Readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
This sermon was preached at Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA on January 27, 2019.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus shares the mission statement for his entire ministry: “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Like Ezra in our reading from Nehemiah, Jesus interprets and explains the meaning of the sacred words of Scripture. He does this by simply saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus would make a good Episcopalian because his sermons are sometimes very short. In this case, just one sentence. Jesus was reading from what we now know as Isaiah chapter 61 and if you look at that chapter in your Bibles, you will notice that Jesus stops reading right before Isaiah describes God’s vengeance. So the vengeful wrath of God does not seem to be central to Christ’s mission and ministry, which is all about good news, liberation, and divine favor.
This mission statement of Jesus is extremely helpful for us as we read and interpret other parts of the Gospels and the Scriptures in general. Sometimes in the Gospels, Jesus seems to be, on the surface, a little harsh or rude or even oppressive. And of course, in other parts of Scripture, God can seem to be very violent and angry and punitive. However, in today’s Gospel, Jesus (whom we Christians believe to be the fullest revelation of God) makes it clear that his ministry is all about liberation and love. So whenever Jesus might seem to be cruel or oppressive in the Gospels or whenever God seems to be violent or vindictive in the Bible, we need to interpret these Scriptures more carefully and deeply, in light of Christ’s clear mission statement, in order to discover the invitation to liberation and love that is within all of Christ’s words and actions, and within all of God’s words and actions. Mission statements are very helpful.
This is why I have stressed our church’s mission statement and why I want us all to know it. Like Christ’s words, the words of our mission statement are rooted in Scripture and tradition. However, they are also rooted in the unique expression of the Christian tradition that is Christ Episcopal Church Eureka. The words of our mission statement were chosen very carefully and prayerfully by the elected leaders of this church (the vestry), after listening for several months to all of you express what you love so much about this community. We wanted the mission statement to be easy to remember so that every member of Christ Church could articulate it. So here it is: “Christ Episcopal Church Eureka seeks to glorify God, follow Jesus Christ, and serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (One way to remember our mission is to think of the Trinity because the mission statement is Trinitarian, including the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: We seek to glorify God the Father, follow Jesus Christ the Son, and serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit.) It is important for us to know our mission because that is how we should understand everything we do as a church. If we are doing something that is not fulfilling our mission or is in opposition to our mission, then we need to have a serious conversation about whether or not we will continue doing it.
On that bright September morning at the Transfiguration House, when the vestry formulated our mission statement, we also agreed upon our church’s core values. We said that we strive to accomplish our mission by upholding the essential values of worship, discipleship, fellowship, outreach, and hospitality. We glorify God in worship. We follow Jesus Christ in discipleship. We serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit in fellowship, outreach, and hospitality. This Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of my time here at Christ Church Eureka and I have experienced this year as a year of divine favor as we have together upheld worship, discipleship, fellowship, outreach and hospitality in beautiful and unique ways.
On Sunday mornings, we worship God in the beauty of holiness, in what Sister Alice called the “Cathedral of the North Coast.” The worship committee and I have had many long conversations about the liturgy, the placement of liturgical furniture, the movement of liturgical traffic and the placement of the choir; and everything we do is steeped in prayer and honest conversation in order to glorify God as best we can in this sacred space. Almost every change we make has theological and liturgical meaning: whether that be serving communion at the altar rail, the placement of the baptismal font, dismissing the congregation from the baptismal font, the coordinated movement of the Gospel procession, the use of the aspergillum and much more. For example, you might notice we still have the candelabra out on display. Why do you think that is, during this season of Epiphany? This season of divine light? I invite you to pay attention to the changes made in our worship, to ask questions, and to be part of the conversation. When we do that, we are engaging in discipleship, understanding worship as a spiritual discipline, and beginning to comprehend the rich meanings behind everything we do in the liturgy. This is why we offered an Instructional Eucharist back in August; and we will likely offer this again in 2019 and maybe every year because it’s always helpful to be reminded of the meaning of what we are actually doing when we worship.
As we seek to follow Jesus Christ (as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement), we engage in discipleship, which means learning more about our Scriptures and tradition as well as practicing spiritual disciplines, such as daily prayer and contemplation. In between the 8 Am and 10:30 AM worship services on Sundays, we hold an informal forum in Lewis Hall which includes asking questions about the sermon, the Scriptures, current events and much more. During Lent and Advent, we offered Soup Suppers in which we explored the Gospel of John and the Presence of Angels. And we now have a third service here at Christ Church that I encourage you to attend if you haven’t already. Every Tuesday at 7 PM, we gather in the Chapel of Our Merciful Saviour surrounded by candlelight to pray Compline, to sing, to light more candles for those in need, to be still and silent, and to pause and to engage in Christian Discipleship. We also meet in the Chapel on Thursdays at noon for Centering Prayer. When the bishop candidates visited our chapel this last Wednesday, they told me that they instantly sensed in the chapel the palpable presence of prayer. They knew that it was a place, where, in the words of T. S. Eliot, “prayer has been valid.” Please consider joining us on Tuesday nights.
Also this year, I initiated four Discipleship Groups which involved a commitment to praying intentionally for at least 20 minutes a day for six weeks as we intimately shared personal stories of times in our lives when we felt closest to God. It has been a profound honor for me to hear your stories. Also, some of you have taken advantage of online courses on Anglican spirituality and English mysticism that I have offered and continue to offer to help us grow as disciples. And there will be many more discipleship opportunities in 2019, especially as we will be preparing people for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. I will be offering a Basic Introduction to the Episcopal Church on Sunday mornings in which we will discuss the multiple meanings of Holy Baptism, which is not only a dying and rising again in Christ and not only a cleansing from sin, but also an initiation into the church family.
We are the Christ Church Eureka family and, as a family, we fellowship together by breaking bread, eating delicious deviled eggs at coffee hour, celebrating Shrove Tuesday with fluffy pancakes, discovering little prizes in our King’s Cake on Epiphany, bouncing together in the bounce house, blessing our beloved and rambunctious pets on St. Francis day, and gathering in each other’s homes for dinners and parties. As a family, we play and laugh together and sometimes we cry together, especially as we grieve and mourn the loss of close friends and members who have moved away or who passed away. And we continue to offer pastoral care and healing prayer every week for those of us who are suffering and in pain, as we “strive to be an icon and emblem of God’s healing love in Eureka and all of Humboldt county,” as I preached on my first Sunday here, one year ago today.
And this year, we have started to engage more deeply with a part of our family whom we don’t often see: that is, our parochial mission church Sts. Martha and Mary which meets on Sunday mornings at 9 AM in Trinidad. However, they are not meeting there this Sunday because they are here with us today. And this year, we will be exploring new ways to fellowship and collaborate with these creative and courageous members of our family.
When it comes to outreach, this church continues to blow me away. This year, we have continued and emboldened our support of the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, the Forgotten Initiative, Humboldt Domestic Violence Services, the Food Bank, Episcopal Relief and Development and so much more, while also donating thousands of dollars to victims of local fires, the local Coast Guard, the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba and others. In October, Christ Church participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raising over $1,000. The clergy and I have collaborated with the Humboldt Interfaith Fellowship to speak at marches and rallies, to publish articles in the Times-Standard, and to lead community-wide forums on important social justice issues.
And finally, hospitality: We are known throughout the diocese as one of the most welcoming and hospitable parishes and we lived up to that reputation this last week when we hosted the bishop candidates. This year, we also hosted the Diocesan Board of Trustees, the Disaster Chaplaincy Training, the Racial Reconciliation Training, the Humboldt Rose Society, the American Association of University Women, a Quinceañera, and much more. We are also known throughout the county as a welcoming venue for musicians and artists and guests, hosting virtuoso organists, local choirs, bands, and instrumentalists. And we are known nationally throughout the American Guild of Organists, which recently published my sermon about the Kegg Pipe Organ in the American Organist magazine. This is part of how we serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What I also love so much about this church is that I’m pretty sure someone will come up to me after the service and say, “But you forgot to mention this program or this outreach or this class or whatever.” And thanks be to God that I cannot sum up all that we have accomplished together this year in one homily. But also thanks be to God that we can sum up our mission in one simple and beautiful sentence: Christ Episcopal Church Eureka seeks to glorify God, follow Jesus Christ, and serve all people through the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus said, in the synagogue, that the mission described in Isaiah had been fulfilled on that day in the people’s hearing, so too may our joyful mission continue to be fulfilled in wonderfully unique ways in our many years to come. Amen.