The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Luke 4:21-30

May my words be your Word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Church growth language changes frequently, often even from year to year. A few years ago, the talk was all about moving from maintenance to mission. You’d hear that particular phrase for just about everything. We need more money in the budget to move from maintenance to mission. We need more people so we can move from maintenance to mission. We need a dynamic priest who can help us move from maintenance to mission.

What I’ve discovered in the parishes I’ve served is this: That business about moving from maintenance to mission doesn’t matter. All it really does is give us a catchy title. What does matter is learning how Jesus offers blessing every moment and listening and looking so we can live into His blessings.

Blessing usually means change though, and a lot of us say we don’t like change. Just the idea of change gives most of us the willies. What I have discovered, is while a lot of people say they don’t like change, they do like being blessed.

Think for a moment about a blessing you’ve experienced recently. (Pause) Did the blessing involve change of any kind? (Pause) Was it unexpected? (Pause) Maybe you went into it thinking, Uh oh,” and came out of it thinking “Wow!” (Pause) Something changed and you were blessed!

We seldom think about the pleasant and life-giving changes that have occurred for us. And we hardly ever think about what life would be like if nothing ever changed.

What we do want is to be blessed. We are hungry for blessing. And guess what? In places where people know they are blessed, those places are growing because people want to be part of that blessing. That scary word “growth,” thinly disguised as “moving from maintenance to mission,” becomes something that is natural and sustainable, and fun.

People in churches that focus on blessing others and one another recognize what to do to share their faith, and to connect with others so others experience blessing. Whether a church starts out with twenty-two people on Sunday morning, or two hundred twenty-two, blessing others means growth happens because people are blessed to be there.

Today’s gospel speaks to being blessed and helps us understand why being blessed can challenge us. A blessing can challenge us by asking us to let go of our preconceived notions about what a blessing looks like or sounds like or feels like. A blessing can challenge us to let God show us God’s way of blessing instead of our own notions of blessing.

The last line of last Sunday’s Gospel is the opening line of this week’s story. Jesus announced that the scripture he read had been fulfilled. And it was obvious Jesus meant he was the fulfillment of that scripture. Jesus called people to change how they thought of the Messiah. And, Jesus called people to enter a deeper and closer relationship with God in the form of himself, Jesus the Christ. He invited people to be blessed.

If we continue to expect only what we have, we make God’s blessings hostage to our own desires. We make God hostage by settling for security rather than gaining the blessings of the future.

We so often expect things to happen in a certain way. Most of us want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity. And this too makes God hostage to our desires. I think it helps to maintain a sense of humor about our conversations with God. It helps us be willing to say, “Please God, you advise me. And when I try to advise you, please tell me, hush up!”

Come Lord Jesus, our vibrant and living Word, and bless us now and always. AMEN.

The Very Rev Nicolette Papanek

1. With thanks for ideas from Bratcher, Dennis. The Christian Resource Institute. Accessed 27 January 2007.

2. “Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”–Adrian Rogers (September 12, 1931 – November 15, 2005, president of the Southern Baptist Convention for three terms.