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-Preparing for our proclamation-
Date: January 22, 2017 (Epiphany 3) 1. Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; Ps. 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23. 2. Subject: proclamation of the gospel. 3. Topic: proclamation to individuals. 4. Aim: guide, encourage. 5. Proposition: “Jesus prepared for the confrontation with the world and then pushed resolutely forward—not to challenge institutions, but to touch the lives of people.”

NOW IS THE TIME

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.”1 That’s what Jesus did, at least according to Matthew. When threatened, Jesus withdrew. “When Jesus became aware of [the Pharisees’ conspiracy to destroy him], he departed…and he ordered [the crowds] not to make him known.”2 “Now when Jesus heard [about the execution of John], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”3 When threatened, Jesus drew back. He isolated himself.

But not to protect himself: he did it to prepare himself, because after each withdrawal there came a new gospel front. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
“Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them…This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen…”
“When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”4 Threat occasioned a time of preparation for the next phase of proclamation.

Jesus took some time for himself to prepare for that proclamation, but it was not a time for him to write sermons, organize the disciples or create new parish groups. His proclamation was not about the life of the Church, but about the lives of people. His preparation was all about finding the emotional and spiritual
1 Matthew 4:12. 2 Matthew 12:15a, 16. 3 Matthew 14:13a. 4 Matthew 4:17, 12:15b, 17-18a, 14:14.
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-Preparing for our proclamation-
strength to confront evil, sin and illness in the lives of everyday people. It was not about the Church as institution, but about individuals experiencing the presence and power of God in daily living for which he had to be ready.

I want to insist that the Church today is under its form of pressure and stress. We see it in the public pressure being applied to the Church in media and entertainment. We experience it in the divisions and disunity amongst Christians and particularly right now amongst Anglican Christians. We even find the pressure inside the Church, when congregations try to act like society in saying, “We don’t believe in organized religion either,” or when they adopt secular practices in an attempt to attract new members. The Church is under stress and pressure.

So, like Jesus, we disciples need to prepare ourselves emotionally and spiritually for our next phase of proclamation.

We know that Jesus prepared through prayer and that was frequently private prayer or prayer with his closest disciples. We even know the content of some of that prayer: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”… “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”5 Jesus prepared by communicating with the Father, opening his soul as completely as possible to the Father and surrendering his will to God’s.

Our current circumstances, then, are God’s call to a deeper and more genuine life of prayer. Rip away those pretences of goodness and holiness to allow your soul to communicate more honestly and authentically with the Spirit of God. Invite God in—even into those darker places, the places you keep hidden from others and especially from other disciples. Prayer is honest communication with God: it is a brutal honesty from both sides, as God reveals his love for you and you share your need for him.

5 Matthew 26:38, 39b.
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-Preparing for our proclamation-
I recommend that every parish host weekly prayer sessions, in which disciples will learn about and experience prayer as genuine and open conversation. Learning from the example of Jesus, disciples will see and learn how to surrender themselves to the will of God. Our disciples will practice speaking the truth to God in love and will experience what it means to be supported by the Spirit. The pressures and stresses under which the Church is now suffering demand that we give up the luxury of not praying aloud with others. Our circumstances and our Lord demand that we pray meaningfully and authentically so that we might be better prepared for our proclamation.

There is no indication that Jesus delayed his proclamation in order to “finish” his preparation. Each time, the proclamation follows immediately upon his withdrawal. The needs of the world chase him, following him in his retreat and he responds immediately by responding to the needs of the world. We don’t enjoy the luxury of waiting until we are ready. We understand the threat and pressure of our society, so we prepare through honest and genuine prayer. But at the same time we respond to the needs of our world. We pray and work. We pray and proclaim.

As it was with the content of our prayer, we are also given clues as to the content of our proclamation: it is about experiencing the restorative life of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

You see, society thinks that the Church is all about maintaining its own power and position. Society thinks that the Church is only a human institution— which is the basis for all those comments about not believing in organized religion. But the Church is actually God’s chosen channel through which his abundant life is to be showered out upon all people. Our experience of the life for which he created us is supposed to reflect that very creation. As God was creative and generous in creation, so he intends us to experience life as creative and generous. Our proclamation is aimed at the experience of the restorative and abundant life of God.

At this point, it might be just as honest and effective to say, “The archdeacon recommends…”
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-Preparing for our proclamation-
Our lives and words reflect and proclaim this gospel—for which we have prepared ourselves through our lives of genuine prayer. Our words and actions share the gospel of Christ. We make decisions based on the proclamation of Christ. Do you see how this works? We learn to pray openly and honestly and so find ourselves ready to live and speak according to the gospel so that others may experience the restorative and abundant life of God.

Of course, both they and we will know that we have experienced the restorative and abundant life of God when we are empowered to cope with the stresses and pressures of this life. Remember, God is not so much concerned with what happens to us as he is with what we do with what happens to us. Our circumstances serve his plan and will for the universe. Our circumstances become the opening for his Spirit and new life. We respond to the pressures applied against the Church with prayer that enables us to publicly proclaim Christ’s gospel of new life which is then shared with others. This is God’s intent for his Church and when this happens, we discover proof of God’s abundant life.

It seems, then, that God can use our current circumstances to restore and renew the Church. After all, our God is a redemptive God, whose plan is to restore all of creation according to his original goals for it. God takes that which is bad—like the crucifixion, for example—and turns it into something life-giving and transformative. It is God’s mission to take the circumstances of the world and turn them into opportunities for renewal, restoration and resurrection— which he does through us, his disciples. The Church may be under pressure, but we can choose to allow God to redeem it through our prayer and proclamation. This is good—and this is necessary.

AMEN.