Mother Jane Brady-Close’s Sermon for 4th Sunday After the Epiphany

[Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30]

          There are three themes I’d like for us to consider this morning–the first from Paul, the second from Luke, and the third from Jeremiah.

St. Paul writes: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. [1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13]

It seems to me that love–even more than faith and hope–requires embodiment or incarnation. In his visit this weekend to the Diocese of Central Florida, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said: “If you think of love only as a sentiment, it is hard to see how it can have a great impact, but if you understand that that sentiment leads to commitment, a commitment to seek the good, the welfare, the well-being of the other” ahead of one’s own self-interest, then “it’s a commitment that actually looks something like God, who the Bible says is love.”[i] Bishop Curry also spoke last October of love at the revival of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, quoting the words of William Ewart Gladstone, he admitted through the lens of Jimi Hendrix: We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.[ii]

And next to the gospel. I have been trying to understand the volatile encounter between Jesus and those in the synagogue. It is the only place in the gospels where we find the word rage (θυμός, -οû), meaning “a strong passion of soul or mind …used for divine, satanic, and human wrath,” a word used of “anger that boils up and subsides again.”[1] It is ironic that this rage occurs in the place where the holy community gathers. And the intensity strikes me as not unlike what we see in the most volatile areas of the world, including our own – the passions springing up that lead to meanness, to death and to destruction among people and factions closely related that most of us who do not share these particular cultures would find hard to distinguish.

I went over to Gladstone’s Library – Britain’s only prime ministerial library which offers residential accommodations for a month as chaplain – to serve as chaplain for the month of January with some trepidation. It’s a remarkable institution where conversation among guests is the norm when they are not engaged in research and writing. I wondered how I might possibly explain the developments in the U.S., only to realize that Brits were struggling to explain the developments with Brexit. We were both, to a great extent, coming up empty.

A parallel story in slightly different form appears in Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels, but occurs at a later point in Jesus’ ministry not as here, in Luke, at the beginning. Our story today occurs just after Jesus emerges unscathed and strengthened by his sojourn in the wilderness. There Satan tempted Jesus with all the allures of the world playing on the insecurities humans face about themselves, seeking to derail him, to put him off balance.

Jesus’s hearers are astounded at his teaching, calling his words gracious, until they speak, just after that, the words meant to bring him down, to diminish him, to keep him in his place. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” in Luke.  In Mark it may be even more of a clear insult “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?”

          In Middle Eastern cultures such as Jesus’s, a most basic lens is that of honor and shame, where honor “meant everything, including survival.” One commentary on the gospels suggests: “Since the honor of one’s family determines potential marriage partners as well as with whom one can do business, what functions one can attend, where one can live, and even what religious role one can play, family honor must be defended at all costs. The smallest slight or injury must be avenged, or honor is permanently lost.”[2] Surely those in Jesus’ home town knew that his birth had come too early, maybe taunted him with it all his life as a way of keeping him in his place. Bullying surely is not a recent phenomenon. People – especially women –are still being killed today for reasons of honor and shame.

          Jesus responds with a seeming insult of his own – putting those in the synagogue in their place, as it were, with his biblical stories of outsiders being the recipients of the healing ministrations of the prophets–rather than those who might consider themselves entitled to them by birth. Maybe it’s not so different today.

But then the amazing thing is described. As those in the synagogue are about to hurl Jesus off the cliff on which the town is located, Jesus simply passes “through the midst of them and went on his way.” Almost as if he came to himself, to his true self, which is not subject to the boundaries and restrictions most of us perceive. This has the same feeling for me as Jesus’s post-resurrection experiences, as he appears and disappears in complete freedom. He was the one who could talk to the Almighty with the intimate word “Abba,” (Daddy), the one who did not need to engage with those who would never be able to understand him fully precisely because they thought they knew him too well or could only know him as a reflection of themselves. So Jesus simply moves on. Later he would tell his disciples pretty much the same thing:  Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (Luke 9:5)

          And now to Jeremiah. On one of the nights when I was charged with securing and locking up the library, I pulled from one of the reference sections a guide to Irish literature, to read about a cousin of my mother’s. My first husband and I had visited Ireland with her in 1997.  We found her great aunt Cassie’s former hotel, now a private home, where Mom had spent the summer of 1928 on a visit with her grandfather. We discovered we’d missed by five days a delegation which had put a plaque outside mentioning this cousin, Seamus MacManus, and his founding of the Donegal chapter of the Gaelic Athletic Association there. I was reminded how my mother reflected one evening during that trip on how well I’d turned out, as if it was a great surprise to her. I suppose she meant to give me a compliment and I realize to some extent I was a late-bloomer, but it was horrifying to me. As I listen more to others, I have come to regard this now as almost a prototypical parent comment, surprise and amazement at the accomplishments of one’s child, maybe a bit perplexed that he or she may be manifesting gifts they can’t claim to have shaped themselves.

I do not think this is simply a sort of false modesty on the part of parents, not wanting to take too much credit.  I think it also stem from lack of reflection on the powerful call of vocation of a God who knows us intimately, who consecrates us even before we are formed in the womb. It is God who equips us with spiritual, intellectual, and all gifts necessary for whatever work God calls us to do and for whatever life God gives us to live and to celebrate, however surprising, rarified, daring, or dangerous as it may be. Parents help in this process of course, and in powerful ways, but they can’t really control it. It is in embracing our identities as children of God who are given unique callings that we participate in God’s work of transformation, healing a broken, volatile world of people who have been hurt and shamed, building up a true community of love and truth.     

          In our reading from Jeremiah we encounter a God whose knowledge of us is deep, intimate, and primal, going beyond the knowledge even any parent has for a child:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”  We encounter God who calls us above all to love. We meet a God who tells us “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid…” This “do not be afraid” is a frequent theme in the scriptures – no doubt because we are so often afraid and our fear can make us block out God’s call, relentless as it sometimes is, compared to what we feel is the world’s call on us – such as Satan offered Jesus — that may seem more manageable. But God also has given us the gift of free will; accepting one’s vocation is an act of choice as well as of grace.

          Do any of you know Denise Levertov’s poem “Annunciation” about Mary, the mother of Jesus[iii]?

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Later in this poem is her question, perhaps her challenge:

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?….

More often
those moments
     when roads of light and storm
     open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

Surely God will love us whether or not we follow God’s particular invitation. Accepting of our vocations and those of others require faith, hope, and love, love manifested in the practices of our lives and in our communities. They may be hard won and inconvenient—incomprehensible to some, irrelevant to others.

However, maturity of faith and understanding will give us not only a greater appreciation for God and God’s work in the world, but also the self understanding of who and whose we are and the courage to accept God’s plan for us, to keep on that path so the gates remain open. Moreover, maturity of faith will sustain us at whatever precipices we suddenly find ourselves approaching and then enable us to pass, like Jesus, unscathed and at peace, even in the midst of people who cannot understand us. It’s in psalm 23, as well: “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Rooted in God’s love and God’s call, we can claim and embrace our true identities as people already known, claimed, and consecrated by God, and as people whose lives embody the love of God for ourselves, for others, for the earth. In that is our only true freedom and ours and the world’s salvation. Amen. 

©3 February 2019 by Jane T. Brady-Close

 Friberg lexicon, entry for θυμός.

[2] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), p. 213.



[iii] Quoted in

Father Jerry Adinolfi’s Epiphany 6 Sermon



Take a look at any of today’s U.S. currency, paper or coin

  • Amongst the writings, and numbers and pictures on it you will notice one particular phase emblazoned on them all: IN GOD WE TRUST. But it wasn’t until the period of the U.S. Civil War in 1864 that the phrase, In God We Trust, first appeared on money…first, on a 2-cent piece. In 1861, the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, wrote this note to the Director of the U.S. Mint, under heavy pressure from many Americans who wanted something done about the public mentioning of God in the society: “Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.” Finally, in 1956, the motto appeared on paper currency, the one-dollar silver certificate, and in 1957, it became the law that our national motto was to be: “In God We Trust. The rest is history. Our President reminded us the other day that it is and will always be our national motto

In God We Trust….so said the early Israelites about Yahweh as Jeremiah reported in today’s OT lesson, but it only turned out to be lip service then, and I wonder today if we aren’t falling into the same spiritual trap todayittle by little, then as now, God slowly slips away from the lips of the people in thought, word, and deed, a people who become preoccupied with the affairs of self, rather than others; with things rather than people.

Listen to what the Proverbs (26:23) have to say: “Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart.” kinda reminds me of that tune sung in 1984 by the British band Sada called, “Smooth Operator.” It’s last line quips,

“His eyes are like angels but his heart is cold”

The Old Testament lesson today went on to say that cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength

But…. blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord

Its verses replicate the timeless poetry of Psalm 1 today

Those who delight in the law of the Lord will be like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season with leaves that do not wither

Here I suspect the Lord had in mind the fruit of the Spirit as noted many years later in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Psalm 33:12 reports that happy is the nation whose God is the LORD

And the same Greek root word for happy, maka,rioj,,, is also used in our Gospel lesson today from Luke: blessed are you who are poor; happy you who are the poor…”

that nation that so trusts will persevere and enjoy God’s blessing; it will be a light for the nations; it will continue to bear lasting fruit for the glory of God

but something seems to get in the way every time, then and now

again, our friend Jeremiah, my favorite prophet, brings us to task

“the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart…”

those are harsh words and people don’t like it when it applies to them

it’s always for the other guy, that sinner over there, not me!

But wait: let us briefly examine the context of Jeremiah’s statement and see if it perhaps can help us get to the spirit of what our Collect said today, namely,

  • ….because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, but you are the strength of all who put their trust in you
  • As early as in Genesis 8:21, the Lord said that the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; all have this propensity to sin
  • The psalmist in 58:3 notes that the wicked go astray from the womb; they err from their birth, speaking lies
  • One of the scariest Biblical verses for me is taken from Proverbs 23:7 in the King James rendition: “…as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
    • He may say one thing, but he thinks otherwise!
  • In the NT, Jesus of course fulfills the thought process of the OT prophets as he so states in Mark 7:1-23: For it is from within, from the human heart, Jesus says, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

–         In the same chapter of Luke as in today’s Gospel, verse 45, the evangelist says that “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

  • This is exactly why the author of Hebrews (3:12) pointedly says, “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
    • Thus, the words of Psalm 51 come to our rescue: “create in me a clean heart O Lord and renew a right spirit within me.”

–        Jesus of course knew all of this and would not entrust himself to the fickleness of the crowd  “….because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” John 2:24-25. In effect, Jesus knew what they were thinking!

  • In other words, God reads the heart, the intentions of what we are doing, our motives, of what we are about to say before we say it!     
    • The 16th century English philosopher Francis Bacon, father of the scientific method, was quoted as saying, “We cannot too often think there is a never-sleeping eye which reads the heart and registers our thoughts”

Trusting in God means believing in him, believing in what he says, then going and acting upon it

  • this is exactly the thrust of the Psalm today
  • hang around with the good guys! Stick with the law of the Lord
  • you know, we need to get right with God; to stop following our stubborn, evil wills as was said of the early Israelites
    • their country was destroyed, and they were deported to Babylonia
    • they worshipped idols and did not honor the Sabbath; in effect they mocked God by ignoring him
  • I personally think that this is a wake-up call for America, to snap out of it so to speak, and turn back to the Lord; to get our priorities straight as in Psalm 1.
  • Jesus’ message to his disciples in Luke’s so-called Sermon on the Plain today is a call to action, social action, not just in poetic theology
    • To truly trust God means to let go and to let God
    • To suffer these things for righteousness sake, like being poor, or hungry, or weeping, or being hated, reviled, and defamed on account of Jesus
      • He told these things to his newly appointed disciples after he had been praying all night on the mountain; this message to them was from his Father and our Father

Our reward is great in heaven, and thus we too need to rejoice and leap for joy

  • Jesus has already gone and prepared a place for us, for those who believe in Him.
  • To be rich, to be satisfied, to be laughing, to be lauded and praised now might be a sign that we are ignoring the dictates of our Baptismal Covenant, not to be too puffed up with our success
  • We are people of the Resurrection said Paul today in today’s Epistle; we believe that God rose from the dead and he is now in full control, in heaven and on earth. He is the first fruits of the dead, never to die again.
  • IN GOD WE TRUST….as we help usher in the Kingdom of God no matter what the cost, for His grace is sufficient.


Father Jerry Adinolfi’s Ephiphany Sermon



W. H. Auden’s long poem, For the Time Being, written during the height of WWII, is a Christmas Oratorio intended for the bleak mid-Winter, post-Christmas malaise. The excitement of the holiday is past and now we get back to our daily lives made all the more dull by the holiday’s briefness.

–        To quote Auden, “Once again, as in previous years, we have seen the actual Vision and failed to do more than entertain it as an agreeable possibility; once again we have sent Him away, begging though to remain His disobedient servant, the promising child who cannot keep His word for long. The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory, and already the mind begins to be vaguely aware of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now be very far off.”

–        yet Auden hopefully concludes, “To those who have seen the child, however dimly, however incredulously, the time being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.”

–        and for those who have seen the Star, like our Wise Men today, and gazed upon the child, they will never quite be the same again

Epiphany: a word which means manifest, make aware, illumine, reveal

  • “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” Indeed, says the prophet Isaiah, in the opening lines of today’s Old Testament lesson!
  • No post-Christmas blues for Christians; Epiphany sees to that!
  • God is manifesting himself, revealing himself in Christ for all the world to see, Jew and Gentile alike
  • No longer is there the mystery that our Epistle today speaks of, the so-called plan of salvation of the mystery hidden for ages
    • For now and forever, the Gentiles, the pagans, have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel
  • and it is, according to Saint Paul, through the church, that is you and me, that the wisdom of God in its rich variety is being made known to all in heaven and on earth
  • very much like those surprised shepherds who went to see this thing which had come to pass, or those Wise Men from the East who followed the Star to the manger; both groups went home and shared this Good News with those around them

Epiphany is a celebration that had its Christian origins in the Eastern Church wherein the commemoration of Christ’s baptism was the center of the event. In the Anglican Communion, we will celebrate that glorious event this coming Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, also referred to as the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • over time, the Western Church, that of Rome, added the Magi event that we read about in today’s Gospel and also the first miracle of Jesus at the wedding of Cana in addition to his baptism to form, if you will, a triumvirate of events comprising the fullness of Epiphany
    • the manifestation, the miraculous, the sacramental
  • this calendar year, the Epiphany season will last about two months and I can guarantee you that it will be full of surprises, of epiphanies, if you look for them with all your heart, in a spiritual sense
    • The prophet Jeremiah edifies this in his 29th chapter, “ When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”
  • I really liked the closing lines of today’s Epistle wherein it stated that we who believe have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord
    • And this is God’s eternal purpose; this is the real Epiphany! Access to God.

Who hasn’t heard of the sports acronym BCS….Bowl Championship Series, the selection system created in 1998 that was designed to force a national championship game between the two top college football teams….it has since been replaced in 2015 by the College Football Playoff or CFP. This year, Alabama will play Clemson for the national college football championship tomorrow, January 7th , in California. Now think of the acronym CFB….. confidence, faith, boldness. This is Paul’s Epiphany charge to us today so that God would become manifested to us in Christ through our full and complete access to him, for Gentile and Jew alike. As millions watch the CFP tomorrow, the opposing players will demonstrate CFB….confidence, faith, and boldness in their expertise. Can we do less as servants of the living God in our daily lives in our Christian expertise….love! That’s our game.

  • this thought was cemented earlier in chapter two of Ephesians by Saint Paul when he said that through Jesus Christ we all have access in one Spirit to the Father. We thus all become citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, thereby building us into a holy temple with the apostles and prophets as its foundation and Jesus Christ as its cornerstone, a spiritual dwelling place for God in us…and we in him.

The time after Epiphany on the church liturgical calendar is known as Ordinary Time, just as is the time following Pentecost.

  • the liturgical color is green, symbolizing growth, life and the continuing presence of God’s spirit amongst us
  • ordinary is not meant to mean common or mundane, but rather to be taken from the root word ordinal, to count. Thus, the days following Epiphany are counted until the following season….in this case, Lent, that occurs on March 6th of this year, some 59 days later.
    • This year, because of the lateness of Easter, April 21, there are eight Sundays after Epiphany; the most there could be are nine!
  • But in each and every day of the lengthened Epiphany season, let us consciously focus upon these themes that the church has blessed us with: the manifestation, the miraculous, the sacramental
  • Also, consider the content of the gifts given by the kings, the Magi from the East, the so called three kings whose mythical names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The figure three reflects the number of gifts that were given and perhaps may have a Trinitarian nuance. One is also reminded of the three visitors that came to Abraham in Chapter 18 of Genesis. In any case, the three gifts were distinctive:
    • Gold: reflective of royalty, for Jesus is a king, the King of kings
      • Kings giving gifts to a baby king
      • And at this death on the Cross, this baby would be labeled Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
    • Frankincense: incense for adoration and worship; the priestly aspect of our Lord and Savior; he is our great high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek
    • Myrrh: a brownish, resinous material used as an embalming ointment, foreshadowing Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In closing, remember the joy expressed in the Old Testament lesson today as well as the overwhelming joy expressed by the Wise Men when they saw the star, and think about it in the sense of adoring Jesus in your daily life this Epiphany season. JESUS…..

  • your light has come
  • the Lord’s glory will cover you
  • nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn
  • the wealth of the nations shall come to you
  • they shall proclaim the praise of the Lord
  • they shall all gather together and come to you
    • there we have it…..come to Jesus. Come unto me…
    • the Wise Men did
    • and as the old saying goes, “Wise men still seek him!”
      • as our eternal King, Priest, and Savior
      • And we do this with CFB: Confidence, Faith and Boldness
      • Epiphany! CFB! Rah, Rah for the Lord.