The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 24, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent us 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.
Jesus begins his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth. He has returned from his time in the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit, clear on his vocation, ready to step into the work God has for him. He begins to teach, and news about him begins to spread, and everyone praises him. So he comes to the place he grew up, where he is known, and reads from this passage in Isaiah, and then begins to preach: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
Today this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing as well. Today was to be our annual meeting, but the mighty storm Jonas intervened. I was going to preach a sermon for our annual meeting – but now I’ll save that for next week. Tune in till then…
But I am struck with how the Spirit of the Lord was upon us throughout these last few days. Even as we realized that the storm was going to be a real one, we kept doing the work of the Lord. Let me tell you a few ways I saw that happening:
+ Several of St Michael’s folk spent a few days at the Trinity Institute, the conference at Trinity Wall Street that focused this year on race and listening. It was courageous listening, leaning into hard truths about ways we humans have bound each other with the long history of racism and hatred. There were frank words spoken in the talks and panels, and even more so in our reflection groups. Not easy work, but it’s work that we at St Michael’s have been engaging in for some time now, and will continue to do even more. Being there was a beginning to proclaiming release and letting the oppressed go free.
+ Meanwhile, yesterday morning our Saturday Kitchen served up like it does every Saturday, blizzard or no blizzard. Volunteers came, guests came, and we continued the work of feeding people as we have done every week for over 30 years. Bringing good news, and good food, to the poor.
+ Yesterday afternoon our Parish House remained open so 12-step groups that meet here every week could come as they always do. These groups have been meeting in this facility for decades, finding healing as they and their loved ones struggle with addiction, seeking freedom from those demons. Here yesterday, we continued to provide a space for release to the captives.
+ All throughout yesterday and today Raj, Omar, and Max of our maintenance staff labored to shovel and clear snow, to block up vents in the church roof that were letting in the blizzard and causing leaks here in the sanctuary, to shovel and clear more snow and more snow. Our director of administration Galina stayed throughout the weekend and worked through the days as well, instead of returning to her home in Pennsylvania. They worked with the Spirit of the Lord upon them indeed.
Just a few of the ways. I suppose you could say the staff was just doing their job, but we all could have chosen to do otherwise. We could have closed yesterday and sent the staff home and told the groups that meet here and the people that came to eat here that they would have to go back home too. And those who went to Trinity could have decided not to, to stay home and be comfortable and just let that hard issue go. But instead, we all went out into the storm, opened the doors of our building and of our hearts, let God work here in this place. And so the poor, God’s beloved, were served.
When we talk next week at our Annual Meeting, we will point to other ways over the last year that we have seen God at work here; ways that this community continues to be and to proclaim the good news of God’s love to our neighbors and to all who come and go through these buildings. It’s worth holding up and celebrating. Because we don’t have to do these things and yet we do.
We don’t do all of this because we’re such great people, however. We do it because God has moved us to do it. And I think that moving of God’s Spirit is more than just propelling us to do good unto others. The Spirit of the Lord loves the poor, frees the oppressed, opens the eyes of the blind – and that all includes us too. The places in us that are bound up with addiction, or with selfishness or self-loathing, God comes to set free. The places in us that are unlovable, God comes to love. What we have a hard time forgiving in ourselves, God forgives. God loves the poor and wretched parts of our spirits just as much as the great and heroic parts. Maybe even more. Because in those parts, we know even better how powerfully God’s Spirit is at work – God’s Spirit, and not our own. God holds open the doors for us, shines the light in the darkness, goes out into the storm for us. And so we are made able to do that for others. The year of the Lord’s favor, the time of restoration, is made possible here on earth.
That’s a few of the ways I saw the Spirit alive here during this storm. Maybe you saw others. Or maybe you can feel how the Spirit is setting you free, you here today.
But today, since we’re such an intimate group, it’s your turn to think about it. Not just think about it, but name it aloud even. Where do you see God restoring sight to the blind? Where have you been led to see? How is God bringing good news to the poor? What in you can receive that good news? How is it that God’s love shines out in the storm? Name that today for yourself; name it for each other. And give thanks.