Harrowing Of Hell
January 15, 2023

God is Calling Us to Mission

The Rev. Joseph Constant

Good Morning! It’s good to be with you today. Thank you for having me. It is truly a blessing to be with Epiphany Parish on this Second Sunday after the Epiphany as we recognize the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we also celebrate our shared ministry in Haiti through the Haiti Micah Project.

I want to offer my heartfelt gratitude to the Rev. Doyt Conn for giving me this opportunity to preach this morning.  Doyt, you have been a true friend to me, and I am grateful to God for our friendship. You have been steadfast in your support of me.  I am grateful to Doyt, Holly Booth, and the outreach committee for their steadfast support of the Haiti Micah Project.  On behalf of the Haiti Micah Board and the people of Haiti, I want to thank the entire Epiphany Parish community for partnering with us in our effort to give life to God’s children in Haiti.

I bring greetings from members of my church, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville, MD. We are delighted to have Elizabeth Walker, a member of Epiphany Parish as our seminarian. Elizabeth is a gift to the church and I am glad that St. John’s can play as a small role in her spiritual formation. We feel blessed for the opportunity to walk the journey with Elizabeth, Dave, Matthew, Rosalie, and Andrew.

Let us pray: In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

In today’s gospel passage, we find John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus. In Jesus, God is doing something new. John, the gospel writer, invites us to realize that in Jesus, God is building a new creation, the Son of God coming into the world.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel, we see the first days of Jesus’ public life laid out over 7 days similarly to the first creation story in the book of Genesis. Like an overture to a great opera, John’s gospel reveals Jesus as the Messiah.

In verses, 19-28, John tells us about the first day of this new creation when he meets the group of religious leaders sent from Jerusalem. These religious leaders ask if John the Baptist is the Messiah. John says that he is simply a voice announcing the one who is to come. In fact, in verse 26, John says, the one who is to come is already among them. John came “to baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” While John baptizes with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy spirit.  The Messiah is present, but unknown and unseen.   Keep that beautiful image, if you will, of an unseen Messiah as relevant to our everyday lives.

On the second day, John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the hidden Christ proclaiming, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29).  With the “Lamb of God” the gospel writing is connecting us with the mission of the suffering servant in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   In Isaiah 53, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a suffering servant being led like a lamb to the slaughter for the guilt and sins of many. This foretells Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

On the third day, John sees Jesus coming and proclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” At this, two of John’s disciples are moved by these words and leave to follow Jesus.

As one of the commentators puts it, this phrase, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” sets in motion a new journey in the footsteps of Jesus. The Gospel now transitions us from John the Baptist to Jesus and thereafter Jesus is the center of our Gospel story.   In Luke 4:18, Jesus reveals his mission and the mission of the church, then and now, when he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” This is how Jesus understood his mission. As the Lamb of God, Jesus’ mission will include dying on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Like that image I referred to earlier of the unseen Messiah, Jesus is ever present prodding us to follow his mission in our community, in our nation, and in the world.  Today, I have been called to testify as to how God is calling us in mission through the ministry of the Haiti Micah Project. Our ministry in Haiti is about bringing love, justice, and healing to God’s children living in extreme poverty.

In the book of the prophet Micah, chapter 6 verse 8, Micah begs the question, “He has told you, O Mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Reflect for a moment on the ramifications of that incredible admonition.  Let us ask, what is “justice” when applied to Haiti?  Its implications are much broader than a legal concept.  For example, is it justice for an average American baby to have a life expectancy to their 70s, when Haitian babies face the highest mortality rate in the western hemisphere?  I’m not trying to instill guilt at our American affluence, but rather for us to see our affluence as a gift and an opportunity to promote justice and kindness, actions for which Epiphany Parish has been exemplary.  Thanks be to God!

HMP’s mission is to intervene in the lives of children and young people who do not have access to a hot plate of food, education, medical care and a place to live.  Our mission is to give life to children and young people living in extreme poverty.  Extreme poverty means someone can die today because they don’t have access to the basic necessities of life, food, clean drinking water, a decent home and access to health care. How do we intervene?

Our feeding program provides daily nutrition to hundreds.  Our education program provides the means for children to go to school in a country where there is no free public education and where an education is the only path out of poverty.  Our orphanage provides a loving and safe environment for over twenty orphaned and at-risk children.  We operate a water facility that serves our programs and the neighborhood with safe drinking water.  Our work wouldn’t be possible without the 25 men and women we employ in Mirebalais who carry out the work of HMP on a daily basis — preparing food, caring for the children, training and teaching our teens and young adults life skills. Together, we are saving lives.

Over our 16 year history, we have saved countless lives and seen many children grow into purposeful adulthood.  Unfortunately,  the work has only gotten harder because of the earthquakes, the natural disasters, the cholera outbreak, the Coronavirus pandemic, political instability, and gang violence.   And yet, every challenge that has been presented to us, we have found a way through. By the grace of God, we are doing it. Through generous people like you, we continue to tend to the needs of the children and young people we serve. When we say God provides, it means God provides through your acts of generosity, even in the most challenging of times.  This is the work of us carrying out Jesus’ mission in the world. 

Today we remember the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was called at a very young age to follow Jesus and to offer his life in service to God. His journey in the footsteps of Jesus culminated into a movement that would define America.   He carried out Jesus’ mission, and in his humanity, he laid down a path that represented sacrifice, love and faithfulness. 

Dr. King led a movement at a time when our society needed to listen to the prophetic word of God.   And his movement was not just about civil rights but human rights.  He said, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. He said, “I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.” 

My sisters and brothers, we can build up the Kingdom of God.  As children of the Kingdom of God, we have the light of Epiphany shining in our hearts as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. John the Baptist keeps pointing us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Lamb of God. He came to be a sacrifice.

The truth is, for the mission of the church today to give life, it requires sacrifice. The challenges facing Haiti and the nations of the world can feel overwhelming at times. Yet, God is in the center of our hearts offering us an opportunity to both serve God and lift up the children of God in this work.

God continues to invite us to partner, to work together with God in the work of creation.  Every day we can create a creation story.  Every day the Lamb of God is here living amongst us.  And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”  What is the servant’s reward? To be with God. To be with God. After all said and done, can you think of a better reward for your life, for my life, and for the life of every human being. Amen!