God has to offer. Through him, we can celebrate others without the fear of running out. Even when it looks like the end of the party we can count on Christ to keep it going.
And for this reason, according to Robert Hotchkins, “Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”
Is that how you would describe being a follower of Christ? Do you see faith as fun? Or is it a chore? Or a burden you have to carry?
The way I see it, our God doesn’t want our worship to be too holy to be happy in. Or too solemn to be celebrated. God wants us to embrace life and enjoy the fullness and abundance of it.
A great way for us to honor and worship our God is to be a community that celebrates one another - with laughter, food, and drink. I can’t think of a better way to launch Anamesa then by following Jesus’ lead by perform the miracles that keep God’s party going.
Given the grim times we are facing, this might seem like a tall order. You might be asking yourself, “What can I do? I’m no miracle worker.”
For years my brother-in-law criticized my choice to leave the riches of advertising for the poverty of ministry. The last time he said something to me, I told him, “You know, Brendan, I can turn water into wine.”
At the time it was a snarky comment said just to mess with him. But now I have come to realize there is some truth to that statement. Because of Jesus, I possess the power to turn something as basic as water into something miraculous. And so do you.
You may have noticed there’s an invitation in this passage. Mary, sensitive to the needs of the gathering, invites Jesus to intercede. And he does. There are dire needs in our world right now.
The sickness of poverty, injustice, and inequality have done more damage to the human spirit than Covid or cancer combined. Jesus is inviting us to intercede. Jesus is calling us to be the miracle that brings abundance and life to the party. This is something we can all do, together. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to show up.
Think about those in the story who showed up. The one’s who helped Jesus at the wedding didn’t do it because they had faith. That came later. They didn’t do it to win favor in God’s eyes or to impress their boss. They just showed up and did what was asked of them.
Jesus told them to “Fill the jars with water.” And they do it.
Jesus said, “Now draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” And they do it.
Just as Jesus was obedient to his mother, these servants were obedient to Jesus. As a result, they became a part of his miracle. You see, the key to following Jesus is simply doing the will of God like he did. Whenever we do what Jesus asks of us, miracles happen.
So what is Jesus asking you to do? The answer is pretty clear and straightforward. He said love, share, give, serve, listen, pray. This is how we are to celebrate God’s kingdom here on earth.
It’s here, in this space between us and them, Jesus tells us to make love our priority. In the space between you and me, Jesus tells us to be so generous that no child, or neighbor or family is without. It’s in that space between heaven and earth, Jesus tells us to welcome all people no matter who they are; forgive all people no matter what they’ve done; and care for all people, just as has God has done all these things for you and me.
Show up and do what Jesus asks of you. This is how you become the miracle that reveals God’s incarnate glory to the world.
This is how we, the body of Christ, celebrate the goodness of God’s heavenly feast, today.
When we do what Jesus asks of us, water becomes the finest wine. The mundane becomes miraculous. The everyday becomes extraordinary. And the party continues, now until the end of time.
If that’s not a reason to celebrate, well…then I don’t know what is.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Cox, Jason. Come and Dine. episcopalchurch.org on January 17, 2016 (accessed on January 12, 2022).
Richter, Amy. The First Sign. episcopalchurch.org on January 20, 2019 (accessed on January 12, 2022).
While looking for The Divine in the spaces of the world, here’s a great story from Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote:
“Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated with one another, with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.
But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom."Folks," he said, "I know you have had a rough day and you are frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here is what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight, just leave them with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I will open the window and throw your troubles in the water."
It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who had been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?
Oh, he was serious.
At the next stop, just as promised, the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.
We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it is extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.
But what if you are the light? What if you are the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?. That’s what this bus driver taught me, that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy influencer. He was a bus driver, one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.
When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name.
No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated, one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river."~~
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Be it marriage or basketball teams or professional associations, human beings have an innate need to belong. We are constantly looking for places where we fit in and can share relationships with other likeminded people.
When I was a teenager, I was part of a surfing community and a music scene. After college it was advertising groups and religious communities I identified with.
The world is full of different social groups, civic organizations, political affiliations, even street gangs who will welcome us with open arms. Such groups offer us a place where we can let other people know who we are.
They help us cultivate relationships where we can learn new things to help us evolve as better human beings. As good as it can be, there are also some downsides.
Rejection from such groups can impact the way a person defines their self-worth. The fear of not being welcomed or belonging to a part of something can drive a person to compromise one’s values and virtues just so he or she can fit in.
As such, our need to belong leads us to question who we are and what we’re worth in the world. And it often causes us to look for answers in all the wrong places.
But here's the way I see it. It’s not your religious beliefs, political ideologies, career choice, or financial status that define you or give you value as a human being. It’s what God has done for you that makes you worthy.
God’s people have found themselves in place where they don’t belong. Exiled to a foreign country, they have lost their home, their identity, and all the things that they thought gave them self-worth.
More heartbreaking than that, they fear they’ve lost God’s providence, as if God has abandoned or forgotten them. Yet through the prophet Isaiah, God gives these people words of hope and promise.
Words that let them know just who they are, and to whom they belong.
(Read Isaiah 43 here)
Now, God’s people have been dragged off to Babylon, which according to the previous chapter in Isaiah, is based largely on their arrogance and disobedience. They sit there fearing extinction, afraid of what is to come.
They are bloodied, bruised, beaten and beleaguered. Their only possessions are guilt, shame, and the fears they brought with them. They have lost sight of their faith and the promises that it was built upon. Yet to them God declares, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
These are not just words of comfort and assurance to God’s people. They are also words of welcome and belonging given to us all.
This should be good news to anyone who has ever felt abandoned by God because of something you did or didn’t do. Maybe you’re sitting there right now believing you’re not good enough for God’s mercy. Or worthy enough to be in God’s good graces. If you have ever felt this way, then look carefully at what God is saying to you in these words.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
It shouldn’t be a shock to hear me say the world is a dark and troubled place, and that we often find ourselves easily distracted or pulled away from what we are called to do. But scripture gives us the assurance that no matter how far we stray, we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love. God takes away our fear, our worries, guilt, and shame, by redeeming us back to where we belong...in God’s heart.
According to ancient Hebrew, to redeem is to be in a relationship with someone. God redeems these exiled people because of a covenant that was made with their ancestors. Since covenants cannot be broken, God remains in a relationship with the exiles, no matter what.
The Bible tells us that in Christ, God has made a covenant with the rest of us – drawing us into the same loving relationship. Because of what God has done, we belong to God. We are God’s people, God’s family, God’s community. And because of what Christ has done for us, we too are called home to reclaim our true worth.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
May these words penetrate your heart and understanding. God wants to be in a relationship with you. God knows who you are, and what you’ve done. And still names you and claims you…precious, honored, and loved.
Some of you might be old enough to remember the TV show Cheers, a sitcom about an intimate community inside a Boston bar. It was a place, like the theme song pointed out, “where everybody knows your name.” Whenever this one particular character would come in, the entire bar would shout his name, “Norm!”
There’s something good and sacred about belonging to a place where people know you and call you by name. As Janelle Hiroshige notes, “Knowing someone’s name implies a relationship. It opens the door for acts of care and kindness. When you hear that someone is in trouble, and you know their name, you might be inclined to act.”
I find great comfort in knowing God cares enough to know me. It tells me that I am worthy of being loved. And it empowers me to face my fears knowing all of Heaven will act on my behalf.
Because God has claimed me and named me, I have a constant sense of hope in my heart, knowing wherever I go, or whatever challenge I face, God is there with me, leading me through water and fire that try to overwhelm me in the space between.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
As we enter another year - with COVID present - it’s easy to feel defeated and to doubt God’s presence. You might be experiencing a sense of abandonment from God as you are exiled in your own home, afraid to go outside or to be around others.
Just as God spoke those words then, God also speaks to us today. Yet we cannot forget or overlook the truth that God doesn’t promise the people that they will avoid hardship or difficult times. But God does promise to be present always.
This tells me that no matter what you’re dealing with God’s words remain true. Whenever you face a difficult challenge in life remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. I have redeemed you.”
When political and social unrest overwhelms our country remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. I have called you by name.”
When diseases like COVID, poverty and injustice plague our communities, remember the words of God who said, “Do not fear. You are mine.”
We are God’s children. We do not belong to this world. We belong to the one who formed and made everything in it…including you and me. Our sense of belonging comes not from the acceptance of our peers or our social status in our communities. It comes from the One who names us and claims us and never lets us go.
What makes us worthy is not our gender, skin color, education, or nationality. Our worth is based solely on God’s gracious love for each one of us. In the same way, God doesn’t care about who you marry, or what you’ve achieved, any more than how much money you make or the size of our congregations. God only cares to be in a relationship with you and me.
This truth was made evident when God came to be with us, in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ – our Emmanuel, God-with-us. In Christ God has redeemed us; named us and claimed us. All of us. Through Christ, God has gathered us from the north and south, east and west – transcending our differences and transforming our biases with divine love.
We are called to walk with Christ, as a visible presence of that love; welcoming all and giving everyone a place to belong.
As the church, the sacred body of Christ, we must resist exclusion and division because of skin color, sexual orientation, or political or theological differences. We are all God’s children. Each and every one of us has been named Precious. Honored. Loved.
The God who names us and claims us, is the God who blesses us and sends us out into Anamesa, where there are still lost and broken people searching and crying out in need.
We belong to God’s family, and as such we are called to care for one another as if we are caring for God.
Therefore, let us go out into the world as bearers of God’s light and love; sowing seeds of peace where there is division. Bringing hope where there is only hopelessness. And causing joy to spring forth wherever sadness is found.
Let us go into that sacred space between faith and doubt, living into our name as God’s beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to Christ himself – so that everyone we meet can know their worth in God’s eyes.
And find their place of belonging...at home in God’s heart.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Hiroshige, Janelle. By Name. episcopalchurch.org, January 3, 2022 (accessed on January 7, 2022).
If I had to sum up who or what God is in one word, that would be simple. God is love. If I had only one word to explain who Jesus is, what his life means or what his message is all about, that too would be easy. Jesus is love. Defining my faith should be no different. Love.
So why then do so many followers of Jesus or worshipers of this God struggle to love? Especially one another?
As we enter the new year, we do so knowing that today is a gift given to each and every one of us. And the only real thing we are called to do, be it worship or work, is to love. That is the single thread that weaves us all together. Love binds us to God. Love joins us to Jesus. Love is how life is defined.
If you dare to love, you dare to reject and refuse anything that is not grounded in love. If you dare to believe that God loves you (no matter what) and from love God has made you and claimed you as one of God's own, then you can dare to believe that you are born as one of God's beloved. Just like Jesus. Just like me. Because you are a beloved child of God, your life is meaningful. It has purpose. And that purpose is to give love meaning.
We are born into this physical space to define love. We have been given only a short to do so. For some it's just a day, or twenty or forty or eighty years. The length of time doesn’t matter. A baby who is born and dies in his mothers arms, expresses love in both the joy of his life and the pain in his death. Today, we will live while others will die. How then will you live? How then will you die?
We are the beloved children of God, made from love for love. Our job is to define that truth by loving one another so to help our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and enemies, our friends and co-workers that they too belong in this belovedness.
When we love, we do not fight, or kill, or harm one another - we aid, heal, and support each other. When we love, we are able to reconcile our differences, to break down the walls that divide us, to better understand the differences between us are things that help us grow closer together, to love better, and to care more deeply.
"Before all distinctions, the separations, and the walls built on foundations of fear, there was a unity in the mind and heart of God.Out of that unity, you are sent into this world for a little while to claim that you and every other human being belongs to the same God of Love who lives from eternity to eternity."
God's love is the great unifier. Jesus' love invites us to unite, to live together in love, in the space of time we are given. We are only here for a little while, so how we define our love will really be the only thing we can leave behind when we are gone. Love wildly, freely, passionately, intensely, and very generously until there is no room left in this world for anything else.
"Remember you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours."
You were born for this.
Nouwen, Henri. You Are The Beloved. (Convergent: 2017)
I couldn’t say it any better. So here’s a thought provoking message from the past. Written some years ago by a great mind who left this world long before we could even fathom the space we’re in today.
But as we welcome this new year, let us remember it’s really a new beginning. Like every day, it’s a gift given to us to grow and move forward in this space between life and death.
A name like no other. God-with-you. God in your midst. God in the space between you and me. God in the space between here and there. God in the space between past and present. Today, I invite you to welcome God in to the space of this New Year. Enter that space knowing it was a gift given to you. Today is a gift. Tomorrow will be one too, just like yesterday was. There is nothing you can do to claim this space as your own. Because God is there with you.
Now, let’s enter that space and make it holy by living into something new!
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”