Sunday, January 15, 2017

Year A 2nd Epiphany 2017 "Called Into Fellowship"

Year A 2nd Week of Epiphany 15 January 2016
“Called Into The Fellowship”
St. Francis’ Episcopal, Manakin-Sabot, VA

[Please note, all scriptures mentioned are included at the end of the blog post.]

Good morning. It is good to be with you again. This morning we sit in a Christian church, that just happens to be in the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement,” to quote our Presiding Bishop of the national Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. While we are part of a big tree, I want to focus on our branch for a little bit just to make a point.

I have heard it from the Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, and I have always appreciated it. “There are a lot of right ways to be Episcopalian.” I believe that. It is one of the main reasons I chose to become Episcopalian. We have a broad tent of belief, meeting in a common form of prayer and worship. We even have a phrase, Praying Shapes Believing. I believe that to be true, too. What is so grand is however we come in, we have a place. The comedian and actor Robin Williams had a famous list of the the Top 10 Reasons to be Episcopalian. He was an Episcopalian and proud of our diversity. I probably should say his list was infamous instead of famous, according to one’s perspective.

Two really make the point of being a broad tent of many perspectives. Number 7: You Don’t Have To Check Your Brains At The Door. I came from a place that was too often that way, and was becoming increasingly more and more that way as I left. I always clung to the fact that Christ called us to love God with all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength. What a gift to think that we can do exactly that, THINK.

The last one on Robin Willliams’ list, was even more on point. Number 1: No Matter What You Believe, There Is Bound To Be At Least One Other Episcopalian That Agrees With You.

[For my readers: if you have not seen the whole list, here it is. Robin Williams’ Top Ten Reasons To Be Episcopalian.
10. No snake-handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt.
2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.
1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.]

So no matter what you believe, or where you have landed mentally, you have a place. Welcome! No matter how you found yourself here this morning, you got here. We have been called together at this place and time. God can and does call us in a lot of ways. Think of how you got here this morning. Father John sent me a message in Facebook Messenger.  I messaged him back. Yes, God can even work through Facebook. Maybe you drove by one day, and a little voice said, you should check that place out. And through the unknown-source nudge, you followed the idea and started coming. Maybe you got dragged here by your parents, maybe even before you could think about it, and now it is home. Maybe this is your first Sunday, and were looking for a church home. Statistics say that most people try a new church because someone they know invites them. Simple, but a surprise to many. It cannot get more simple than that. “Hi, [insert friend’s name here] want to join me Sunday at St. Francis’?” No matter how you got here this week, we all got a metaphorical call to be here.

It is the same with God. There are a lot of ways to get to God. I believe God calls all of us. Really. Especially those that reject, deny, or fight God. God loves them, too, and wants to be in relationship with them.

The great thing about the call of God, now I am talking about the general call of God into relationship, is that it comes to us both a) where we are, and b) who we are.

I once met a woman who was telling me about a troubling situation. She honestly sought God’s will, and was praying about it while she was washing the dishes. It was her thinking space every day. While she was praying, the sun was setting, and in the sky were two jet contrails. As she was watching, the two crossed, and formed the shape of the cross. She told me how that was the answer to her prayer. She knew then what she had to do. My first thought was that she was joking. She wasn’t. She was dead serious. I will admit there was judgment that day on my part. I kept a pastoral poker face, but inside I was thinking, “Wow, really? That’s how you hear God?”

That was many years ago. Since then I have thought back to that story. Maybe God was speaking to her through the jet contrails. Now do not start judging me. Let me finish. Maybe God was speaking to her through jet contrails because that is what she would have heard. God does not speak to me in jet contrails because I do not hear in jet contrails. God speaks to me in other ways, ways that I will hear.

When I was teaching school, and I knew that I was going to be having a hard conversation or bringing up a new and difficult concept, I tried to always think of at least three ways to teach the same thing. Why? Because we all learn differently. When I teach it one way, I miss some. Another way, some of the first group may have missed it. Even this morning, my big idea is about God speaks to all of us where we are and in who we are. I am going to tell stories, anecdotes and examples in multiple ways to try and convince, show, cajole you that my idea and premise is a good one. Maybe I won’t convince you beyond doubt, but maybe I can convince you to think about it. And all of my examples will help build that up, if I am able.

So far, I looked at being Episcopalian and what got us here today. I transitioned to establish my premise that God calls all of us, and told you the jet contrail story, and then the example of being a teacher, and that is what I am still in showing you a secondary way to see my point, until I transition, and I am transitioning… NOW.

Let’s look at the biblical text, and see how God called some of those mentioned today.

In Isaiah, the prophet was like one of those cradle Episcopalians, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.” Some are called through family, being a part of God’s Family from their earliest days. The never were lost and then found, they were raised in the faith and are fully marinated in it. Isaiah was that way.
Paul and Sosthenes, at the opening section to First Corinthians that we read, were very different, both of them. Paul, while he was still Saul, met a blinding light on the road to Damascus. He was steeped in the Jewish faith, and had come to persecute the church. When he heard the voice of Christ he started everything over. Talk about a sign from God! Sosthenes, we have no clue. Paul mentions him in the opening of First Corinthians only as “our brother Sosthenes.” The only other Sosthenes mentioned in the Bible was also from Corinth. He was the leader of Corinth’s synagogue, and brought charges against Paul because of Paul’s preaching the Good News. Could it be that between events told in the story told in Acts and the writing of First Corinthians that this same one who is “Sosthenes our brother,” started out as an enemy of the Church? God speaks in mysterious ways. Paul was an enemy of the Church before he became one of its greatest leaders, and maybe Sosthenes was a converted enemy, too. That would be cool, wouldn’t it.  

In our Gospel, John was already called by God to be a prophet, but he tells us in the Gospel of John of his vision of the dove coming down and declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. And then he refers two of his disciples to this Jesus. A mere mention from a trusted leader became an invitation to relationship. And then one of those followers, Andrew, invites his brother Simon, who we know as Peter. So many ways to come to God. As unique and wonderful as there are people.

In closing today, I want to focus on what Jesus said when Andrew and his friend asked Jesus where he was staying. He asks Jesus where he is staying. He was making small talk, feeling out Jesus after his master John had declared Jesus the Messiah. Was Andrew inviting Jesus to his house? Maybe. But Jesus’ response shows that Jesus was inviting him into his fold. “Come and see,” Jesus says. Come and see.

There is no rush in Jesus’ approach. He is straightforward and direct, without being overbearing. He invited, instead of demanded. He opened the door, and let Andrew decide if he was going to go through. The constant steady drip is the one that erodes the stone. Even the hardest of hearts can be touched. Andrew did follow Jesus, and he ran at the end of the day to bring in his brother Simon the good news.

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Notice how Jesus’ style changes? With Andrew he is subtle, easy. Simon is not that way. He was a very different man from his brother. “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas.” Now we translate Cephas in the Aramaic as Rock. Peter is our version of Petros, the Greek for, you guessed it, Rock.

Jesus is direct. Read the Gospels. That is the type of guy Simon is. Act first, think later. That’s Peter. So Jesus treats him in the way that he will hear.

This year, Father John was telling me, you are looking at 1 John 1:3, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” Seeing and Hearing those around you. I love that. As we go about our days, and in our lives, I would hope that you would look with God sized eyes and ears. Listen, hear for ways that God is breaking into people’s lives. They may not recognize that voice. Have you ever heard a loved one’s voice stand out from all of those in a crowd. You know it so well, that despite all the other noise, you hear and know that it is the one you love. As you listen to people, help them recognize the voice of the one you love, God’s voice breaking through. As you see, look with God’s eyes. Where are the needs? Where is the pain, often hidden from view out of shame and worry. We cover up our wounds. We hide our mistakes and failures. Instead of judging this all too human trait, love people through that. Find ways to help them move beyond the shame and fear. Like Jesus and Andrew, move slowly, and invite them to “come and see” that things can be better.

At the end of today’s Corinthian passage there is a beautiful verse that echoes with all we have talked about today. “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Corinthians 1:9

We are all called into the Fellowship of his Son. We are called in a way that we will hear and be able to comprehend and understand. We can play a part in this, and help people see and hear that constant, grace-filled call. What an exciting opportunity. What a wonderful gift. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Collect
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Old Testament
Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength--
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The Epistle
1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Gospel
John 1:29-42

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

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Blessings, Rock