27 January 2013

Setting out the agenda

Inaugural address … President Barack Obama speaking after his inauguration in Washington last Monday

Patrick Comerford

27 January 2013,

the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin

9 a.m.,
The Eucharist .

Readings: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19: 7-15; I Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21 [22-30].

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know that it is not the custom to have a sermon here at this celebration of the Eucharist, but I thought I’d share some of the ideas I’m drawing on for my sermon later this morning at the Solemn Eucharist at 11 a.m.

This morning’s Gospel reading tells the story of Christ standing up to read from the scrolls in the synagogue in Nazareth. These words spoken by Jesus are his first adult words, his first words in ministry, as recorded in Saint Luke’s Gospel, and the Biblical passage he reads is almost like an agenda for the rest of his ministry.

Some of us here may have watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration last Monday or watched the news report. His inaugural address set out his priorities, his agenda for the next four years of his presidency, even if Congress refuses to co-operate and refuse to vote along with him.

With all the hype about the movie Lincoln and its premiere in Dublin this week, it is worth recalling that Abraham Lincoln also used his second inaugural address to do something no President had ever done before – to speak in critical terms of the nation. He did so in order to name the evil of slavery, the toll it had exacted in human flesh and warfare, and to address the need to stay the course and bring an end to both the war and the cause of that war.

One commentator in the past week has described this morning’s Gospel reading as inaugural address. Here he sets out his priorities, his hopes, his expectations, even if people of faith are reluctant at times to co-operate and give him their votes.

He tells us this morning what is at the heart of everything he does and everything he asks us to do:

● to bring good news to the poor
● to proclaim release to the captives
● to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
● to let the oppressed go free
● to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

It is Good News, but it is a risky Gospel to proclaim. Those in need of that good news are not there to hear him, the captives are not free to rejoice at what he says, the blind are not present to see him, the oppressed are not there to hear him.

But those who are there and hear the year of the Lord’s favour proclaimed that Saturday morning are filled with rage.

Who are those who are poor today because of our lifestyles or because I ignore, because the nation ignores them? Why are they poor? Who am I blind to? Who continues to be oppressed by my demands, my expectations? Who is left hopeless because I continue to pursue my hopes? Who is disempowered because I remain powerful?

Christ challenges us this morning to be open to a new understanding of what the Kingdom of God is about, and to identify with those for whom the proclamation of the Kingdom is good news.

And these are some of the ideas I hope to explore later this morning.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty Father,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped,
and obeyed to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. This sermon was preached at the early morning Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dublin, on Sunday 27 January 2013.

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