Joy In Work (And Work In Joy): Third Sunday After Epiphany

Joy In Work (And Work In Joy): Third Sunday After Epiphany January 26, 2019
Image via Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons

We’re in the “season after Epiphany,” an in-between moment of Ordinary Time after the feast of Epiphany and before Lent. It’s Ordinary Time –  but maybe with a tad more celebration.

In this celebratory Ordinary Time blip, Jesus publicly announces in the synagogue that he’s the Messiah, and what his vocation means to the world.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“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.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:14-21
In the lectionary, Paul is talking about how we are one body, many parts. He reminds us that when each person is faithful to how they were made, the whole world gets healed – even if our role feels small, or silly, or not as glamorous.

There are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor.

1 Corinthians 12:20-25

And it is also the week that we have one of the most awkward and beautiful Psalms, a mess of ancient Canaanite nature hymn and an Israelite love letter to the Law.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; 
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork!
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy!

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; 
the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
From Psalm 19

This week, the lectionary brings us to the center of vocation, joy, and our gifts.

Jesus declares his vocation, Paul defines what vocation is, and the Psalmist sings us into joy. 

Pay attention to your anger and to your joy. Your particular calling is likely at that invitational intersection. – Sarah Bessey

I used to read this Gospel passage and feel pressure to do more, and work harder, for justice. And certainly Christ’s ministry is an invitation to join him in healing the world. Evangelical Christianity has focused on individual salvation and ignored Christ’s message of ending suffering, systemic sin, and oppression – but Christ didn’t just come to save us from hell and improve our quiet times. Christ is here to fight for justice, and to invite us to join him.

But that doesn’t mean that the way that we work for justice is going to look exactly like Christ’s work. Goodness, it can’t.  We join Christ, but we aren’t Christ. Our ministry is rooted in justice, but the work looks so different for everyone.

This is why Paul’s words about our gifts, and this joyful psalm, matter so much.

It can be tempting to make a list of what “needs to be done” in the world, and then dive in, without considering our gifts and ignoring our joy. It can be tempting to dive into the parts of the world that look the most “broken” and work joylessly to “fix” them.

We use up a lot of energy trying to make our ministry look like what we think ministry “ought” to look like. 

But our joy not only points us to our gifts, our joy sustains our work. Joy is practical. They say that 10,000 hours of practice makes us experts – with a lot of time, and sustained focus, we can master quite a bit. All we need to do is stick to it.

“Sticking to it,” though, is a lot harder than it looks. It’s hard to stick with anything long enough to become an expert unless it gives us joy. Vocation is like a life partner – at some point, the going is going to get rough, and if you weren’t in love at the beginning, it’s going to be a helluva lot harder to stick with it.

Ministry sustained by fear or obligation is a short-term job. Ministry sustained by joy is a lifelong vocation.

Trust that God made you right, Beloved! Your joy isn’t an accident – God created it and put it into your soul to point you towards home. Trust that She didn’t make a mistake. Trust that She created your giftedness not just for you but for you to pour out into the world. Trust that your giftedness is an integral part of the Body of Christ – that it isn’t too small, isn’t too foolish, isn’t too selfish, but is exactly what God needed for the world at this exact point in time and space.

Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. – Frederick Buechner

Paul gets a bad rap for being harsh, but I don’t know of a more freeing passage, especially when we hold it with this week’s psalm. The Psalmist takes joy in the whole colorful, miraculous world of God, and then is drawn deeper into joy and into the Law of God, sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.

But the Psalmist doesn’t start with what she “should” love. She starts with her own joy.

Just like Paul, who doesn’t start with what “needs to be done,” but with what we are gifted to do.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

We start with our joy, and God will show us where the work is.

We start with our joy, and God will show us where holiness is inside it.

We start with our joy, and God will show us our ministry.

We don’t have to do it all. There’s a huge, worldwide Body of Christ that is all working together. Because of this Body, we’re free to be faithful to our small joy and our small gifts without worrying about the whole world. The world is certainly burning, but it’s been burning for a long time, and the fire is too big for any one of us to put out alone. We need each other. We each other’s gifts. We need each other’s sustaining joy, if we’re going to partner with Christ in his healing work that is good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

As you show up to your joy, your work will come to you.

Don’t be scared that Joy is selfish. She has gifts for the whole world in her pockets.

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