Responsibility & Grace

First Sunday after the Epiphany

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Growing up in the Methodist church, we only had communion once each month.  I remember looking forward to that Sunday with anticipation each time it came around.  Communion services were my favorite.  So it’s probably no surprise to anyone who knew me back then that I ended up here.

But, through much of my life, our Sunday morning traditions had a certain ritual to them.  Not when I was very young, but once I was old enough to be a bit more self-sufficient, I would go with my dad to the ‘early service’ at church.  But before church, we would go to Southern Maid doughnuts where Dad would get a cup of coffee and I would get a chocolate iced donut and a little carton of chocolate milk.  We’d sit there in the dark, early morning and talk.  I have no idea what I talked about, but I can imagine that I probably prattled on about whatever “issues of the day” were plaguing my third or fourth-grade mind on any given week.

But on Communion Sundays, the ritual changed.  After our time at the doughnut shop, we’d head over to Kroger – the local grocery store – and pick up a bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice and a warm loaf of French Bread.  When there was warm bread, fresh from the oven, the grocery store would put it near the entrance on a rolling rack, and on Communion Sunday, it was my job to pick out which loaf of bread we’d be buying that day.

It felt like a big responsibility for a little kid.  But it also felt like an important honor. 

As followers of Christ, one of the ways that we talk about ourselves is as “the Body of Christ” in the world.  Not that any one of us is Christ, but that together, we make up the Body of Christ.

We very often reflect on the responsibility that being the Body of Christ brings.  I, myself, have often quoted that beautiful expression from St. Theresa of Avila, “Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours…”  It means that we have a responsibility to continue the work of Christ in the world.  Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.  But until then, we are called to keep sharing the good news of the nearness and the love of God for the whole of creation.

That’s the responsibility that being the Body of Christ brings.

But what we talk a lot less about is the grace that comes from being the Body of Christ in the world.  If we take it seriously that we are stand-ins for Christ for the work that God desires, then we also should take it seriously that we are stand-ins for Christ for the grace that comes from being a child of God.

As stand-ins for Christ in this world, we have been chosen by God.  We are the ones in whom God’s soul delights.  We are the ones of whom God says, “with you, I am well pleased.”  The responsibility we share as members of the Body of Christ flows from that.  Not as a burden, but as an act of joy and gratitude; as a response to being wholly and deeply loved.

The stories that we read in scripture aren’t just accounts of how God has acted in the world, but they are testimonies to how God does act in the world – not just long ago, but even today.  So if we believe that God is good enough and generous enough to extend that same kind of love and respect to us – the kind that is made for Christ – then who are we to deny it to anyone else?

How is it that we can consciously choose to look at the world around us and say, indiscriminately, I choose you?  The way God has chosen me, I choose you.

How can we better encounter our neighbors and say, without judgment, you are the ones in whom my soul delights?  Not, “you could delight my soul if…”, but “you delight my soul.”  Full stop.

How might we more faithfully endeavor to be the Body of Christ in the world by seeing those whom the world has cast aside and saying to them, “You are my beloved, and with you, I am well pleased.”?

That’s how God has acted in the world.  That’s how God continues to act in the world.  And that’s how we’ve been called to act on God’s behalf in the world.

There’s a famous quote from Maya Angelou that I’m sure you’ve heard.  She said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”

That quote is often thrown around as a sort of defense mechanism – as a call to stand up for ourselves in the face of adversity.  But it also works the other way.

God has shown us, in the person of Jesus, who God is.  God is one who welcomes the outsider.  God is one who embodies the oppressed.  God is one who loves the people of this world more lavishly than we can imagine.  Now it’s our job to believe.  We’ve been shown who God is.  Believe.  And as believers, go and do likewise.  Welcome the unwelcomed.  Love lavishly.  Be the brilliant stand-ins for Christ that this world is starving for.  And most importantly, remember that God’s soul delights in you.  You are God’s beloved, and with you, God is well pleased.  Amen.