The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r170.htm


s170g13 Third Sunday after the Epiphany  27/1/2013

'the Lord .. has anointed me to bring good news to the poor'  Luke 4.18

I suspect that we can be beguiled by the simplicity of this statement.   Perhaps to illustrate this, I list some of the things the Lord might have anointed Jesus to do .. but didn't ..

The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get rid of the Roman occupiers.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get the Pharisees to love the Sadducees and vice versa.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get others to read the Torah or to agree on it's inerrancy.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get others to come to the synagogue more frequently or to tithe.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to maintain the biblical teaching about the sub-ordination of women.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to uphold the superiority of the ancient faith of Israel.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to criticise those who thought and reasoned rather than obeyed.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to maintain the religio-political status quo of individual congregations and the wider hierarchy.

If Jesus had campaigned to get rid of the Roman occupation, to get people to read their Torah and agree on its inerrancy, pestered people to come to the synagogue and supported the prevalent marginalization of women, upheld the primal place of the ancient people of God over others, criticised thinkers and condone congregational and church politics, Jesus would have been made high priest - not crucified!

So ..

The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get rid of our democratically elected officials and to give the church permission to criticise them when they don't uphold our sectarian wishes.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get evangelical Anglicans to love Anglo-catholic Anglicans and vice versa.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get others to read the Bible and to agree on it's inerrancy.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to get others to come to (OUR) church and to tithe.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to maintain the marginalization of women and the alienation of gay, lesbians and others who are different.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to uphold our Anglican sense of superiority and entitlement.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to criticise others who think and reason rather than obey.
The Lord didn't anoint Jesus to maintain the religio-political status quo of individual congregations, dioceses, or denominations.

In this one sweeping statement Jesus proclaims that these things are essentially irrelevant to the kingdom and that God's concern was for others, and, surprise, surprise, this was not a universally welcomed message!

It is not always obvious, but our personal well-being is inextricably linked to our relationship with others, as individuals with our neighbours, as a congregation with our community, as a diocese with the city, as a communion with society, indeed as a faith with humanity.   We cannot complain to God about the injustices in the world (which God or others have to fix) when we are actually most concerned about the form of service the priest uses when we come to church, the style of music, or the gender of the preacher!    If we were actually bringing good news to the poor, rather than focussing on our trivialities, the ecumenical enterprise would solve itself.

And it needs to be said that if the faith we profess doesn't embrace humanity what is the use of me and you trying to love our neighbours?   What you and I believe has it's consequences, for better - or for worse - both personally and globally!

If we have learned nothing else about the exercise of the Anglican Covenant it must be that we cannot solve our internal divisions by ourselves.   Indeed it is a distraction to avoid doing what the Lord anointed Jesus to do.   We join in the human community as a faith or we go nowhere.  

We, as christians, consider ourselves rich.   We know the love of God in our lives.   And this text tells us that Jesus was 'anointed .. to bring good news to the poor', that is, to others.   Others, the poor in spirit - are not condemned, marginalised and alienated but are embraced and welcomed.   Jesus came therefore, not for 'christians', to confirm the reality of our personal salvation but to welcome and embrace others who, not unsurprisingly, feel left out when we are praising God for the personal assurance we have of eternal life.   In fact the text reveals the utter lie in the opening words of that favourite hymn: 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine'.   Jesus is others, not just ours!   When we get this message we begin to appreciate the reason that those who heard Jesus in his home town of Nazareth, people with whom he had worshipped all his life and who could name the other members of Jesus' family, wanted to kill him by chucking him off the local cliff!   We will read of their attempt next Sunday (unless you celebrate the Feast of the Presentation instead of Epiphany 4).

If the kingdom is inextricably linked to our relationship with others, individuals, congregations, diocese, communion and faith, then no matter how fervently we pray to God for healing, if it is to avoid going to the doctor or not taking his or her advise, then the likelihood of healing is diminished.    In the case of sexual abuse in the church, healing will not be achieved by internal processes alone.   We will need the intervention of civil authorities to bring justice and to be seen to bring justice.

And this is the same message as St Paul gives us in our second lesson.  Once we broaden the words, the body of Christ and the church, to all people then we see the importance of Paul's words that 'the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this'.

I guess as I reflect on this, the thing that continues to disturb me is that there seems to be a divide between those who feel called to defend God, the Bible and Jesus and dismiss 'lefty greenies' who emphasise social justice, and who can't 'say and write the name of our Lord Jesus Christ without seeming reluctance or reserve', to quote an 'evangelical' colleague.

I am sorry, but it seems this evangelical colleague is all about who supports him and his theology - when for me it is a gospel imperative to honour others - the poor - and to treat the 'less respectable members .. with the greater respect' - read gay, lesbian and other marginalised persons.  

I am thoroughly sick and tired of such 'christians' quoting the bible to marginalise women, alienate gay, lesbian persons and others, and condemn people who call on God by a different name, when Jesus anoints us to bring good news to these others.

While 'christianity' is endlessly defending itself against the rising tide of secularism, Jesus anoints us to bring good news to the secular humanists, to demonstrate by our love that they are welcomed, appreciated, indeed indispensable.