It is traditional for Episcopal churches to have their Annual Meeting on the third Sunday in January, and this is the case for St. Luke’s. Although it might have been easier if we had delayed it like my husband’s Lutheran Church. What a week it has been! A major transition has taken place in our nation as a new president has been inaugurated. The following day some of you, along with hundreds of thousands in Seattle, across the country and around the world participated in Womxn’s marches in support of people, values and causes they believe in.
What galvanizes people into action? What provokes people to find their voices and to speak out for what they believe in? What compels someone to leave the safety and comfort of their life and take a risk, make a sacrifice, begin an adventure, initiate a change? What helps folks to find their courage and their purpose and to live into it? How does a movement begin?
For Jesus the precipitating event was the arrest of John the Baptizer. Did you notice what Matthew wrote about the start of Jesus’ ministry? “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested…” The news of John’s arrest propels Jesus to make a move, to leave his hometown, and to begin his public work. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
From this moment everything changes. For Jesus. For the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John, for the people who hear his message, for the sick he cures, for the people who will oppose him, for the ones who will fall in love with him and follow him to his death and even to their own. And for you and for me. Everything changes.
John’s arrest propels Jesus out of obscurity and security. John is arrested for preaching truth to power. He has offended Herod the ruler of the Jews, and he has frightened religious leaders by his strict ethics and his radical call to repentance. Until this point in history John was the best known religious leader in Israel. John had lots of disciples and Jesus had none. John drew the crowds and Jesus was an unknown. But Now, Now when Jesus hears that this prophet, this forerunner of the Messiah, this baptizer has been arrested and will most likely be put to death, Jesus knows his time has come. He can no longer be silent. The preaching of the Kingdom of heaven is now his mission and his responsibility.
Nothing will ever be the same. For “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Jesus has come and light shines in darkness. Jesus speaks and hope is born anew. Jesus has come and a people who were downcast catch a glimmer of joy. The disciples will never be the same. They leave their fishing profession. They walk away from the path they and their families have been on for generations. They discover new purpose. They become part of the gospel movement. They begin to belong to the beloved community that gathers around their beloved Jesus.
Oh, it won’t be easy or painless or successful in the world’s eyes. There will be opposition and suffering, and in the case of John the Baptizer, Jesus and most of his closest disciples, there will be death. But there will also be the good news of God’s salvation, the promise of God’s presence, the light that no darkness can overcome, the forgiveness of sins and the healing of wounds. There will be a new community without outcasts where the poor and the rich feast together; women and men both are filled by the power of the Holy Spirit; people of different religious faiths, Jews and Gentiles are united, and those on the margins are treated with respect and honor.
There will be hope that overcomes despair and love that is stronger than hate. All this because Jesus was ready when God called him. Jesus was willing to offer himself fully for God’s vision for the world. Jesus, the light of the world shines in the darkness.
Good people of St. Luke’s, this mission of Jesus is our mission as well. Now, now is the time for the light of Christ to shine in the people of God. Now is the time for us to answer the call and to leave the comfort and security of our path to walk in the way of Christ. Now is not the time to be silent, to hide our light under a bushel or to cling onto what can never offer us true life. It has never been, nor will it ever be easy, but God has placed us here at this time to be light bearers, messengers of hope, people who bring good news.
Many of you know the story of this congregation, of the split that happened 6 years ago when 80% of the members left to form another church. It was a dark and difficult time for the faithful remnant who stayed here to continue worship and ministry. The challenges were enormous, the resources were few, the church was viewed with suspicion and many folks thought St. Luke’s had closed. But there are those who refused to give up hope. They planted the SLUG and new growth sprung up from an abandoned lot. They prepared and opened a shelter, and those who had been unprotected and in the cold found a warm and dry place to sleep. They found a way to keep feeding the hungry, providing clothing to those without and serving the most vulnerable in the neighborhood.
And now St. Luke’s is ready to move forward into a new chapter in its dramatic 125-year history. This past year many of you found your way here where there is food for the soul and the cup of new life. Our average attendance has doubled and continues to increase. Our Children’s Ministry, under Jasen’s initiative and Grace’s care, has increased exponentially. We have formed community and made connections. We have provided a gathering place for Ballard as together we try to address the complex needs of this rapidly changing neighborhood. We celebrated the start of a new era as I was appointed the permanent Vicar and we have been blessed and ministered to with grace, compassion and skill by our Ministry Interns, Sara and Kate. Deacon Phyllis is simply a treasure. This campus is a constantly busy place, hosting a variety of groups and programs in a lively and diverse context.
We have moved on from crisis and conflict. We have flourished with the resources we need to care for our people, our buildings and our obligations. We even finished the year with a bit of a surplus in our budget and will present a balanced budget for 2017.
Now, now it is time to come together to seek God’s vision for what we are to become. We know we are here to shine light. We know we exist to work for justice and truth and to respect the dignity of every human being. We know God has blessed us with abundance that we might be good and compassionate stewards of the resources we are responsible for. This year, with this new Bishop’s Committee, we will begin a process of discerning the vision for St. Luke’s. We are pretty clear on our mission. We will not abandon our responsibility to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
We will be asking the questions about our next steps. How are we called to speak up for those whose voice is not heard? How can we share the good news of God’s mercy and love with those wounded by life’s circumstances? How can we put this property and these buildings we utilize to the best use for the most good?
I am looking ahead to the Retreat on Joy, Simplicity and Mercy that we will co-host with Church of the Apostles and Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church on February 17-18. I believe we will be exploring these important questions both individually and collectively. I am looking forward to another night of Community and Connection at the Royal Drummer as we gather together and build the web of relationships that makes us God’s beloved community.
And I am anticipating the Spiritual Pilgrimage during Lent and Easter where we will explore how God is calling each one of us to take another step on the journey of faith that will last a lifetime.
Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of heaven. There are so many metaphors for what it might be to live into that reality. But the one that seems so present and powerful for us at St. Luke’s is the image of the great banquet feast where everyone is invited and honored. It is the feast where Edible Hope, soul food and the cup of new life are on the menu. It can be found wherever good news is proclaimed, light shines and love flourishes. It is the Jesus movement and we have all been called to walk in that light. Amen.
Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A January 22, 2017
Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13 St. Luke’s, Ballard
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Annual Meeting
Matthew 4:12-23 Britt Olson