The Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
This past Sunday I preached about how nice it would be if we knew and understood our purpose and mission in life as well as Jesus understood and proclaimed his. This sermon is the third installment in our series Epiphany: A Season of Self-Discovery, and you can listen to it here.
Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah, and the quote is really a mash-up of two different passages. He says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This comes mostly from Isaiah 61:1-2, but also a little from Isaiah 58:6. During a discussion with clergy colleagues about this passage, one of them brought up that Jesus leaves off the second part of verse 61:2, which says, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and a day of vindication for our God." The Common English Bible uses "vindication," but other translations translate it as "vengeance." My colleague wondered aloud that it's interesting that Jesus "proclaims the year of the Lord's favor," but skips the part about God's vengeance.
For all the fire and brimstone that exists over the course of Church history, and in many churches even today, my colleagues and I find it interesting that Jesus isn't so worried about this--both in this passage, and elsewhere for that matter. Jesus easily could have kept this part of the verse in, but he didn't. Jesus is far less condemnatory than we his followers. While I'm conflating the gospels a bit here, the Gospel of John makes this plain. Everyone loves to quote John 3:16, "For God so loved the world . . . ." I believe it's important also to proclaim loudly v. 17: "For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." All this is to say, I think it's beautiful that Jesus is eager to proclaim salvation, and seemingly less eager to pronounce judgment. It goes to show how much God loves us. While we all have much that we could point to in our lives that reveals our brokenness, it's Jesus desire to bring us healing, wholeness, and forgiveness.
Rather than shaming ourselves as many of us are wont to do, what if we could simply allow ourselves to accept that we're loved? Unconditionally loved. That doesn't mean we can't feel appropriate guilt, and seek to do a new thing when we've fallen short. It doesn't mean God's fine with it when we sin. It does mean that God is much more ready to love than to punish. We do well to remind ourselves that Jesus is eager and willing to skip the day of vengeance.
The Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
Our sermon series Epiphany—A Season of Self-Discovery continues, and this past Sunday Mtr. Liz preached about our identity as part of a community, and the roles we play within our communities. Our identity as children of God through the power of the Spirit that we gain at baptism also identifies us as part of the Christian community. Within that community, “My gifts carry you. Your gifts carry me,” she quotes one author as saying. “It is God’s intention that we rely on each other, that we need each other.”* Mtr. Liz points out that in the story of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana in John 2, “God uses the gifts of the gathered community to make the miracle happen.” The water changes to wine by Jesus’ power, but it also comes about through his mother’s persistence, the stewards who carried the water jars, and the headwaiter who shares the good news of the miracle with the wedding party. Mtr. Liz helps us see that when we use our gifts within community, “miracles happen.”
One challenge we have in learning about ourselves is the discovery of our own giftedness. We all have gifts to share. Thinking on this reminds me of a book by the Episcopal priest Lloyd Edwards called Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts. There are a couple of things he says in this book about gifts that have always stuck with me. One is that there is no difference between natural talents and “spiritual gifts” other than conversion. Once we begin to see our own human talents as gifts from God we can really begin to use them in God’s service—not just in the Church, but in the world. Edwards says that when “I am using my abilities in God’s service . . . they are spiritual gifts.” What are you truly good at? No matter what it is, it is a spiritual gift if you are using it to bring you closer to God, and to build up others.
Edwards also points his readers to a powerful quotation from Frederick Buechner who famously wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Again, when we are using the things we’re good at—which usually revolve around things that bring us joy and fulfillment—in the service of God, and in a way that meets the deep hunger of the world around us, we are using our spiritual gifts.
Have you ever thought of your talents as spiritual gifts? Have you ever used them in a way that you believe was God-focused and brought you deep fulfillment?
Listen to Mtr. Liz’s full sermon here on our YouTube channel, and join us this Sunday for part 3 of our series.