Witness of Gifts that Change 1 Cor. 1:1-9
Epiphany 2A January 15, 2023, St. John, New Orleans
A now sainted member of my former parish used to have a clever reply when I asked, “how are you?”
She was in her 90s and had been a widow for over 40 years.
Moreover, because of a bad hip replacement
she was not confident about leaving her apartment without her daughter's assistance
and fought depression and loneliness.
But after several years of visits and us exploring the possibilities of her life, she eventually came up with a good answer to the question, “how are you?”
“Well, I woke up in my own bed this morning, so I guess God has something planned for me today.”
She could have replied any number of ways,
explaining any number of conditions, feelings, or problems.
But instead, she looked outside herself and what she knew about her little world
and told me what she was looking for.
She had come to a place where she no longer wanted to control and guide her days with her own desires and wishes but to see what God had on her agenda.
And when she could make that transition from, “why am I here?” to, “what will God bring my way?”
her entire outlook on life was changed
and her nineties were much happier and fulfilling than her eighties.
Even though she was, arguably, worse off the older she got.
Its amazing how life changes when we get a new perspective on the same life.
Whether it's moving out of your parents’ house, becoming a parent, or mourning the loss of a loved one
our lives on either side can look drastically different.
we are still the same people but with a new perspective, our life is changed.
we now have new motivations, fears, and even our goals and tactics in life are changed as a result.
Whether sought out or not, we find ourselves in a new and different place in life
and we adjust by changing how we live.
Today in the readings for the second Sunday of Epiphany, we are witnesses to a big change as the history of the world moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Jesus has been baptized by John, and he is now gathering his disciples.
It was foretold by Isaiah
and, moreover, God says through Isaiah that his ministry will not be just for the Jews, but gentiles as well.
He will be, “a light for the nations, that my salvation will reach to the end of the earth.”
and Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, assures them that the sea-change he has already taken place.
That they have received from God this ministry of Jesus and
are equipped to continue it in their day and in their city.
And since we believe scripture is God's word intended for all who follow him, we believe it is relevant to us in our day as well.
Last week I asked you to change the sake of the gospel. Today I'm telling you that you already have been changed.
If you look to our epistle lesson, in verses four and seven you have the evidence.
“I give thanks to my God for you because of the grace of God that was given you... so that you are not lacking in any gift.”
how about that? Paul tells the Corinthians that they are lacking nothing because they have received grace.
We just finished our Christmas celebrations which probably included a session of gift-giving.
Did you get everything you wanted?
Do you have any needs right now today?
Did any of you buy a lottery ticket lately, dreaming about all the things you could do with it once you received it?
Why would we do that when we are not lacking any gift?
The odds of winning Mega Millions were over three hundred million to one.
The odds of receiving every gift from God is one to one.
It's a serious question with a serious Answer.
Why do we seek worldly wealth from an unlikely source when we know God's bounty?
Why would we exchange that with which we have already been blessed, for a nearly impossible chance to achieve a return?
Why would we give up the sure thing for the shiny bauble forever just outside our grasp?
Because we have been tempted to believe it is better for us in some way or another.
and the reason we fall for it is because we have not yet been changed by the second coming of Jesus.
Because we are still this side of the Lord's judgment, we are tempted by all the forces this side of heaven to deny heaven.
Our flesh does not know the bliss of painless perfection and the lack of of decay which will come at the resurrection.
Our hearts cannot fathom the depths of our love for Jesus, or the way that love will eclipse all the other relationships we have known.
We cannot imagine a time or place without want or need. Ever.
And we cannot set our minds to a place even more beautiful than this universe into which God has placed us.
Despite all our problems, sorrows, and loss, this world has a powerful hold on us, because we have not yet crossed over into the new heaven and the new earth.
And yet, we are not blind. We have glimpses of what comes after this life, and we get a foretaste of what is to come.
And it is all possible by grace.
Grace is an undeserved gift
while mercy is a reprieve from an expected consequence.
Both are part of our relationship with God,
but it is grace which defines our God and our relationship with him.
Because that grace came at a great cost, a familiar acronym for grace is, “God's riches at Christ’s expense.”
and of course that undeserved gift is that
we are not only spared the punishment of death for our sins,
but that those sins are actually taken away from us.
So, that our sentence is not really commuted,
but it is as if our offenses never occurred where God is concerned.
And so, as holy children of God, we have a new perspective.
In God's eyes we appear to him as did Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden before the fall.
And we are merely waiting for the day when we are returned to paradise.
But, because of our present surroundings, it is a bit of a mental exercise.
While we are truly holy and righteous in God's sight because of Jesus,
we are fully aware of our own unrighteousness
and the forgiveness required of Jesus because of our sin.
And we live in a fallen world full of temptation and brokenness which try to lure us away at every turn.
We know we are forgiven, but it helps to have physical symbols and properties to reinforce them for us.
The waters of baptism bring a literal washing of our sins.
The bread and wine of Holy Communion become the body and blood of Jesus which enter our bloodstream to strengthen and bolster us in faith.
And the written word of God serves as a tangible continuance of the messages he sent to his prophets and apostles’ generations ago.
And yet these are not equivalents to being physically present with the person of Jesus, his Father the creator, and the Holy Spirit.
But if we spend more time with what he gives us, it helps us understand more clearly what we have yet to look forward to.
Like my former member who adjusted her perspective,
when we stop looking for what God has done for us lately,
we will see what he's doing for us today
so that we might be prepared to follow him tomorrow.
So fellow disciples of Jesus, what change have you witnessed?
What are the Ways and Means by which God has showered his grace on you?
Not only through your baptism and faith,
but in the physical and social aspects of your life?
How is your perspective of this life and the next different from others,
and how much of that is because of your relationship with Jesus?
What have you witnessed, that might be important for others to hear?
And lastly how has Jesus changed you through his body, the church?
As you worship, study, and serve together with other believers,
how have you been changed individually, and even as a group?
And have you witnessed any change come about as a result of that fellowship in our community, With our neighbors, or in the world at-large?
these are the moments in time which define perspectives.
They are the events around which we assess, “before” and, “after.”
they are the touchstones to which we define and measure our life.
Epiphany is the season in which Jesus is revealed as that ultimate gift which brought change to our world.
Let's spend the season exploring how he did that
so that we might understand the changes he brought to our lives
and so that we might fully embrace and use the gifts he has already given to bring about even more change in the world
as we are guided by his Holy Spirit. Amen.