Preached at the January Kansas City Eucharist of the Worker Sisters of the Holy Spirit/Worker Brothers of the Holy Spirit, Saturday, January 23, 2010.
Welcome to the midweek Eucharist!
Oh, you didn’t know it was a midweek Eucharist? You thought that gathering on Saturday and using Sunday’s lessons that this was a weekend?
Actually, it’s the middle of the week. Specifically, it’s the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It began with the Confession of Peter this past Monday; and it will end with the Conversion of Paul this coming Monday; and so today, and this Sunday’s lessons, come in the middle of that week.
And I think that’s really very appropriate. Consider: on the Confession of Peter we remember that, when Jesus asked, “Who do you think I am,” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the Living God.” Jesus answered, “You didn’t think that up yourself, Peter. It had to have been revealed to you.” And considering what a block head Peter is until after the Resurrection, I can see why he said that.
“You are the Messiah,” Peter said; but, what did that mean?
And on the Conversion of Paul we recall Paul’s encounter on the Damascus Road. Now, Paul had faith. He would later say he was convicted in his faith, and a member of the Pharisee party. So, we know he had some sense of the Messiah; but he didn’t know Jesus was the Messiah. That is, until Jesus knocked him off his donkey and onto his…. Well, anyway.
So, Paul was converted to faith in Jesus as the Messiah; but what did that mean?
The Gospel for this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Epiphany, provides us with the answer. Jesus attended the synagogue, and read from the Book of Isaiah: “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 he said to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This is what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah: freedom for those in bondage and healing for those who suffer and the time of God’s grace, which is good news to all those who are in any sense poor. This is what it means that Jesus it Messiah. This is what Peter confessed, and to what Paul was converted.
This is the ministry, too, to which we are called and for which we are empowered by the Spirit. This group, named for the Holy Spirit, should certainly understand about the gifts. There is a variety of gifts, but only one Spirit. But those varied gifts aren’t simply matters of individual honor. After all, as Paul tells us, if one is honored all of us are honored; and if one is disgraced, all of us are disgraced. No, the gifts of the Spirit aren’t marks of honor: they’re operational. They’re tools that we are given to take our part in the ministry of the Messiah as Jesus proclaimed it in Nazareth.
Now, this can be difficult for us. If we stand like Peter and confess, “You are the Christ,” it calls us to commitment. If we are converted – again and again - like Paul, it calls us to commitment. To carry out the ministry requires commitment.
The thing is, we live in a culture that has a problem with commitment. We know it’s true. It’s the stuff of so many date movies! But, really, we know it in our society. Think of all the folks who don’t support universal access to health care. “I’m doing fine. Don’t call me to any commitment to anybody else.” So much of our political life these days seems to be about individuals who aren’t comfortable making a commitment to our society.
We, however, are called to make a commitment. We are here because we follow in the tradition of Peter’s confession and Paul’s conversion. That’s literally true. Peter made his proclamation in Jerusalem, and then Paul took his to the rest of the world; and both ended up in Rome. We might have our differences with the Roman Church, but we are Western Christians. Our roots still go back to Rome, the where the Church was shaped by Peter and Paul.
And we are called to commit to the ministry Jesus claimed and proclaimed in Nazareth. We are called to commit, and given the gifts of the Spirit so that we might carry out that commitment.
So, here we are, looking at the Third Sunday of Epiphany, between the Confession of Peter and the Conversion of Paul. As we confess with Peter that Jesus is Messiah; as we are converted with Paul, and converted again, to recognize that Jesus is Messiah: we are called to commit. In this week especially we are called to commit to Jesus as Messiah, and to our participation in his messianic ministry.
Welcome to the midweek Eucharist!