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The Second to Last Sunday of Epiphany (World Mission)
Isaiah 61:1-4; Psalm 96; Romans 10:9-17; John 20:19-31
Today, I want to draw a line through the passages of Scripture we have been given. This is the second-to-last Sunday of Epiphany, which we use as an opportunity to emphasize World Mission. The texts, as in all weeks, are thematically chosen to help us reflect upon the global scope of God’s mission and work on earth, and our part in it.
Isaiah begins with these words that Jesus in Luke 4 attributes to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor.” In this passage, Isaiah lay out that he who speaks this will bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, give liberty to captives, release prisoners. All of which really culminates in the year of the Lord’s favor. What is this year?
The year of Jubilee is described in Leviticus as every fiftieth year in the life of the nation of Israel, when every debt is cleared, all land lost was returned, and all people would rest, not even planting or doing excessive reaping, but only taking what the earth produced that year. Biblically, this means more than the supposed event itself; the Year of Jubilee came to be understood as a picture of the ultimate, final restoration by God of His people: not merely a year, but an Age where they would rest, all debt paid, all wounds healed, all people freed, all restored.
That is what allows us to do as Psalm 96 says, to “sing a new song”; in an Age without want, a NEW Age, we can sing a new song. When the ancient ruins, the destroyed cities are restored, we can write new songs to commemorate them. And yes, it is for us; this is for all people who call on the Lord. We are to “declare his honor to all nations” in “the beauty of holiness,” not just the trappings of robes and liturgy, and we do so because as Paul tells us, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The implications of this are massive. No distinction, because the Lord is the Lord of all. Jew, Gentile. To us, rich and poor, black and white and all between, citizen and immigrant, male and female, all of us, before the Lord, in awe of the one who has power and glory in His sanctuary.
World Mission is a tricky thing to emphasize. Largely, it is because of the colonial and imperial baggage that follows such ideas. One reason the Anglican Communion is the worldwide fellowship it is today is because wherever British colonial forces went, they were followed by the Church of England. That is a complicated and often uncomfortable heritage to receive, and when combined with the American heritage regarding African slaves and the Native populations of our land, we American Anglicans ought to feel a bit wary of the idea of “World Missions,” and indeed of what mission means historically.
But that is what our forebears fought for, and what history is for; we humans write our stories and experiences down so that those who come later might learn, and do better. And we seek to do better, to proclaim the Gospel without relying on Empire, to live in love and charity towards others without expectation of a material return, to serve and bless and sacrifice for Jesus, because he did so for us, and all other people are called to sit at His table, a banquet of which we are the messengers.
In John 20, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” What did he send them to do? Not to conquer, or berate, or belittle, or enslave, or oppress, or profit, or fear, or hate. He sent them with the Holy Spirit, breathed upon them to tell others that He was alive, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was theirs, and that the world to come was for all.
And so he sends us. Not because it is on us to build God’s kingdom; no, it is God’s work. It is foundational that we realize this as a church, that no matter what we do, whether making meals, or aiding the poor, or telling people about Jesus, or teaching, or praying, or advocating, or empathizing, that the work of building the Kingdom is God’s work.
Yet, God sends us. Think about the dignity we have, that God partners with us, equips us, sends us, to proclaim and give and love and thus to spread and build His kingdom. He builds His kingdom through us, by our hands and words. An enormous honor bestowed upon us, and an enormous responsibility. Not, mind you, because God needs us; no, but a responsibility because He chooses to work through us, and we can either be a part of the Great Movement of God, or resist it, like flowing with the river, or rowing against it. Be a part. Embrace the Mission of God, whether that is through supporting good missionaries who proclaim His Gospel, ministries in our city that serve the disenfranchised, or working in whatever way you’ve been called to bless Christ and His Church here, in our parish, in the lives of those sitting next to you. And may the grace of God be with us as we do so.
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