Epiphany 4C Sermon Notes (2019)

SERMON NOTES — February 3, 2019

An interesting fact about Pastor Nikki [called to be the next pastor]: she signs her name with “O.C.C.” after it. What does that stand for? Order of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). http://www.orderofcorpuschristi.org/. Here is a description from their homepage:

We the Order of Corpus Christi, consistent with our aspirations to be leaven in the loaf of the church catholic and true to the Great Commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, covenant to affirm and welcome all members of the Body of Christ without regard to their race, class, gender, country of origin, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

In our various ministry settings, we are committed to living out our shared commitment to be leaven in the loaf so that individual lives are transformed into the Body of Christ through:

disciplined daily prayer,
common study,
shared Ecumenical Creeds,
Baptism in the Triune Name,
the mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist,
life in community,
the church reformed and reforming.

It sounds like to me that it is an ecumenical church organization dedicated to furthering the New Reformation of healing our tribalistic divisions. And it is rooted in disciplines of daily prayer — number one on their ‘to do’ list. I’ve shared before that discovering new prayer disciplines about ten years ago was a key for me in having the various pieces of New Reformation fall in place. Pastor Nikki confirmed with me this week that it is also a key feature of her spirituality and ministry.

It also comes very much from Jesus. Remember where we left off last week. We had gone back a step from this story of the public beginning of Jesus’ ministry — this sermon on Isaiah 61 in his hometown Nazareth — to what comes just before it: Jesus’ forty days of prayer in the wilderness, climaxing in his battle with Satan. For Jesus “Satan” named the powers that enslave humanity so that we end up ordering our lives with the epitome of tribalism: Empire. God’s kingdom seeks to order our lives completely differently: an upside-down inside-out politics, that favors those who are usually on the bottom or marginalized to the outside. He ultimately lets himself be that marginalized person on the cross. And in raising Jesus from the dead God shows the divine self to be completely different, too.

A way of summing this up is asking the question about Satan, and God’s battle against Satan — beautifully articulated by Brian Zahnd in his brand-new book, Postcards from Babylon:

Why doesn’t God just destroy the (d)evil? Because the satanic phenomenon is inextricably connected with who we are. God cannot simply destroy the devil in one fell blow without destroying us too. Jesus came to destroy the devil, but the devil will not be destroyed like Osama Bin Laden was destroyed by Seal Team Six. It takes more than a bullet to the head to kill the devil. Jesus destroys the devil by calling us out of rivalry, accusation, violence, domination, and empire, into heaven’s alternative of love, advocacy, peace, and liberation — this is what the Bible calls the kingdom of God.

So, yes, I believe the devil is real. . . . The devil is the all too real dark spiritual phenomenon of accusation and empire that lies behind humanity’s greatest crimes — the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the medieval crusades conducted in his name, the lynching of black men in the Jim Crow South, and the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust. The devil is also very real in a million smaller, yet still diabolical, acts of rivalry, accusation, violence, and domination that take place every day. Ultimately the Satan reaches its fullest form in the evils of empire. But the good news is that Christ has overthrown the kingdom of Satan with the establishment of his own empire — an Easter Empire. (pp. 115-16)

What does it take to go from living in cultures of our human kingdoms to living in the culture of God’s kingdom? Prayer discipline that leads to two basic things: (1) metanoia, “repentance,” more literally, “change of mind,” that leads to (2) an opening of mind/heart to the true God of Jesus. These prayer disciplines retrain our minds and hearts from thinking in ‘dualistic’ terms — Us vs. Them — to thinking in terms of the one creator God and one human family. Dualistic thinking results in envy, resentment, rivalry, conflict, accusation, and violence; openness to the oneness of God leads to opening one’s heart “into heaven’s alternative of love, advocacy, peace, and liberation.”

Jesus goes from battling Satan to offering the true God to his hometown people: quoting Isaiah 61:1-2: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, [and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. . . .]” Notice where Jesus stopped? He doesn’t read the part about God’s vengeance. Instead he moves on to two obscure stories of the prophets that represent the opposite of vengeance, namely, reaching out to enemies with compassion: Elijah to a widow at Zarephath, and Elisha to the army general Naaman of Syria. The people of his hometown are not yet open to this God who instead of bringing vengeance to their enemies reaches out in compassion.

Here’s the heart of the startling revelation of Jesus: The upside-down inside-out politics come from a God whose power and wisdom is upside-down and inside-out from the many false gods of human history. The gods of Caesars, empires, are gods of forced, violent control of the Other. The God of Jesus is about the power of agape-love, the subject of St. Paul’s beautiful ode in today’s Second Reading.

How do we live into an agape-love like God’s that reaches out even to enemies? Through contemplative prayer that opens the heart to God’s love living in us. I read a number of passages this week [some of which are listed under the Second Reading for Epiphany 4C, e.g., James Alison in Jesus the Forgiving Victim] that present prayer based especially on the second-to-last verse of 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Who is this God we get to know in Jesus? A God who first fully knows and loves us. In prayer we open our hearts to that unconditional love. We dwell in God’s loving gaze of us.

Here’s a beautiful reflection on prayer and love from Richard Rohr (Just This) on which to end:

Much of the early work of contemplation is discovering a way to observe yourself from a compassionate and nonjudgmental distance until you can eventually live more and more of your life from this calm inner awareness and acceptance. You will find yourself smiling, sighing, and weeping at yourself; much more than needing either to hate or to congratulate yourself — because you are finally looking at yourself with the eyes of God.

Actually, what is happening is you are letting God gaze at you, in the way only God can gaze — with infinite mercy and love, which initiates a positive gaze, now going in both directions. Wow!

All negative energy and motivation will slowly be exposed and will eventually fall away as counterproductive and useless. There will be no mistrust, fear, or negativity in either direction! If you resort to any form of shaming yourself, you will slip back into defense, denial, and overcompensation, and you will not be able to “know as fully as you are known” (1 Cor 13:12.).

We take one further step back in Luke’s story: from Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth, to Jesus praying in the wilderness and battling Satan, to Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven: ‘You are my daughter, you are my son; in you I am well-pleased.’ Amen

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