Fr. Andrew Armond – The Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 23, 2022

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I’d like to begin this morning by drawing your attention to the Collect of the Day. This prayer contains a wealth of theology packed into just a few lines. Most evident at first glance are a number of words we associate with our faith, words that we may gloss over from time to time but are always worth thinking about and unpacking, words such as Grace; Call; Proclaim; Good News; Salvation; Glory; Marvelous Works.

We learn in this Collect that we are called. We are called just as those earliest followers of Jesus were called, like Andrew was called, “come, follow me.” When we are called by our Savior Jesus Christ, we are called from one way of life, one way of being in the world and to abundant life, a different way of being in the world. 

This is what another one of our words from the Collect means: Salvation. Salvation is deliverance, the same kind of deliverance we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. May we be delivered from Evil. May we be delivered from Temptation. We pray for deliverance from the wicked ways of this world, and we are called to a higher life, a higher purpose, to think and act in the ways of Christ our Lord. We are called OUT, called to be set apart, made holy; called to Proclaim to All People the Good News of Salvation.

But what exactly is that Good News? What does Salvation or Deliverance mean for us?

The spiritual writer Kathleen Norris wrote a book some time ago called “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” Norris’s story parallels many of our own stories in this church. She grew up in a more evangelical / fundamentalist church; abandoned her faith altogether for many years; and then returned to that faith, warily at first, but then wholeheartedly, albeit in a different tradition, a more liturgical tradition, one with a somewhat different approach than the one that she associated with her childhood faith. And so as she returned to her faith, she had to grapple with some of those capital-letter “Words,” those Words that she had struggled with in her youth and that she wanted to redefine for herself in her newfound Christian life, words like many of the ones I’ve highlighted in our Collect today.

And so she writes about Salvation, a word that literally means “deliverance” but also carries the connotation of “healing” and “Restoration,” being put back to health or being put back on a good path. 

She tells the story of when she and her husband managed a bar in North Dakota. Her husband put up a patron one night, Jack, who was in no condition to drive home. Jack told her the story, the next morning, of how he had gotten caught up in a questionable group of people with very questionable business practices, but an abundance of easy money. And so, inevitably, he had gotten into a situation that was completely over his head, with a “businessman” who was showing him the ropes. As they were driving one day, they passed a car on the highway. Jack’s new “friend” turned around abruptly, telling him that he needed to go kill that man, but that he couldn’t do it at the moment, because someone was with him, and so he’d just have to wait him out.

Jack, according to Norris, experienced, in that horrific and frightening moment, salvation. He got out of that situation immediately, knowing that the path he was on was not a good path, not a healing path, not a life-giving path. She writes: “having turned, suddenly, from the path he was on, our friend Jack seemed a bit lost but also glad that he had been able to name something as wrong, and to walk away from it. He had tasted a kind of freedom and wasn’t sure what to do about it, except to tell the story.”

I want you to have that story in your head this morning when you hear Jesus quote the prophet Isaiah. Jesus says that he has come to liberate, to free the whole world from enslavement, poverty, brokenheartedness, and blindness. He has come to help us dislodge ourselves from lives in which we are held captive to the death-dealing and life-sucking ways of this world, to help us break out of our own self-imposed prisons. 

Have you been delivered from evil? Have you been freed from oppression? Have you been liberated from captivity? I think back with gratitude over the times in my life that I know I was protected, watched over, cared for, when either my body or my soul was in grave danger. That is salvation. That is liberation. That is deliverance.

After liberation comes proclamation. When we have been set free, we are eager to share the story. Norris’s friend Jack told his own story not only to brag about coming so near the kind of situation from which he may have never gotten free, but also, of course, to give thanks for his salvation, to give thanks for his liberation. 

After the Israelites were freed from slavery, they wanted to tell the story, over and over again, of how God provided a way when there seemed to be no way. Indeed, they are still telling the same story today, thousands of years later, in the Festival of the Passover. 

After the resurrection, the disciples, still unsure about what exactly had happened, but with great joy as the realization began to dawn on them fully, offered their proclamation of the unbelievably good news of the resurrection. We want to proclaim the good news of our own liberation because it is good news, because we are relieved, because we are thankful, even and perhaps especially when we still don’t understand the fullest implications yet of what has truly happened.

As Norris says of Jack after he told her his story: “He felt good but uneasy, I think, unsure of what to do next.” I think of those apostles gathered in the upper room after Jesus’s ascension, waiting on the Holy Spirit to arrive. They, too, felt good, but uneasy, unsure of what to do next. 

What happens after salvation? What happens after deliverance from evil? What happens when we have been liberated from the worst kinds of enslavement to sin, to death, to the powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? 

What do you do when your life has been given back to you? What could possibly come next, except gratitude, and hope, and trust in the God of our salvation?

For after we have been saved, after we have recognized God’s gracious actions toward us in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, we are in the season of Epiphany: the manifestation of Christ’s gracious presence to the whole world. Like the Magi heading back to the East “a different way,” so they could avoid the wicked and jealous King Herod, once we have experienced Salvation, Rescue, and Deliverance, we can never be the same. We can never walk down the path that leads back to the Herods of the world.

For it is then that we proceed into the unknown, which is the life of faith. We are not only saved from this wicked world, from the powers of sin and death, we are saved for something as well. We have a job to do! We have a clear purpose, as our Collect says, to help the whole world perceive the glory of God’s marvelous works. We just don’t know exactly what that will look like as we travel on this pilgrim way to God.

The glory of our salvation is just in this balance of what is known and what is unknown. What is known is that God calls us, each one of us, in different ways, according to the gifts God has given us. 

As we read today in one of Paul’s most well-known metaphors, we are part of the body of Christ, and each part of that body is necessary for its flourishing.

What form will your proclamation of the Good News take? How will you show the glory of God’s marvelous works to the world around you, to your family, your friends, your colleagues? How will you show God’s glory in your life, your actions, your behaviors? How will you join Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of God’s Salvation to the poor, to the brokenhearted, to the captives, to the blind, to the oppressed?