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Alive Together in Christ

Epiphany 3C-12

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago


We read some extraordinary news in our bible today. Let’s do a quick review.

First, that among you God has appointed apostles, prophets, teachers and leaders. God gives the ability to perform deeds of power, to make gifts of healing, to render forms of assistance, and various kinds of tongues. None of us choose which gift to receive. But all are blessed. Each of you is equipped for specific work for the greater good. (I Corinthians 12:28- 30)

Second, although we are blessed with unique gifts God does not want us to be like some kind of separate and random jumble of tools rattling around inside God’s toolbox. Instead God intends for us all to fit together. In making disciples God was and is making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn’t have a regular body any more so God began making him one out of ordinary people like you and me. God began using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet. When there’s some place where Christ is needed in a hurry, and needed real bad, God puts the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystanders like you and me and gets us to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better. (From Frederick Buechner, Weekly Sermon Illustration)

God prepares workers for the vineyard and has sends us out. You are my disciples, Jesus says. You are anointed for service. Apostles, prophets, teachers, leaders, helpers, healers, heroes and communicators are joined in wonder, mystery, and love together in the undying life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forever.

Just in case you and I aren’t sure what we’re supposed to do, today Jesus opened the scroll to words from the Prophet Isaiah to declare his mission statement, which by our baptism into Christ, now is our own. Jesus delivered his inaugural address in his hometown synagogue about his work among us for our salvation. He was anointed by the Spirit, he said, to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the acceptable year of God, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

What is striking, if you listen closely, is that this mission is not good news for everybody. The good news for everybody is that our lives are embraced and taken up into the undying life of God forever. Yet our mission is good news only for those willing to admit what is hard in their lives, what is lacking, what has been most difficult. Our mission is not good news for the wealthy, the comfortable, or the content, but rather it is good news for the poor.

The people of Jesus’ hometown quickly understood this. Today we read that all spoke well of him. But by next week, when we read the conclusion of this story from Luke, they will move as one mob ready to throw Jesus over a cliff. The question today is how will we respond? Perhaps the most amazing quality of God’s grace is no matter how many times we throw Jesus out and over the cliff, no matter how often we turn a cold shoulder or try to ignore this gospel, this mission, this call—God will come knocking again. Everyday, often, many times each day God invites and equips us to follow in the footsteps of Christ. The Holy Spirit quietly entreats, ‘How about now?’ Can you be the good news of Jesus Christ? (From David Lose)

Today, Jesus says, join me in proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. Today, and not some other day, God comes in Christ Jesus to release us from our burdens so we might begin again to manifest the extraordinary grace of God in our ordinary lives and relationships.   As St. Paul puts it, today and not some other day you shall at last become human beings and attain to mature adulthood. God is going to keep after us until we all attain “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Until you can all be Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of you. Today we read God’s plan is just as easy, and just as hard, as that. (Frederick Buechner)

Today, or sometime in the coming weeks, I invite you to look to the east side of the sanctuary, read something from Immanuel’s mission, vision, or values statements, and let it really sink in. Let your eyes trace over the pattern of vine and branches even as the Spirit works to graft us into the true vine of Christ; let yourself become a member of Christ’s body; be built into a temple not made with hands; as we strive together to become a living sanctuary of hope and grace.

The call is only becoming more urgent. On Friday, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois said it must cut more than 750 jobs and close more than 30 programs, representing 43 percent of its work force, because of the state budget impasse. It has been seventh months and the State of Illinois still has not passed a budget. As a result, some 4,700 people will no longer receive services, including many people here in Edgewater. (Crain’s Chicago Business)

Here in Word and Sacrament, within the walls of this sanctuary we are formed and transformed by grace to be a living sanctuary for families and young children, for kids doing homework, or navigating from high school to college, or for youth looking for a safe spiritual home to belong. In 2016, we look for these ministries to grow through investment in a new multipurpose Ministry Center, and by partnering in mission with Hispanic friends and neighbors.

Christ Jesus calls us to make use of our differences. God calls us to a unity that’s not bland uniformity, and to a diversity without division. God says, ‘I need you. And you need me.’ “The eye cannot say to the hands, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.'”  Instead, we have become and are yet becoming the Body of Christ – God’s hands delivering the promise of good news to all who come in need.

Come to the table so that my life may be strengthened in you. Come, eat, drink to find courage, to be refreshed, to know that you belong to me and I to you. We are alive together in Christ, forever. Amen.

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