Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings – Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15: 12-20; Luke 6: 17-26
Jesus was a community gatherer.
Remember when his mother and sisters and brothers wanted to speak with him while he was teaching? He motioned to the gathered people and said, “these are my sisters and brothers”. His loving embrace reached the corners of the world. He was “a light to enlighten the nations”. We celebrate the season of Epiphany beginning with the Magi, the Wise Men, from the Orient. The Gospel according to St. Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles are both addressed to Theophilus, thought to be an official of the Roman Empire.
In today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, we have a portion of the Sermon on the Plain, similar to the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew. Jesus reached out to those in need of healing, those struggling with mental health, those on the margins of society – the poor, the hungry, the weeping, as well as the hated, the excluded, the defiled. He declared them ‘Blessed”. They were declared part of the family, part of the Kingdom of God. And the wealthy, the well-fed, the joyful, the well-respected, they were not rejected. They were warned— “Woe to you”, turn your lives around. So, within that gathered community on the plain all were invited into his loving embrace, some as they were, and some as they were encouraged to repent and turn their lives around. His words that day were community gathering and community building words. All were invited into the family of God.
Though not noted in this particular reading, eating and drinking in the community was also part of his embrace. Remember, his adversaries on numerous occasions took him to task for eating and drinking, and frequently with the wrong kind of people, like Zacchaeus, the tax collector.
Community gathering and community building came first with Jesus.
It was only after the Last Supper in the Upper Room followed by the Resurrection that what we call Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, arose. Remember, in that same Upper Room when the disciples gathered to share stories of Jesus and eat together that he appeared among them, even though the doors were locked. And on the evening of the first Easter day, after walking the Emmaus Road with two disciples, it was not until they stopped for supper and he broke bread with them that he was recognized as the Resurrection Jesus.
First – Community gathering and building.
Second – Community meals that lead to the Holy Eucharist.
Third – Written Community stories and letters that we now call the New Testament. The texts as they began to emerge were assembled and validated as authentic and inspiring by the earliest Christian communities.
It is interesting that today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the community in Corinth notes their ongoing discussion about the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Was it real? Imagine this, they were gathering to pray, to hear stories of Jesus, to hear letters from other faith communities, and to talk about the reality of the Resurrection!
Sustaining these earliest gathered communities of faith was essential for the development of what we now call the Church. Jeremiah in our first reading wrote of how the faithful in his day were sustained:
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord God, whose trust is in the Lord God. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.
The Psalmist wrote similarly, referring to the faithful:
They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season with leaves that do not wither…
Without water, we dry up, and life ends. So, what is this water of life that keeps followers of Jesus, those who trust in the Lord God, alive, that keeps us healthy?
The answer to this question I think is clear. It is where Jesus spent his time, his talent, and his treasure. It is where Jesus poured out his life on behalf of others. It is where Jesus got into trouble with the religious authorities of his day, and with the empire authorities of his day.
As for me, the water of life is right here! The water of life is this community where we sing, where we confess and are forgiven, where we affirm our faith, where we say our prayers, where we wave the Peace, where we offer our time, our talent, and our treasure, where we gather around this holy table, and where we gather around the four tables just next door with tea and coffee, and with refreshments offered for us each week. Here, in this gathered community gathered by the Spirit of Jesus, and gathered in the Spirit of Jesus, we receive the water that enables us to live through good times and through dry times, too. We are watered in the community.
And then we disperse; we go our separate ways, like seeds riding the gentle breezes of the Spirit of Jesus. We scatter, and we spread the goodness we experienced around this table, and around those tables, too. We take this community goodness into the neighborhoods of our lives.
So, let us drink deeply among this community of Jesus.
Then, let us disperse joyfully to share the goodness.