To the Parishioners & Friends of Saint Bernard's:


Please enjoy the Sermon, from the last Sunday's service below...If you would like to comment upon the Sermon below, or would like to start a private dialogue with the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino, please hit "reply" to this email or contact her at [email protected].



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A sermon preached by the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino
on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2017,
at St. Bernard's Episcopal Church, Bernardsville, NJ 

Scripture: Psalm 27
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.
8 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.
9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.
11 You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12 Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13 You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned."
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
In 21 st century America, our lives are filled with fear or anxiety. Everyday intrusions are enough to cause anxiety for our health, our jobs, our futures. At times, fear can paralyze us. Or it can make us act out. Fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of diminishing resources. Fear of unfamiliar people, traditions, and values. Fear for ourselves and those we love. Anxiety and fear can keep us from speaking truth in love, including to ourselves. Fear can prevent all sides of a conflict from listening to each other, to God, and to our own hearts.
Fear is a powerful tool to divide us, those of us who make up this amazing country, we who are descended from all the peoples of the world, united together into one nation. Despites America's imperfections, opportunities for solidarity and the common good exist as long as we do not succumb to fear, hate, and injustice. Did you see the photos taken yesterday on famous bridges around the world? People held up signs spelling out "build bridges not walls." Marchers walking in solidarity with the half a million people who went to Washington, D.C., to be heard, with the millions of women, men, and children who marched in cities big and small throughout the U.S. in the largest one day protest we've ever had. Marching for human rights and women's rights all around the world.
Some people marched in places where women's lives are significantly more restricted than they are here, in America. In India, this protest was a part of an ongoing movement with signs proclaiming the message "I Will Go Out," in response to the risk of sexual harassment and assault faced by women and girls, day or night. "I will go out." Most Americans take our privilege of freedom of movement for granted, and yet we can't forget that there are people here in the U.S. for whom movement is still limited at times to safe spaces, people who are trans or undocumented or risk violence because of the color of their skin or religious clothing they wear.
The public nature of protest shines a light in the darkness. It offers a new way of seeing for those who are used to the status quo, whether the status quo benefits them or not. Protest is the act of gathering and proclaiming our rights and our fears in the public square, sometimes taking over a space from which a group is legally barred. Protest shines a light on injustices and policy concerns that are otherwise silenced in the public sphere or disempowered in places of political deliberation and power. Protest is at the heart of the Good News of Jesus - the Gospel of Christ. In sending Jesus, God is protesting his children's treatment by those in power. And through Jesus, God is protesting how we treat one another in community.
In our passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus embarks on his public ministry. Prior to this moment of public proclamation, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. In that moment of baptism, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove and Jesus hears a voice from heaven claim him with the words, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:16-17). And perhaps in spite of these words, Jesus is immediately led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by the evil one (Matt. 4:1-2). Jesus deflects these temptations by rooting himself in God (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). He emerges from the wilderness ready to take up public ministry when John the Baptist is thrown in prison by King Herod. Jesus takes up John's message: "Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near!" (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Or in other words, "Turn back to God, 'God's activity has been released in our midst!'"[1] Jesus knows all about the painful reality people live with - he's one of them. Raised in a peasant community in the backwater of Galilee, where poverty and malnutrition and affiliated diseases run rampant.
Matthew's references to Zebu lun and Naphtali lift up ancient place names of this Galilean region. They are used as signals - to identify a community that has suffered at the hands of countless invaders - Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and more.[2] In the midst of domination and loss, oppression, suffering, and fear, the people keep the faith. People hold texts like the first verse of Psalm 27 close, repeating the words in their hearts. They teach them to their children. These are words we claim today, for our own lives. For reassurance amid our own fears.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
When our path ahead is barricaded or no longer visible, we trust in God and remind ourselves of God's saving help. Through this psalm, we reaffirm our dependence on God and lift up the Lord's capacity to show us the way, to be with us in the midst of fear and destruction. Despite it all God is our light and our strength. God gives a hope no one can take away, a hope no power can destroy.
Galilee, formerly the lands of Zubulun and Naphtali, is a region full of people ready for change, looking to God for reinforcement, for hope, vision, and a guiding light. And onto this stage walks Jesus. Not as a talented healer, wise teacher, or the next in a long line of prophets calling people back to God. For us, Jesus is cannot be contained in usual categories. Consider this description of Jesus the Christ from Julian of Norwich. Julian, a famous 14th century anchoress, mystic, and theologian, her real name lost to history, writes:
Christ revealed our frailty and our falling,
our trespasses and our humiliations.
Christ also revealed his blessed power,
his blessed wisdom and love.
He protects us as tenderly and as sweetly when we are in greatest need;
he raises us in spirit
and turns everything to glory and joy without ending.[3]
Into a place overrun with oppressors for centuries, among a people looking for a new vision, comes the Beloved Child of God. Jesus, the embodiment of God's love for creation, God's love for all people. Jesus sees in Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John more than just a good metaphor when he says, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." He perceives companions for his journey, people with whom he can share and shout the Good News of God's reign, people who will spread the light of God to those who long for it. One commentator describes this holy moment in these words:
"Jesus disrupts these men's lives, calls them to a different loyalty and way of life, creates a new community, and gives them a new mission (fish for people)."[4]
The Gospel leaves out call stories for Jesus' women disciples, his female followers. The male writers and editors neglected to include these stories of invitation. But don't write them out of your vision, see the circles of women there too, learning and proclaiming, healing and teaching one another. Because it's the women who stay to the end after the male disciples run away (Matt. 26:56b). Women who keep watch at the time of despair, when Jesus is killed by the state, nailed to the cross (Matt. 27:55-56, 61). And women who are the first to learn of Jesus' resurrection at the empty tomb (Matt. 28:1-10). Women who bring the flickering light of hope back to the mournful gathering of male disciples, who fear God's cause has been extinguished once again. There's always more to the picture.
Together then, let us pray for our common life. Please pick up the Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 824 so that we may pray these words together. Top of the page, Prayer 28. Let us pray.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] - Sermon Brainwave Podcast # 521 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Posted Jan. 14, 2017.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Enriching Our Worship 1. New York: Church Publishing Inc., 1998. Canticle S: A Song of Our True Nature, p. 40.