A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who has called and equipped us for ministry. Amen.
Does anyone remember those WWJD? bracelets that were so popular in the 90s and 2000s? They came in a ton of different colors and, for most of my childhood, they were everywhere. Yes, we all wore them in youth group – and it became a point of pride to show how dirty yours was after years of church rafting trips and Christian rock concerts.
And who remembers what the letters WWJD stood for? “What would Jesus do?”
These bracelets – and later, t-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces, signs, and hats were supposed to be both an outward witness, a way of starting conversations about the faith, and also a reminder to the wearer to follow Christ.
So…you’re at a wedding, and they run out of drinks. What’s your move? Well, “What would Jesus do?”
Turn water into wine! Someone want to give it a go?
No? Ok, let’s lower the stakes. How about just turn water into grape juice – but it’s a celebration, so make it sparkling grape juice, just to be fancy.
Still no takers?
“What would Jesus do” is such an unachievable goal. Who among us can turn water into wine? Or heal the sick, restore vision to the blind, open the ears of the deaf, walk on water, calm the storm? Who among us can break the bonds of sin and death? Let’s lower the stakes even more. Who here can say they perfectly love their enemies? Or even that they perfectly love their neighbors? There’s a reason we start almost every Sunday on our knees, confessing our sins.
I mean this quite literally when I say, “Thank God it’s not up to us.” There is only one Lord and Savior, and while we may strive to follow Christ’s example, only he is the Messiah.
And yet…the same God who has turned water into wine is transforming us.
Writing to the Church in Corinth St. Paul addresses the topic of gifts. The Corinthian Christians, it would seem, were obsessed with status and which gifts made on person more or less important. The person who actually could heal the sick, or speak in tongues? That person is at the top of the pecking order.
Oh, how little things change! Set aside for a moment the matter of miraculous works – be it turning water into wine, or the gift of spiritual healing, and consider how we have structured the Church over the past centuries: with a rigid structure that places the clergy at the top, as though they alone are called to ministry.
Attend to what St. Paul says, though: “To each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” We have all been called into ministry, and the Spirit has seen fit to equip us for proclaiming the Kingdom of God! When you were baptized, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and called by name. In these waters, you were transformed to be like Christ. Each of you were called into ministry through the waters and given the gifts necessary to proclaim repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the coming Kingdom of God.
At the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and when we reaffirm that same Baptism, we ask:
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
And we answer, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.”
How powerful a prayer that request is!
In forgiving our sins and bring us into eternal life through these waters and God’s holy word, the Spirit has laid claim to every talent we have! No, that’s not quite right, is it? It’s not that the Holy Spirit is claiming what is ours but rather that she is revealing the gifts with which God has already blessed us and directing those gifts for ministry in the Church.
We have all been called into ministry! Now listen for the Spirit in your life, how she is calling you to use your gifts for the greater glory of God!
Let us not get hung up in what we cannot do – we are not all called in the same way.
Next week, we’ll continue to read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ….But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet on body.
We are not all called to ordination or to be the council president or to be on altar guild, but we are all still called into ministry together! Not every parish is called to be a megachurch or to have the largest youth program. But every congregation is still called to faithfully serve God and neighbor. The small parish and the large, the elder congregation and the youthful, we are all called together a members of the greater Body of Christ.
I have heard many of you say that you want us to look like we used to – that is, to have young children and a traditional Sunday school program and full pews. That may very well be what God has called us to. Our future might be a hundred families, so much so that we run out of space and have to build. Our future might be as a megachurch with a staff that dwarves our average attendance today. To be certain, this is how most of the world, even many in the Church and our own denomination, define success.
But that may not be what God has in mind for us. It may very well be that our future ministry is directed not to young families or to swelling numbers. We might very well be called to engage faithfully in a ministry that looks completely different.
Hear me say this: We are still called into ministry as Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. We may never again look like we did thirty years ago. We may never have another young family enter our doors. But we can still faithfully proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ in this community! We can become the congregation where the hungry are fed, where retirees hear God calling them to ministry in this new stage of their life.
Our future might look like our past, or it might look completely different. It may look like the traditional signs of growth – larger attendance, larger giving, a larger building, larger programing. Or it may look like something completely different – a small group of faithful servants worshipping God and serving their neighbors, listening for their new call into ministry.
So, then, what would Jesus do? Proclaim the Kingdom of God through repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And by God’s grace, we can do that.
This parish, yes, even this small group, is called to do great things for the Kingdom of God!
Listen, beloved! Listen to where God is calling you! Listen for where God is calling us! Let us not be distracted by the past, looking back to what we used to be, or by the trappings of worldly success. Listen for the Spirit blowing; listen for the voice calling in the night; listen for God calling you out of the grave and into newness of life.
Let us pray:
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in us the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.