The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
E. Bevan Stanley
February 7, 2021
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Paul wrote: A necessity is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is the day of our Annual Meeting. Thus, it is appropriate to consider our identity and purpose as a congregation. There are many different ways to think about this. We can say that we are a group of people that gathers, when there is no pandemic going on, to worship God and be nourished by God’s word and sacraments. We can say we are the Body of Christ called to be Christs hands, feet, and mouth in the world, serving the world in the name of Christ. We can say we are a group that provide spiritual resources to all who need them in the forms of prayer, liturgical service, a beautiful and holy space for prayer, meditation, and renewal. We offer education in the lore and traditions of the Christian faith. All of these are true, and we do all of them. Yet above all of them is an overarching purpose which is captured in our mission statement: St. Michael’s collectively and every member of St. Michael’s individually are all called to live and proclaim the transforming love of God. Paul writes to the Corinthians that he cannot boast about his preaching because a necessity is laid on him to preach. He cannot help but proclaim the gospel. Jesus also, after spending a day healing people and a night in prayer, said to his disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And what was his message? “The kingdom of heaven has come near; repent, and trust in the good news.”
We are people called to proclaim the Gospel both in what we say and in the way we live our lives. So, what is this Gospel, this good news? What is the message from Jesus? We all know that the world as it is is not the world as it should be. Jesus says the world as it should be is really close. It’s just around the corner. The new day is dawning now. We need to reorient ourselves to this new reality and help to make it a reality by trusting that it is real. There are two parts to the good news. First that God is acting in the world now to establish a new commonwealth of justice and compassion, and second that we get to be part of building this new world.
Paul comes at the same idea from a slightly different angle. Paul talks about a mystery that has been hidden for ages and now is being revealed. Back when God called Abraham, God said that Abraham’s descendants would be the conduit through which God intended to bless everyone else on the earth. The good news for Paul is that now all the rest of us get to join in the fun. We all get to be part of God’s people. We all get to be the conduit through which God’s love pours forth into the world touching the lives of all whom we meet.
It is all too easy for us to think that the purpose of a congregation is to attend worship in a beautiful space. That our ministry is in maintaining the buildings and putting on beautiful and prayerful liturgies with fine music and thoughtful sermons. The fact is these are only part of the story. Our other activities are to express God’s love to the world. That’s why we host a food pantry. That’s why we have an angel tree at Christmas time. That’s why we provide space for AA groups and are pleased to rent space to a counseling organization and a pre-school. In one sense this year when we have not been able to gather in person for worship or fellowship has been a gift. It has reminded us that being God’s people is not entirely about worship. Being a church is not all about going to church. Being a church is about loving the world, loving each other, and loving the God invented love in th first place.
Some of us came to St. Michael’s out of a spiritual need to get closer to God and then discovered that getting close to God entails loving the world that God loves. Others were attracted to a community that cares about our neighbors and discovered God as the source of that love. Either way we proclaim the love of God are nourished by the love of God and serve God and the world in love.
As Jesus says, let’s go out and proclaim the Gospel because that is what we are called to do. We will go out to live and proclaim the transforming love of God because as Paul says a necessity is laid upon us so to do.