Here is our worship service for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, which lands on January 24, 2021!
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin of course has all the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers used from the ELW, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also included below the video on this page.
If you want to enhance your worship experience at home, you may have a few elements in your space. The first is a small bowl of water that you can interact with by putting your fingers in it, feeling the water, and using it to mark your forehead with the sign of the cross during the Thanksgiving for Baptism near the beginning of the service. The second is something small to eat and drink for communion, during the Lamb of God hymn. And third, you can have a lit candle nearby for the whole service, and that can be extinguished at the same time as the candles on the altar are extinguished during the Sending Hymn at the end of the service. These are all optional, but designed to help you to get in a worshipful headspace.
And onto the video!
Speak to us this day, O God, that we might hear and heed to Jesus’ call to follow him and be his disciples, serving you and neighbour for the sake of the justice that you will upon the world. Amen.
So I don’t know how many of you watched the US presidential inauguration this past Wednesday. I missed most of it because time zone, and I’m not huge on watching these things anyway. I mean, I didn’t even watch the inauguration of the brother-in-law of my brother-in-law’s cousin 16 years ago, so I don’t think it’d be fair for me to watch the inauguration of someone with whom I have zero familial relationship… that I know of at least.
Either case, I feel like I caught the best part of the whole ceremony anyway. If you watched it, you might know what I mean. No, it wasn’t the actual swearing in part, I totally missed that. It wasn’t the musical performances by J. Lo and Lady Gaga, I missed those too although I heard they were pretty good. And it wasn’t even that part where Garth Brooks tried to leave after singing Amazing Grace but everyone kept shaking his hand or hugging him so it took him like 15 minutes to get out of there. Ah, that was good stuff. No, the best part for me is when poet Amanda Gorman read her poem “The Hill We Climb.” Don’t worry, I never heard of her before either, but I looked her up and now, like I’m sure all of you, know her now. She was the first and youngest person to ever be named National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, a title that I admit I also never heard of but after hearing her on Wednesday, I would say she totally deserves it. I mean she is 23 years old and she totally stole the show for me. Seriously. At 23, I was still spending most of my time hanging out with my friends working on my Super Smash Bros skills, and she’s reciting her poetry for the president and the whole country and beyond. If you didn’t see her recite her poem or read it online, I suggest you do so because it truly was spectacular.
One line in particular that really caught me was near the beginning of the poem as I was still trying to figure out who this person was. She said “We’ve braved the belly of the beast | We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace | And norms and notions of what just is | Isn’t always just-ice.”
What just is isn’t always justice.
Profound, yes. But where do we go from here? I’m sure there are a lot of people who still feel that the election that culminated in this inauguration was unjust. I’m sure there are a lot of people who felt the past 4 years were unjust. I’m sure there are a lot of people who feel like anything that doesn’t go in their own specific way is unjust.
What is justice, then? It’s like the definition is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that justice is their own brand of politics and everyone else is just wrong. Others say justice is when evil is abolished, at least, the evil that plagues them. Others still might take it a step further and say that justice is when those who hurt or harm us get hurt or harmed back, hopefully by our own hand but we’re happy with however karma decides to play itself out on that.
And I don’t think we’d like to admit it, but we probably believe the latter to be true. Justice, for most of us, is when those we don’t like get what’s coming to them. We believed this on the schoolyard, that’s for sure. We see this in the movies and other forms of media that we love. We read about this in the story of Jonah, part of which we get in today’s readings.
This is totally a familiar story, I mean everyone knows about Jonah and the whale. The problem is that if we heard of it, we were probably told that the moral of the story was to not run away from God’s call, or else you might just get swallowed up by a large undetermined sea creature. And that seems to make sense, as Jonah did something wrong, disobeying God and running away, and so something bad happens to Jonah, getting eaten alive. Justice, right?
But that isn’t what this story is about and that isn’t the justice that I’m talking about. The story is more about the struggle inside Jonah to be able to let go of his definition of justice. See, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach salvation to them. We might know that Nineveh was just a bad city that Jonah didn’t like, but we might not have known that Nineveh was actually the capitol of Assyria, which is one of the sworn enemies of Israel. In fact, you might remember that Israel actually fell to the hands of the Assyrians before the Babylonians took over all of them. So it wasn’t that Jonah just didn’t like the city like how we might not like, I don’t know, Spuzzum, BC or something. No, this was a deep-seated, cultural, and national rivalry and hatred. It was like how the US and Russia were at odds back when Rocky IV came out.
So for God to call Jonah there and try to get them to repent? Maybe you can see what a difficult task this would have been for Jonah. It wasn’t even so much that Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to be saved. It was more that he knew that God would be gracious and save them, he just didn’t want any part of it. Because in Jonah’s eyes, those darn Ninevites deserved what was coming to them. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? That would seem like a walk in the park compared to what God should have lined up for Nineveh.
Justice, right? We want to little guy to win. We want Jonah to be able to smite his enemies. We want Rocky Balboa to beat Ivan Drago.
But God has a different idea of what justice is. Instead of dishing out punishment and smite, God answers with grace and mercy and invites us along for the ride. This isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Jonah to watch his enemies repent and be saved despite his best efforts to not help them. It wasn’t easy for the Corinthian church to not act out of spite of and superiority over each other. And it wasn’t easy for the disciples to not just say no to Jesus when he called them to fish for fish no more, but to fish for people instead.
And it isn’t easy. It’s not easy for us to not wish harm on our enemies. It’s not easy for us to want to get back at those who hurt us. It’s not easy for us to dish out our own brand of justice, the kind that could and likely would lead to violence, division, and pain.
The poet Amanda Gorman had a lot of good points in her poem that she read at the inauguration, but before her big finale she hinted at how we can achieve this justice. She said “We close the divide because we know, to put our future first | we must first put our differences aside | We lay down our arms | so we can reach out our arms | to one another | We seek harm to none and harmony for all.”
And this right there is God’s idea of justice. It isn’t vengeance. It isn’t evening the score. It isn’t about harming those who have harmed you. But it’s about putting aside differences, laying down our tools and tendencies for destruction, and learning how to love those you hate.
How on earth can we do that?
Well, Jesus showed us through his ministry and through the calling of his disciples. We are called to serve the other. We look at their needs. We see their hurts. And we realise that we aren’t all that different after all. We are all broken, damaged, fallen. We all need community, support, and love. We are all in need of a Saviour.
And thanks be to God, for we get one.
In spite of all the stuff that is going on in the world with this pandemic that has taken so much from us, all the political turmoil we see in our country and elsewhere, all the personal problems we all face in our own lives, God continues to reside with us, abide in us, and be among us through Christ in the Spirit and empowers us to see and feel that love and in turn reflect it onto others. This is the promise given to us. This is the hope we have in a greater future. This is the justice that we are called to, that we might see each other as God does, with eyes of grace, mercy, and love.
In this season after the Epiphany, may we see and feel the Spirit residing in our neighbours, friends, and even enemies, that we might together strive for the divine justice that we’ve been called to serve, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.