January 27, 2008

Sermon: Third Sunday of Epiphany

Third Sunday of Epiphany, Year A

St. David’s Episcopal Church

May God be in our hearts and in our minds, and may God’s words flow through each of our lips at all times. AMEN

This is the Bible I purchased just before I started seminary. It’s the Access Bible, and it’s all marked up with notes, insights, and thoughts. Important things about God’s people that I don’t want to forget. I show you my Bible because I really like our Scriptures. I guess that is a good thing for a seminarian to say, but I’ve always loved what’s in the Bible. Maybe it is the mystery of it all, wondering what it was really like at the time these things were written. Maybe it’s the majesty that this is not only the Word of God, but also the story of God’s people dating back to the very beginning. OK, so maybe it’s both. There is just something about the Bible that I really love.

The Bible wasn’t written to be a novel or an historical account. We aren’t privy to very much of the emotion or back ground of those who are writing or those who are written about. The Bible doesn’t tell us any information we don’t need to know. For example, we know Jesus got angry and turned over the tables and cause quite a scene in the Temple, but we don’t know what happened leading up to his entry into the Temple. My friend and mentor Jack Sharpe used to ask if Jesus just woken up on the wrong side of the palate that morning. And look at the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. We know that Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why Jonah didn’t like that city. All we know is that God said go this way, and Noah went that way. Did he have an ex-girlfriend in Nineveh? Not a fan of their football team? The Bible doesn’t give us any insight in that direction because it is not a novel or a history book. It is the story of the people of God.

Scriptures, especially the narrative parts, are intended to be read as an account of the God’ people. I was reminded of this on Friday night during the festival Eucharist at Diocesan Convention, when out-going Convention secretary Wesley Baldwin read the passage from the Book of Acts about the apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. (Friday was the day we commemorate that occasion, by the way.) But the fervor and gusto with which Wes read that account… I began to think that it was Wes’s own story of conversion. I had to snap back to reality to remember that he was reading from the Book of Acts.

But that got me thinking of this story in today’s Gospel about Jesus calling Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and the Zebedee boys (John & James) to be Jesus’ first disciples. Here are these guys just minding their own business, mending their nets after a night of fishing, some of them still trying to catch fish, and this Jesus guy says, “Come follow me.”

And they did.

Now, Jesus wasn’t a stranger to these guys. The first part of our Gospel passage today says that Jesus had made his home in Capernaum, right on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t that big of a town, and Jesus was making a name for himself as an itinerant preacher, so in all likelihood, they’d met before this day. But now Jesus has invited them to leave behind their fishing nets and he’s going to teach them to “fish” for something else. I’ve often wondered if the fishing that bad or the call of Jesus that persuasive?

I talked last week in Children’s Chapel about listening for the call of God. We talked about all the people in the Bible who’d been called by God to do various things. Noah—just sitting in his carpentry shop when he got called to build a floating zoo because God was going to flood out the earth. And look at David—before he was a king (and up in our stained glass), he was the lesser of the brothers in his family and was sent to tend the sheep, and look at all God led him to. The Bible, I told the young ‘ens, is full of people who did great things for God who weren’t necessarily making headlines before then. And God calls each of us to do the things big and small to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people may be called to do spiritual things equivalent to building a sky-scraper. Others may be called to do what seem like “odd jobs” around the house. Nonetheless, each call is important. And I have no doubt, I said to them, that God will call each and every one of you to something really important.

The beauty of Children’s Chapel is that they aren’t afraid to raise their hands and ask questions in the middle of your talk. I say that it’s a beauty, but it can also be kinda scary. So sure enough, a hand went up while I was talking, and I did something I don’t normally do. Instead of honoring the voice of that young person and letting them ask their question, I said, “Wait! Let me guess why your hand is up. You’re going to ask, ‘But how do I know when God is calling me?’ right?” This young person nodded and said, “Exactly, how did you know?” And I said, “Ain’t my first rodeo, kid, or my first talk like this.”

For each Child of God who has ears to hear and a heart to listen, God can use a different way to send a message. It may be the still, small voice that Elijah heard or a thunderous visit like Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. It might be the blinding light that Paul saw on the road to Damascus, or it might be the tugging of your heart to work for peace and prosperity. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Nouwen: Your vocation (or call) is where your heart’s deepest desire meets the world’s greatest needs.

But what I said to those little darlins’ last week is what I will say to you this week:

God. Will. Call. You.

God may not call you to wear a collar or celebrate the sacraments. God may not be calling you to work in the slums of Calcutta or to start a non-profit for inner-city kids in DC. But God is calling you to something. Maybe it is something God is calling you to do this week, or this month, or this year. Maybe it is for the rest of your life.

Being called by God is scary. God will often, mercifully, call us to uncomfortable places, to make tough choices. Many times, answering God’s call means dealing gently with other people’s spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

What did Jesus call Andrew, Simon, James & John to do? His first call was simple: “Follow me.” Hearing & following that first call can be difficult. I wish I could say that, like jogging or knitting, it gets easier with time and practice, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t. Following Christ’s call can be difficult no matter where we are in our lives or in our walk with Him. But Christ promises never to leave us when we choose to follow Him. God has made the first step in calling each of us to do something, something very special.

It is up to us to listen, to respond, and to be like Samuel who said, “Here am I, Lord.”