Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Readings: Nehemiah 8. 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19. 1-6; 1 Corinthians 12. 12-31a; Luke 4. 14-21 (view all)
One of my favourite and least favourite times of the week growing up was football practice. I loved playing football, having a kick around, but the first half of the practice was full of drills and exercises which I just found boring. I couldn’t wait until the excitement of the practice game at the end.
Whether it’s football drills, musical scales, handwriting or cookery, learning and growing in any area of our lives takes discipline and practice.
In this morning’s readings, we find images painted of God’s Kingdom, his dream for the world and his Church. So what does it mean for us to practise the Kingdom of God, in order that we might learn and grow to become more fully his people?
Our gospel reading comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, where, having returned from forty days alone in the wilderness, he begins to paint a picture of what God’s Kingdom is like for anyone who will listen. But this is not a new vision, in fact it’s a very old one, and in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus reads to the gathered congregation from the prophecy of Isaiah:
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 favour.
This vision, this dream, was the complete opposite of the culture of the time: A world distracted by the quest for power, status and domination. And, of course, it is a vision which is still deeply counter-cultural in today’s world — a world often distracted by the quest for the status brought by wealth, often over and above moral and ethical considerations.
It is this completely alternative, up-side down vision, which Jesus declares to those gathered,
Today this… has been fulfilled in your hearing.
So, what did he mean?
He meant that through himself — in and through his body — God’s kingdom vision, God’s dream for the world, would be revealed. This would happen through the way of life he was going to model for them, through the way to new life he was going to open up through his death and resurrection, and through the new life of the Spirit that his followers would lead.
A group who would very quickly begin to describe themselves as Jesus’ body — the earthly embodiment of his values, his way of life, his Kingdom vision — just as the apostle Paul describes in our NT reading.
Paul’s vision for the Church derives really clearly from Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom.
If the Kingdom is good news to the poor and marginalised, then for Paul, we as the Church should value every member, rich and poor. And perhaps even goes out of our way to give respect and honour to those whom the world might see as less respectable or honourable.
If the Kingdom is freedom to those held captive by an oppressive hierarchy of power and control, then in the Church everyone, regardless of background or status, should be considered equal.
If the Kingdom is about proclaiming God’s blessing and favour for all people, then the life of the Church should be characterised by mutual love and service.
And this is vital — because nobody will want to believe in a God who is good news for the poor, if they see a Church which doesn’t care for them. Nobody will want to live God’s new way of love, if they see a Church full of gossiping and back-biting. Nobody will want to trust in God’s vision for the world, if they see a Church pre-occupied with our own survival instead of serving our community.
Living in the Church is a practice, a drill, for living in the Kingdom, taking patience and discipline, but when we choose to practise life Jesus’ way, then we truly become the Body of Christ, both practicing for the Kingdom and embodying that Kingdom in the world.
I wonder, will we practise treating one another with honour and respect, especially those whom the world may look down on? Will we practise living as equals, both valuing the contribution of others and making the best contribution we can to the life of the Church?
How can we practise God’s incredible, extravagant love — opening the way for that love to transform our lives and the lives of those around us?
Oscar Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop who was martyred for standing up to an oppressive military regime in El Salvador, wrote this:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work… It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
God calls us to embody his kingdom vision, revealed through Christ to the world. May we practise the ways of his Kingdom, that by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, we may find ourselves transformed to truly become the Body of Christ in the world.
(Photo credit: Hal Gatewood)