Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 February 13, 2013 Ash Wedneday Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 10, 2013 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 9:28-36, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany February 3, 2013 Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 27, 2013 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Nehemiah 8:1-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
Second Sunday after Epiphany January 20, 2013 Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
First Sunday after Epiphany January 13, 2013 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Feast of the Epiphany January 6, 2013 Epiphany, Year C Matthew 2:1-12
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012 December 24, 2012 Christmas, Year C Luke 2:1-20
Third Sunday in Advent, Year C December 16, 2012 Third Sunday in Advent, Year C Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7
Sermon, VTS, December 13, 2012 December 13, 2012 Daily Office, December 13, 2012 Psalm 145
Second Sunday in Advent, Year C December 9, 2012 Second Sunday of Advent, Year C Canticle 16, Song of Zechariah
First Sunday in Advent, Year C December 2, 2012 First Sunday of Advent, Year C Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B November 25, 2012 Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
Proper 28, Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost November 18, 2012 Sermon, Proper 28, Year B Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Psalm 16
Proper 27, Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost November 11, 2012 Proper 27, Year B I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sermon Date:February 3, 2013

Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

One of the words we hear in The Episcopal Church is the word “collect,” which comes from the Latin word “collectio,” which means “to gather.” 

We use these particular prayers, called collects, when we gather for worship.    The collect draws us and our individual prayers together. And these prayers also gather up the liturgical and scriptural themes of the day into one prayer.  This form of prayer is unique to the Western Church and dates back to the very early years of the church.

Today’s collect was probably written by Pope St Gregory the Great late in the 6th century.  Like all collects, today’s prayer contains within it a petition and the result we hope for—

“Mercifully hear the supplications of your people “(petition)

“and in our time grant us your peace” (hoped for result)

“Mercifully hear the supplications of your people and in our time grant us your peace.”

This is the day of peace that Carl Daw so exquisitely defines in the words of the prelude we heard today. 

“O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams, guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes.  May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.”

This is the peace we pray for each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer—thy kingdom come, thy will be done—because God’s reign is a reign of peace.  

A lack of peace, and our need to pray for its return, goes back not only to the 6th century when the collect was written, but to almost the beginning of the Bible.  In Chapter 4 of Genesis, Cain murders his brother Abel.   Cain kills Abel because he envies him. 

And so it goes throughout the Bible.  The Bible is full of stories about people who cannot ever seem to find peace, about people who actively and out rightly reject peace. 

Look at today’s scriptures, for instance.  In the gospel, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, hear the words of Jesus—the scripture has been fulfilled, God’s reign is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled on earth, and the people who heard this news from Jesus  spoke well of him  and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  Why?

Because they believed that as the chosen people of God, they would be the exclusive beneficiaries of God’s reign, and when Jesus burst their bubble and reminded them that God’s love is universal, for every human being on the face of this earth, their approval turned to rage and they got up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill so that they could hurl him to his death. 

"Brow of the Hill Near Nazareth" – James Tissot (1886-1894)

The Corinthians weren’t much better.  Here they were together in church, and all they could do was fight with each other over who had all the right answers about this new faith.  And not only that, but each one wanted everyone else to conform to his or her particular understandings—the people who didn’t eat idol food were mad at those who did, the people who spoke in tongues looked down on those who didn’t, and the list could go on. 

Nothing much has changed.  We still live in a broken world.

In fact, lack of peace in our world is big business.  Ongoing wars are an obvious example, but what about something as simple as the tabloids in the grocery store line?  Almost every headline has to do with some sort of chaotic mess in the lives of those the public has chosen as objects of fascination, and people love that stuff—it’s entertaining.  The characters on the current show Downton Abbey are great examples of people who are not at peace with themselves or with one another, and we’re fascinated by the ongoing twists and turns in their lives, wondering from week to week what will happen next.  What if they were all at peace?  We’d have nothing to watch.  

If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s a great deal in our lives and in the lives of those we love that disturbs us that keeps us lying awake at night, some of which might make good material for our own dramatic TV series.   Sometimes peace in our personal lives doesn’t even dimly shine—it’s missing altogether, frequently because of the choices that we or others make. 

And in many church communities—peace is lacking because people can’t agree to disagree and to realize that, as we heard Paul point out last week in the reading from the letter to the Corinthians, that diversity is essential for a strong and working body, not only for our physical bodies but also, and especially for the body of Christ, the church. 

We are constantly tempted to fall into the same traps the people in the church at Corinth did and to feel that one particular agenda (usually our own) is more important than any other, to the exclusion of any other.  And before you know it, the church who claims the Prince of Peace as its Savior is a church at war within itself. 

So what is the solution for us?  We are capable of the same rage that the people in Nazareth felt that day when they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.  We are just as capable of the same petty fights and disagreements that had the Corinthians in constant turmoil. 

In fact, my guess is that we probably cross our proverbial fingers behind our backs when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and for God’s will to be done, because that would mean that each one of us would have to make some changes in how we carry on our everyday lives.  Remember what St Augustine said, which I mentioned in my sermon last week.

“Without us, God will not, and without God, we cannot.”  God’s kingdom will never be on this earth until we give up our own agendas and give our best efforts to living as God would have us live.  God gave us the freedom to choose—and unfortunately, we can choose to tear peace apart.  The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate example of the rejection of peace on this earth.

God is not only merciful, but also very generous, and God never asks us to do anything without giving us some directions.  Last week I talked about the fact that we can rejoice that God gave us instructions on how to live lives of profound happiness.  We have ten of those commandments on the wall above the altar in this church.

But we all know that none of us can keep God’s instructions, or do God’s will all the time because we’re fallible human beings. 

And so Jesus came to show us how to live as peaceful people. 

And much of Paul’s writing tries to spell out this way of life to the people who still didn’t get it, even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that’s all of us. 

Paul’s beautifully written I Corinthians, chapter 13, is one of the most famous passages in the Bible, and rightly so.   We often hear this passage read at weddings.  But remember, Paul wrote these words not to a starry eyed bride and groom, but to the congregation at Corinth, to people who were constantly at odds with one another, people who couldn’t get along because of their competing agendas. 

Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are to have one main agenda, God’s agenda, and that agenda is to love one another.  It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, how successful you are, how wealthy you are, how beautiful you are, or how poor or downtrodden you are, how righteous you are, how pious you are, how prayerful you are, even how faithful you are—in our lives, none of the things we usually dwell on to define who we are matters except one thing, and that thing is love.

And love is not easy.

So Paul spells out how love works.  For Paul, love is not some passive state that we are in, that state we hear people describe as being in love.

For Paul, love is active.  Love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way.  It is not irritable or resentful.  It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. 

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Many of us could say these words from memory.

When I examine my life in terms of this kind of love, I certainly don’t measure up.  Ben Hicks will tell you that I can be incredibly impatient, and of course I like to insist on my own way.   And yes, I can be highly resentful when I’m afflicted with things that make me angry, all of which means that peace goes out the door when I let these things in.  And it’s when I get caught up in the little stuff that I find myself incapable of the greater good that God is calling me to do—to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to the world through not only my words, but also my actions. 

Our job as Christians is to make every effort to try to make love active in our lives.  Lent is the season in which we grow closer to God and to one another by examining ourselves and working on those things that separate us from God and from one another.

Don’t wait for Lent.

I’d encourage all of us to start this process of examination and change right now if we are truly serious about living into God’s agenda of love, and if we are truly serious about coming together–being collected together– to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done, and for God’s peace to be granted to us in our time.



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