You Too are a Theologian

Epiphany 3C- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers

One of the customs that has developed over the generations at St. Alban’s is giving our youth confirmands the opportunity to preach a sermon in Sunday worship. As someone who stands in the pulpit week after week do preach, and still gets nervous, I am always impressed by our young people’s courage. 

What’s more I’m also impressed with what their theological insights that come not from years of studying in seminary or an expertise in Biblical interpretation, but from their own lived and shared experiences. 

During our last confirmation preparation, I remember telling our students, “We all practice and have a theology. It’s not something that is left up to the pros.” 

You too are a theologian.

Don’t believe me? 

“Why is it important for you to be gathered here this morning to offer prayer and worship?”

If you gave any sort of answer, you are expressing a theology. Specifically you are expressing a theology of worship. 

Even if you couldn’t figure out anything to say about your rationale for being here and opted instead for 

“Well, what else would I be doing on Sunday morning?”  You’re still practicing a theology. Formally you’d fall under what scholarly theologians call the “apophatic tradition” or “knowledge of the Divine that is approached through negation.” 

Regardless of age, education, years in the church, years outside the church, etc. when we use the scriptures, our traditions, our experiences, and yes even the brain that God gives we become theologians with something to share about God through our words and deeds.

So, Whether it is from the pulpit, the Sunday school classroom, between friends in casual conversation or in your journal while lounging in a cozy recliner with a cup of coffee, You practice theology. 

This practice grows and deepens as our knowledge and experience increase too, but sometimes it’s helpful to go back to our roots. I wonder if Jesus’ experience in the synagogue was similar to that of our own confirmands experience preaching.

Jesus was a bit older, but the concept is similar.

The gospel story today is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after his baptism, after his temptation in the wilderness. It begins in his hometown, more than likely his “home synagogue.”

It’s Sabbath and he is invited to read a passage of scripture. Instead of being handed a convenient service leaflet with the words of the liturgy and readings printed inside. He’s handed a huge scroll by the presider.

He unrolls the immense document and begins searching for what he will read. 

Upon finding it he clears his throat and proclaims.

It’s from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He finished the reading, hands the scroll back and then takes his seat. (Teachers and preachers sat for discussion of texts)

No it’s his turn to teach, to share his theology.

By this time, word about Jesus had begun to spread and his Nazareth friends and neighbors looked on. Having grown up in this town, I imagine his former “Sabbath school teachers” or those who taught him to recite what he learned from them many years ago. 

“Make us proud! We must have raised him right if he grew to be such a famous rabbi!” they thought. 

He doesn’t’ do this.  What he said was shocking.

“Today these scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing!”

Essentially what he said is. “Isaiah is talking about what I’m going to do. He was talking about me.”

The learning he did as a child, the years Mary and Joseph taught him, the mentorship of friends and neighbors, the baptism that happened prior, the temptation, the discernment and gathering of disciples. It doesn’t’ come down to using impressive flowerly language or the publication of a book, lofty ideals. 

All of the lessons, knowledge, and study reduce down to

“Bringing good news, releasing the captive, bringing sight, proclaiming the nearness of God…THIS  is my job!”

Luke goes on to tell us that initially everyone was impressed with his teachings. They were raving about what he said until he began discussing the implications of this teaching. 

“We want to see this happen here! Show us what you did elsewhere.” 

Jesus goes on to say that this good news is for the people not already on the “in” but the outsiders. 

“No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Jesus lived the words he read from Isaiah. In fact every act of healing, saving and releasing he did aligned. In fact it led him to the cross.  

This poses a challenge to us as well.

It’s great to express a theology, a mission statement or position about God. But alone that is not enough.

No matter the tenant we create, no matter our position on different aspects of our faith or belief, theology is to be lived because we serve a living God.

We must embody our beliefs through our actions. 

Of course we do that in large ways. Many of us choose to align ourselves with denominations that refine larger beliefs into nuanced expressions of the one faith.

Our Episcopalian identify makes us unique in comparison to our Methoidst, Catholic, Lutheran or Presbyterian brothers and sisters.

What might it look like to “zoom out” for a moment and look at this from a larger whole body of Christ perspective. 

What might you say through your words and actions about the very words Jesus shared in his “sermon.”

Paul tells us in his Epistle: Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. You continue was Jesus preached in the synagogue in Nazareth.

This changes the way we hear and respond to scripture. In fact, it makes you a preacher also.

—-

I invite you to listen to the words of our Lord once again. 

This time use your own experiences, your knowledge, the traditions you practice and hear how God might be speaking to you.

What single word speaks to you? We will share this with with one another.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Share your word.

Invite the congregation to share their word.

Now listen again. As the Body of Christ, hear your “chosen word” in a new way.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon YOU, because he has anointed YOU to bring good news to the poor. He has sent YOU to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Preach it. 

Amen