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Sermons > First Sunday after Epiphany

10 Jan 2016

‘This child is destined … to be a sign that will be opposed.’”  (Luke 2:34)

In the name …

I know it’s come and gone, but there’s still meaning to that outdated acronym WWJD – What would Jesus do?  His example is often so counterintuitive that sometimes the best way for us to figure out what to do as a Christian is to try and imagine what Jesus would do in similar circumstance.  This past week, for example, North Korea, a desperately poor and backward nation, with a starving and subjugated people, supposedly exploded a hydrogen bomb.  Even if this is propaganda, which it may be, it says something sad about what is important in our world when so much importance is given to mass destruction when their own people need to be fed.  I turn again this Sunday to Emily Sanderson’s talk about her work in India.  There’s a nation with staggering poverty as well.  India’s neighbour Pakistan is in the same boat.  And yet both of them are nuclear powers.  Both of them have dedicated huge amounts of their budget to building and maintaining nuclear weapons.  I think about this and then the stories and images Emily showed us, and I can’t help but ask, “What would Jesus do?”

On Epiphany a Greek New Testament class from Deerfield Academy visited our church to learn about who we are.  The book in the Bible they are currently reading is the Acts of the Apostles.  Their teacher asked me to say something about the concept of apostle.  That’s actually a complicated term, but I told the students that the definition the church prefers is that Jesus taught twelve disciples, twelve students.  Then, after His death, resurrection and ascension, the students become the apostles, the ones sent out to continue the ministry that Jesus started.  I tried to explain this concept by making the connection to their lives as students at Deerfield Academy.  I told them what they already knew:  that they were privileged to be receiving such an education.  I quoted their school motto:  “Be worthy of your heritage.”  I mentioned to those young people that their school then expects them to move from being a student with all the benefits of such an education to making a difference in the world someday, somehow if they might become tomorrow’s leaders.  That’s how they become worthy of the advantages they are now enjoying.

There’s a group called Patriotic Millionaires in our country.  These are very well-to-do people who have already made it to positions of influence and who are embarrassed and worried about the economic divide in America, and who are working to try and correct it.  These are people who have climbed to the top, but they don’t like what they see from up there.  One of their reports unveiled a startling inequality in our nation.  America’s twenty wealthiest people, not families, but twenty wealthiest individuals, own as much as the bottom 152 million Americans!  Success and privilege should come with a heightened sense of responsibility.  This sort of disparity should cause us to ask ourselves as Americans, “What would Jesus do?”

When the teachers and students arrived from Deerfield Academy another one of their questions was about Women’s Ordination Now.  Our parish website reaches a lot of people we’ll never see.  Facebook brings Holy Name into the lives of people who may never set foot in South Deerfield.  This is why I want to thank Lynnette, Ellen and Theresa.  They’re the ones who literally let us reach out to the entire world, and also into the next door Academy that in many ways is a world apart.  From that on-line presence they knew about our humble, yet heart-felt efforts to elevate the discussion of women’s Ordination in our church.  I tried to explain some of our motivation.  Jesus didn’t look at people according to category.  A person wasn’t a tax collector, or a prostitute, or handicapped, or mentally ill, or Jew or Gentile.  There’s an amazing story told in the Bible of Jesus in the region of Tyre, which would be modern-day Lebanon.  A Gentile, a non-Jew, asks Jesus for help.  Jesus responds that He only came to serve His own people of Israel, but through her plight Jesus had a moment of awakening.  He realized in her presence that she was as loved by God as any one in Israel.  Jesus began to see in that instant that He came for all of humanity, not just one part of it.  Jesus at that moment rejected labels and categories and saw instead a person.  It is this tradition that inspires us to work for women’s Ordination.  When it comes to those at Jesus’ altar, or at any time when a woman or anyone else is treated unfairly because of some category others want to force them into,  we need to ask, “What would Jesus do?”

And maybe most crucially of all when we’re thinking about this question, we have for our consideration in today’s Mass the reading from 1 Corinthians 13.  I don’t have my daughters at home with me at present so I have absolutely no idea what are currently the trending groups and songs.  Thursday Sharon and I are going to see Rene Fleming the famous soprano at Boston Symphony Hall, but I’m guessing she’s not one of them.  But if I knew a cool song and worked it into today’s sermon, that would be like what Paul did with 1 Corinthians 13.  He took a recognizable hymn from the life of the earliest church and pasted it into his letter.  It’s all about the beauty and power of Christian love.  Love is called the greatest of virtues.  These earliest Christians understood love as the essential characteristic of our faith.  It defined the transformation from immaturity to maturity in Christianity. 

Christian love is so often counterintuitive that it captures the prophecy of Simeon who said of Jesus that He is destined to be a sign that will be opposed.  We seem to always look for a way around Christina love.  But when we compare what Jesus would do with the alternatives of war and violence, greed and poverty, labels and segregation, maybe it’s worth our effort to try and better understand this strange wisdom of Christian love, maybe we should ask more often what would Jesus do?, and maybe we can end with that as our prayer this morning in His most holy of names.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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