How will you speak the Good News?

Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C — Cynthia K. R. Banks
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

To be human is to compare. C’mon, admit it, do you look at your neighbor and say, “I am smarter than him,” or “I’m not as smart as him.” Or “I am better off than her,” or “I sure don’t have it as good.” We are always measuring ourselves over against our neighbor, sometimes coming off better, sometimes coming off worse. It’s just what we do.

So, we have a body with all these parts. Which is the best? Which is the most important? Is there one part that captures the essence of the body? Like, say, a hand or an eye. And then, if you’re not a hand or an eye, like say you’re a foot or an ear, well, do you not belong to the body? Are you any less a part of the body? I mean, if the whole body is just one big eye, where would the hearing be? Or if the whole body was one big ear, if the whole body were hearing, well, where would the sense of smell be? If all were a single member, one isolated aspect, where would the body be? And how functional would it be?

But as it is, God didn’t make us that way, as individual human beings, nor as communities.

As it is, our bodies all have many members, arms and legs and eyes and ears and noses and smelly feet and beautiful hands—all kinds of parts, yet it’s one body. And one part can’t look at another part and say, “I have no need of you.” In fact, St. Paul goes to great pains and many euphemisms to explain that our less respectable, our less honorable parts—we will just go with that Old Testament euphemism and call them “feet”—are treated with greater respect and clothed with greater honor. There is no dissension here, no casting out as useless. Every member has the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. If the foot hurts, the whole body aches. If the shoulder heals, the whole body feels good and light. This is how the body works.

It’s also how we work as a community because we are the Body of Christ. Every single one of you is needed in this body. Every single one of you has a unique contribution to make. None of you is superfluous. None of you is an extra that can be tossed aside. The body isn’t complete without you. By the same token, the body is less of what it is meant to be if you opt out.


And when we jump this image up to the community level, this is also true. We don’t do so well as individual members running around trying to be complete bodies in and of ourselves. It’s why trying to live our Christian faith by ourselves usually leaves us feeling diminished. We can read books and learn about Christ on our own. We can do our individual practices quite in isolation. But the truth is, you show me what God looks like in the flesh. You mirror a part of God that I can’t read about in books; I can only experience it by living in relationship with you. You have some gift that I need in my life, and I have some gift that you need. If we have no way to receive and extend those gifts, we are the poorer for it. No one person has everything they need to make their way in this world; we have to find our way together.

And when it comes to this Body of Christ that we call the church, there are no special gifts or powers—ordained is not more elevated than not ordained, Altar Guild is no more special than lectors, crucifers no more special than torchbearers. St. Paul names all kinds of gifts and roles in the church, but in the end, he tells us to strive for the greater gifts. What do you think those gifts are? We will hear more about them next week, but for now, we can just name them—faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.

And here’s a really cool thing. In today’s gospel, Jesus really puts flesh and blood on this metaphor, this image that St. Paul has given us. Jesus is preaching his very first sermon. I remember preaching my first sermon, and I was a wreck. I didn’t sleep the whole night before. But Jesus has just come off of a 40 day body cleanse in the wilderness, and he is full of spirit, physically and spiritually. He is pumped. He goes back to his hometown synagogue, and he stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Oh, man. Good stuff. There’s good stuff in Isaiah.

But before we get to that, tell me, in world’s eyes, who is treated as inferior? Who is treated with less respect? The poor, those in prison, those who can’t see or who have some other sort of disability, those who have no voice, no power, no status, those who are in debt. Jesus says, “Not so in my body.” Jesus unrolled that scroll of Isaiah, and he ran his eyes over that text until he found a particular passage. And with this passage, Jesus let it be known that there are no inferior, less respectable members in his body. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The very people that the world treats like dirt, Jesus lifts up as those upon whom God showers blessing. Those who are so often overlooked and invisible, Jesus proclaims as necessary to the whole enterprise of being human. To the extent these members of the body are not valued, the whole body, including you, including me, is diminished and incomplete.

So, there is a call in all of this. What are the parts of ourselves that we have banished, that we have relegated to an inferior place because we have deemed these parts of ourselves less respectable? Today, Jesus says, “It’s time to speak some good news to those banished parts. It is time to release them, to recover them, to free them. It is jubilee, which means those parts of us get to come out into the light and start anew.”

And, who in the world around us, who is overlooked? Who is relegated to an inferior place? Who is not treated with respect? When Jesus finished reading that scroll from Isaiah, he rolled it up, and handed it back to the attendant, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” “In your hearing.” The hearing is a member of the body, the body is one; it takes the whole body to do the work. This scripture is fulfilled among us. Jesus has handed this scripture to us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. God has anointed us. How will we speak good news to those who are invisible, and cast aside, and who are treated as inferior and given no respect? How will we release them from the prisons that entrap them? How will we help them recover? How will we set them free? How will we help to bring about jubilee, that time when debts are forgiven, and we all get to start over again?

The body is diminished until the whole body thrives. Today, we must claim our connection to every aspect of our being—heart, body, mind, and spirit—and we must claim our connection to every member of Christ’s body, which, according to John 1, includes the whole human family“and the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth…for God so loved the world…”

Today, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to you. How will it be fulfilled in your hearing, and how will you help this fulfillment to be heard in the world? Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
January 27, 2013