Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me!

A Sermon by the Rt. Rev. James B. Magness
Convention Eucharist, Diocese of Southeast Florida

Isaiah 42:1-9; Hebrews 12: 1-3; Luke 4:14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind....”

Each November on Veterans Day we engage in a pause as we remember the men and women who have served their country through being Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Our remembrances have their foundation in the creation of Armistice Day observances when World War I ended in Europe. For almost a century we have remembered persons who have worn a military uniform and who have served their country; who have served us. We call this patriotism, a term that engenders suspicion in the hearts and minds of some of our fellow Christians. At the root of this question is a foundational concern – a concern that has to do with whether or not of people of faith in the risen Lord Jesus can be faithful believers and simultaneously serve their country in a military uniform.

That thorny conundrum begs a question that probes even deeper into who we are and what we do as God’s people. What makes a person of faith? How are people of faith formed into the persons whom God wants them to be, and how should people of faith live out their lives? We have some clues to the question of formation in the reading from the Gospel of Luke about the formation of Jesus.

To unpack this question of formation I want to do a few minutes of Bible study with you. In the gospel of Luke do you remember how Jesus started his ministry? Think for a moment. Yes, that's right; Jesus went down to the Jordan River to meet up with his cousin John and experienced John's primitive version water baptism. Everyone who saw what had happened knew full well that Jesus was, from that moment on, a marked man; Jesus was one with God his Father. How did they know that? Because when he was baptized the voice of God was heard to say, "You are my beloved Son..." At that moment the spirit of God DESCENDED UPON Jesus. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part I.

Do you remember what happened next? Of course you do; Jesus went off on a 40 day wilderness fast and retreat when he was in mortal combat with Satan for his soul. Three times Jesus was tempted by Satan to take an easier life path devoid of sacrifice and suffering. In response to each temptation Jesus kept his focus – a focus on the mission that his Father had for Him. In the end the victorious Jesus was FULL of the Spirit. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part II.

The next formative event is what we have in the reading we heard this evening. Jesus walks into the temple on the Sabbath, as the text tells us “…as was his custom[1]," to open a scroll of scripture to read about the power of God, his Father, to bless the poor, the captives and the blind. Considering where Jesus was, in the center of Jewish worship - the temple, and who Jesus was - the son of a common family, you'd have to be a bit crazy to go into the midst of such a potentially hostile crowd and say what Jesus said. Yet, through this act Jesus was filled with the POWER of the Spirit. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part III.

You can see the linear progression. The Spirit descends upon Jesus. Jesus is full of the Spirit. Finally, Jesus is filled with the power of the spirit. And it is a good thing, because Jesus’ life is just about to get crazy. From here on out people, both friend and foe alike, will never leave him alone. The power of the Spirit has filled Jesus because things are just about to get crazy and mission is about to happen.//

In the 1940s there lived a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German pastor, a theologian, and ultimately a martyr. During that time he was in prison because after a long dark fortnight of the soul, he decided that the ruthless and controlling German leader Adolph Hitler had to be assassinated; and Dietrich decided that he was the one who had to perform this act. However, Dietrich was apprehended and imprisoned before he was able to carry out the deed. While awaiting execution he was critical of the German Christian church. How, he wrote, could the Christian church in Germany allow a man such as Hitler to exist without challenge? In one of his letters from prison he wrote about what he described as “religionless Christianity.” His idea of Religionless Christianity is of a faith that is devoid of all of the outward appearances, trappings and structures of religion; but goes to the actual heart of what it means to be a Christian, especially a Christian servant. The true servant of the risen Lord is a person whose mission flows from the heart. The emerging connection is between servanthood and mission.

Deitrich Bonhoffer taught us that there is a cost to being a servant engaged in mission - that through being a missional follower of Christ you could even be called upon to give up your life - for the sake of the lives of others. Over the years I've heard people say that true faith - true religion - is in the heart and can't be seen. Though I am not going to ask for a show of hands, I wonder how many of you believe in such a theory of the invisibility of faith and true religion. You see, I believe that the invisibility of our faith is a comfortable myth of which we've convinced ourselves. I believe that you have to be able to SEE faith in action if it is going to be real.

· Faith is about how you relate to your neighbor / when it would be easier to ignore your neighbor's plight.
· Faith is about the person or persons you determine to be your neighbor / when it would be easier to look the other way.
· Faith is about sacrifice for the good of the other / when sacrifice might not immediately benefit you or benefit you at all.

It has occurred to me on more than just a few occasions that there are times and places in life when you have to be a little crazy, both as individual believers and groups of believers, to stand up and proclaim your faith in the risen Lord. However, the real "crazy" happens when the actions of your life bear witness to what you believe. This "crazy" is no less than "crazy like Jesus." When the power of the Lord's spirit is upon you, you are willing to walk into potentially hostile environments in the same way that Jesus walked into the temple. When you get crazy like Jesus, the scripture is being fulfilled in your life.

“The church encounters the reality of sin and the brokenness of the world as the Spirit leads... (us) into the world to participate in God’s mission… (We know God’s mission is being accomplished when we hear the) creation itself, ‘…groan inwardly’ as all await release from the bondage of sin[2].”[3]

We do this by bringing the fullness of God – all those creative and redemptive forces – to bear upon our world. We are the ambassadors and the emissaries whose work it is to bear witness – often without fanfare, in the midst of horrendous, compromising and complicated settings. Our calling is to mission with all God’s children as together we exercise the power of God – the same power Jesus came to know and use in the temple that day so long ago.

The Episcopal priest/chaplains who represent you within the Armed Services are quite familiar with the environments in which our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen live out their lives. These hostile environments challenge our men and women in ways that some of us can only grasp in the fantasy of our imagination. Yet for them it is no fantasy. It is real and is all tied up with mission – for our chaplains and for many other men and women in uniform, the mission of the church.

* When a Soldier comes to one of my chaplains in a wounded warrior rehabilitation program at a sprawling Veterans Administration hospital and says, "Chaplain, I think I've lost my soul," I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen.

* When a Navy explosive ordinance disposal officer sitting in an overseas USO passionately tells my wife the story of his inability to stop 4 suicide bombers from killing over 40 people in a packed Roman Catholic Church in Iraq, I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen.

* When one of my chaplains is at the Dover Air Base Mortuary to meet the caskets of returning service members who had been killed in an aircraft crash in Afghanistan, and the wife of the pilot with two small children in tow comes up to him to ask where God was when her husband was killed, I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen.

Not only do such questions and statements bear witness to the incredibly difficult environment in which service members work and with which their families have to cope, but also it is a call to our Christian mission - into the midst of brokenness. Mission, after all, was what D.B. was doing when he endeavored to end Hitler's life; he engaged in a dilemma wherein the greater good was deemed to require that he break one of the foundational understandings of people of God - that you do not kill.

Military people have a keen understanding of what it means to embark upon mission and the planning entailed to be successful. However, they will also know that unless you have an unflagging commitment to the accomplishment of the mission, failure is always a possibility.

A servant, true servant, is the one who can so hold the other in his or her heart that the needs of the other become paramount above all else. Have you ever wondered how so many of the Medal of Honor recipients were able to sacrifice their lives? Though often we say that they did what they did for their country, which may be true, more so I am convinced that their heroic sacrifice was for the sake of their battle-mates whom they held in their heart.

There is a certain craziness about having the heart of Jesus. You see, in our culture it is more than just a little countercultural to consider the needs of the other to be more important than your own. And I'll tell you another thing. When you consider the needs of the other to be above your needs, something else is about to happen: mission. The mission of gospel proclamation is about to happen, and it is about to get crazy like Jesus. The mission of Jesus is the heart of a servant.

It gets crazy when the rawness of a person's soul is laid open before you. Do you know what it feels like to be in front of a person who opens her soul up to you? Recently one of my priest / chaplains described a situation when a commander of troops in Bagdad took him to see the wreckage of an armored vehicle that had been destroyed by a roadside bomb, a bomb that killed two of his Soldiers. My chaplain told me about the commander's intense description of what it was like to be at the head of a convoy of vehicles and hear the explosion behind him; knowing full well what would come next. My chaplain told me how very small and weak he felt in the presence of the commander's powerful words. Then he said he knew that the power of the Holy Spirit was in their midst. The chaplain knew that his mission was to stand there and be a physical reminder to the presence of God. The mission at that moment involved very few words and lots of silence. That was the craziness of that moment when he learned the truth of Isaiah's proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind..."

I am very proud that our franchise of the Christian church has a mission to service members and veterans. Part of that mission involves a significant outpouring of pastoral care for people who hurt, but an even larger component of the mission is our calling to share the redemptive good news of God in Christ. We have this mission because we care about and for God’s children, ALL of God’s children.

As I said earlier, November is the time of the year when we remember the sacrifice of our Veterans. These are men and women who have served and sacrificed for us - often for the sake of their faith. Many of these men and women felt compelled to address the dilemma between faith and military service. In the end, the men and women who chose to wear the uniform knew that for them the responsible action was to serve.

The mission of our church, through your military chaplains, goes where our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen go. In time of war and in time of peace, these service members have been there to serve us. They give and have given much; some gave all they had and, as vividly we are learning today, some gave even more than that,

Shortly we will celebrate one of the oldest rites of the church: Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is an act of remembering that Jesus was the ultimate servant who sacrificed his body and shed his blood that we might have life. We will remember that the work of a servant is giving back to God and God's people what God has given us. Mission in action is the foundation of the Christ-follower. We will be reminded to hold in our hearts the reality of faith that the greatest among us will first be a servant. AMEN.

[1] Luke 4.16b, New Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible.
[2] Romans 8.18-24, NRSV.
[3] Rouse & VanGelder, A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation. (Augsburg, Minneapolis: 2008) 39-40.

No comments: