Patti La Cross’s Homily from January 22, 2023

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Third Epiphany Sunday, January 22, 2023                                                               Holy Wisdom Monastery

Isaiah 9: 1-4; 1 Corinth 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23                                               Patti La Cross

We’ve had neither January sunlight nor a bright star to guide us this gloomy, overcast week. And we’ve lost Tom, a dear member of our circle. May our hearts be opened to Isaiah’s words, addressed “to those who walk in darkness “

In today’s Isaiah passage the prophet invokes a future for the tribal peoples of Zebulun and Naphtali – taken into exile around 735 BCE. They will be restored to Israel by a new king amid great rejoicing. In anticipation, Isaiah invites the people to praise the Holy One for setting them free, and making Israel whole. It takes a remarkable act of faith, to give thanks as if! while one’s heart still aches with grief and yearning.

Commentator Richard Ward wrote of this passage that “Isaiah trains the eye and ear to look at world events, to see and hear how both hidden and explicit purposes of God work in human history. God, he states, holds all people and nations accountable to justice.

Ward believes that God’s light keeps oppression from being the last word, It shines to illuminate our roles in oppression and to lead us out, to lead the humiliated and vulnerable toward liberation – and exultation. God shines light on our efforts, because such is the character of God.

Matthew interjects this history into Jesus’ ministry, here calling Capernaum by its ancient names to evoke its earlier inhabitants, those who it seems had suffered the failure of God’s covenant when taken into exile.

He tells us that after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus started walking. He left his hometown of Nazareth, and hiked the 43 miles to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Home to fishermen and merchants, a fairly diverse population, as is found in a center of trade.

There Jesus found his disciples, and together they sought out the people on the peripheries of power sharing with them the Good News. God’s Reign dawns in your midst! Here, where once the community was ravaged, now, it begins! Jesus’s open invitation also called for their repentance.

 Of what were they to Repent?

They had failed to live in the belief that the Holy One would keep covenant with the faithful. Thus they had strayed from living in the promise and from the Law. For these are the demands of God’s home: full confidence and real commitment. From Jesus’ early preaching of this new reality – among the humble, in a place bruised by history, to us, trust and steadfastness is required of believers.

It’s hard to hang on to that when the world seems spiraling out of control! Now as then, how do we keep genuine trust and hope alive?

One way I take strength is from looking to those who witness clearly in our day, and work to create communities of hope. Sometimes we are privileged to know or learn of someone who “dropped it all” to embrace a mission or singular cause and lives out that commitment.

I think of Kathy Kelly, who I met in 1980 in Chicago: she has spent the past 45 years as a full-time witness for peace. Tenacious, indefatigable, she too, is a walker. She walked Iraqi children to school as a human shield during our bombing of Iraq, and spent decades traveling to Gaza, Afghanistan, Russia, meeting with students, activists, staying with families. Arrested countless times for protesting, she lives below the poverty line so as not to pay taxes for war. Kathy walked 70 miles through WI, to protest the militarization of police, and teach how that mirrors our increased drone assassinations of civilians in the Mid East and North Africa, and walked from our state capitol to Chicago.

If you’ve met Kathy, or known or read of others of singular dedication, you might breathe in new courage, and better imagine the extraordinary commitment of the early followers of Jesus.

We don’t know what if anything they knew of him, but his invitation was compelling and they couldn’t resist. When Jesus said “Follow Me”, they didn’t ask “How far”?

His walking invites us to travel from manger to the cross with strength and persistence. Today’s Scriptures teach that we must keep moving! from fear and loss, to community and joy.

Okay, our passage from Corinthians today doesn’t quite make that community building sound encouraging.

Then, like now, societies divided power unevenly between those with greater knowledge or wealth. Let’s give them a break!

The exegete James Thompson states that “In creating a community of such varied backgrounds, Paul attempts what had scarcely been tried by anyone before. A church composed of rich and poor, Jew and Greek, slave and free, lacks the normal bonds of ethnicity and family that hold a community together.” Through the 1980s our family, with 15 other adults and 14 children, navigated community life in adjacent houses on Willy Street in the Taize-based cooperative La Samaritaine.

We held among us 2 faiths and at least 5 denominations, differed in backgrounds, temperament, and more. We may have had some resonance with challenges faced by early house churches. Weekly house meetings were…lively! Sharing a commitment to hospitality – we gave Sanctuary to a series of refugees – and to simplicity, peacemaking and prayer made it a powerful experience for all of us. We shared houses, income, children, meals, daily prayer, chores and many projects! Operating by consensus, we argued over the minutiae at times, but seldom anything important. And there was much singing!

This worship circle, and the many circles it intersects with offer many opportunities for practicing Christian Unity. Our faith requires each of these to keep eyes and ears open to truth, possibility, and inclusion.

Paul teaches that we can live with our differences. We are called to be credible witnesses to our unity, focused on sharing the unconditional love of Jesus, and the justice of God’s home, with those who are waiting in the darkness.

Let us pray:

For those many, especially in Ukraine, who are literally living in great darkness, privation and fear, that in these hardest of times they can be anchored by faith and hold onto hope, let us pray…

For people and communities of all faiths in our country, may they be kept safe from acts of hatred and violence, let us pray…

For churches professing Christianity while distorting the message of Jesus and the scriptures, for political or other gain. May they repent and do so no more, let us pray…

For the family of Tom Tarpey, and all in this circle who are grieving, that consolation be theirs in the days and weeks to come, let us pray…

Let us take a moment to name those for whom we wish to pray, and all whose names are in the Book of Intentions. For all of these, let us pray…

Source of All Love, you who gave us Jesus have called us through your Spirit to thanksgiving and praise. Hear our prayers today, and show us the way to ever increase the justice and mercy so desperately needed in our world. We ask this in humble confidence, for you are the Holy One, now and always, Amen.

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