“It’s all grace – all gift”

“It’s all grace – all gift”

This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the worship service before the diocesan picnic on Saturday, June 26, 2021, at All Saints’ School. Read the text below the sermon.

Today the Episcopal Church in North Texas gathers together from all parts of the diocese, ranging from Wichita Falls to Hillsboro, a tremendous turnout, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Confirmation, and have a picnic. It is a time to celebrate our identity as Episcopalians, and our purpose – our calling to participate in God’s mission through this Church.  It is a time to be together, and share a meal, as we once did naturally in the pre-pandemic world anytime we suffered a loss. It’s a time to re-connect with long time friends.

To those being confirmed or received into our tradition today – and those reaffirming their faith – we want you to know that we consider it a privilege to be a part of your lives on this day. Later during this service, we will all make a vow to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ.

Today’s appointed passage from Luke is a story which comes early in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus has been baptized; the Holy Spirit has descended upon him like a dove, and the Voice has proclaimed, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

To pause for a moment, the Voice makes that proclamation before Jesus begins his public ministry, before he heals anyone, before he teaches the parables, before he suffers, before he dies on the cross – before he accomplishes what he set out to accomplish. And those same words are meant for you, too. Before you accomplish one thing. “You are my child, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Before you do anything. It’s all grace – all gift.

So, Jesus is baptized. And then, full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns from the Jordan, and is led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. And then, “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit,” returns to Galilee. A report about Jesus spreads throughout the surrounding country, so his gaining a reputation early in the story.  He begins to teach in the synagogues, and he is praised by everyone.

He comes to his childhood home (Nazareth), goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, stands up to read from the scroll from the prophet Isaiah the following: “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, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and sits down. All eyes in the synagogue are fixed on him. And then, instead of saying “here ends the reading,” or “the Word of the Lord,”  Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That’s where the story ends today, but if we keep reading, things go downhill from there. Everyone gathered starts praising the hometown boy, and they begin to imagine what the hometown boy can do for them. After all, he is Joseph’s son. And to make a long story short, Jesus informs them that his mission extends beyond the hometown, and they don’t understand what he just read anyway, and besides, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” And in a rage, they get up and drive him out of town.

Jesus rolls up the scroll, and declares: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  In effect, Jesus is saying, “Isaiah is talking about me. I am the one anointed by the power of the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to liberate the oppressed.” He’s telling the gathering in that synagogue, “This is my mission statement.”

And just as Jesus and his mission was misunderstood by his hometown, he has been misunderstood ever since. And even on our clearest days, we – like the hometown crowd – tend to see Jesus through our own lens, the lens of our experience – which, if we are honest and a little humble, may not be a total understanding.

We do know that Jesus was anointed for a purpose which extends far beyond the time, and place, and culture of his historical setting. And we believe that when Jesus brings good news to the poor, it goes beyond the economic poor literally. There are other ways of being poor.

We know that when Jesus proclaims release to the captives, it goes beyond those locked in prison literally.  We can be held captive in ways other than behind the bars of a prison cell.

We know that when Jesus proclaims recovery of sight to the blind, he means something in addition to physical blindness.  We all have blinders that prevent us from seeing.

And when Jesus says that he has been anointed to liberate the oppressed, we know that oppression takes on forms beyond a particular political or economic system.

The proclamation of good news exceeds the poor literally, the captives literally, the blind literally, the oppressed literally.  We know that, because we’ve experienced the Good News in ways beyond those literal possibilities.

And yet, we need to make no mistake, Jesus means every word of it, literally – the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, literally; not limited to “literally,” but certainly, literally. As our Presiding Bishop reminds us, “This brother didn’t come into the world to leave it the way the he found it. He came to change it.”  Today, I would add, “literally.”  (Maybe we can make the biblical literalists happy; we are taking something in the Bible literally!)

Our Presiding Bishop says Jesus came to change this world, but that’s not all he says. He doesn’t leave it at that.  He says, “It’s all about love.  If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. And we are called to make disciples who will change this world by the power of God’s love.”

Love, like I see in this diocese.  Food pantries, and food ministries, and laundry ministries, and support groups, and ministries on other continents – all serving people who may never return the favor, or may never join our church, or might never say thank you. Unconditional love. No strings attached.  Good News in the flesh. Good News literally.

It’s like what happens at this Altar.  It’s all gift. It’s all grace. We cannot earn it or deserve it. It is Love without conditions. That’s what we receive at this Altar. And, that is the Gospel we proclaim and embody in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.