From Glory to Call

 

A Sermon for Epiphany 5; Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13], Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11,
Luke 5:1-11

 

Nearly a quarter-century ago I stood at the end of a line of eight candidates for ordination, and the cast of presenters, vestors, and supporters for each candidate, we were preceded by the Cathedral choir and choral members from the 8 associated churches, the cathedral clergy, and followed by, the bishop’s crew and the Bishop. We processed into St. Patrick’s Breastplate, you know its refrain

 I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.

 and perhaps its musically different 6th verse

Christ be with me, within, behind, before, besides, to win, to comfort, and restore, beneath, above, in quiet, in danger, in hearts, in mouth of friend and stranger.

We chose it not just because of the power of the hymn, but because it is one of few that are long enough for such an entourage to process into the Cathedral.

Being the alphabetically last of the candidates I, and my cohort could not see into the cathedral nave, and could barely hear, as the procession started. As we rounded the corner, the glorious sound of that hymn was inspiring. When I stepped into the nave and saw the uncountable people who filled the space to capacity, I was stunned. It was a glorious moment. It has stayed with me ever since. It has been a source of strength, a source of calm, a source of assuredness. It has been a reminder of the presence of the glory of God, in all the world. It was my Isaiah moment.

It was not an accident that the Old Testament reading that day was this morning’s reading from Isaiah. A quarter-century ago, as we planned this service, we chose this reading because of verse 8

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8);

all of us had heard God’s call, and all of us were responding Here am I; send me!

As strong as these memories are, this morning I am drawn to the first four verses. The image of God sitting on the throne, his robe filling all the Temple, thereby all the world (Mast). The seraphs, six-winged fiery serpents (Harrelson), singing Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:3) with such fervor, such enthusiasm, such passion, that the very foundations of the Temple in Jerusalem shook, and the whole place, the various outer courtyards, the court of Israelites, the court of the priest, the sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies was filled with smoke. All of which emphasizes the utterly sacred nature of God, a being wholly set apart and separated from all defilement and impurity (Harrelson).

The absolutely sacred nature of God terrifies Isaiah, and he confesses his and Israel’s sinfulness (Allen). Then, without his saying anything, a Seraph, think Chinese dragon, takes a coal from the Altar of God, touches his lips, and pronounces that Isaiah is clean; he no longer has to fear being in God’s glory.

Surrounded by God’s glory, having heard he is cleaned from all sin, Isaiah is ready to answer God’s call. I’m not sure he was ready to hear the details. God tells him to preach so that all the people will be blind and deaf, to tell them that they just don’t get it. (Mast; Giere). The people are so resistant to God, punishment has already been pronounced. His calling is to last until everything is destroyed, everything is uninhabited, and all the people are gone, leaving the land desolate and empty. All that is left ~ is a smoldering stump. But ~~ that stump ~ is a holy seed; hope (Tucker).

The journey through these verses takes us from glory to call through despair to hope.  We witness a similar journey in Luke. There is nothing here quite so visually stunning as singing, fiery, flying serpents, nonetheless, the Glory of God is present, because the people are here to hear Jesus, so many that Jesus has to get into a boat move a bit offshore just to be heard. The image may suggest the Spirit of God, the voice of God sweeping over the chaos, over the water of the deep (Gen. 1:1-3) (The Living Church). Together with John’s Gospel’s opening verses

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

we can know that the glory of God was present at creation; thus, the glory of God is present by the lakeside.

Just as the glory of God is less vivid here than in Isaiah, the calling is equally vague. Simon and his crew have been working all night, with no success. They are tired. They are ready to go home, when Jesus gets into their boat, and asks to be taken just offshore (The Living Church). When Jesus is done preaching, he tells them to row back out to the deeper waters and let their nets down again. His fishing expertise rejects the suggestion, a lifetime of fishing tells Simon the fishing is done. Nonetheless, since Jesus says so, off they go. As you heard, the catch is beyond all their imaginations. Simon recognizes the presence of divine glory, and as Isaiah did, recognizes his sinful nature, and pleads for Jesus to go away from him. There are no acts of cleansing. There is no asking. Jesus simply assures them, Do not be afraid. and continues From now on you will be drawing people into the glory of God’s presence (my paraphrase) (Allen).

A part of this journey is how God comes to us in the midst of our failures; God sees new possibilities, asks us not to give up, but to faithfully be open to new imaginations, by seeing more deeply, expecting more, trusting in the power of God’s glory (Epperly); and remembering that the extraordinary catch of fish happens in Jesus’ presence (Lewis).

Today the world is as chaotic as is was in Isaiah’s day, when the King has just died, and no one knew how the next King would act; and in Simon’s day just after a complete failure of a long night’s work. Their journeys affirm for us that the glory of God is present; in the midst of the fear of the completely unknown; and in the midst of fear of the failure of longtime customary success.  Their journeys affirm for us that the glory of God is present in the midst of our unclean, sinful ways, known and unknown; thought, said, done and undone. Their journeys affirm that our guilt has departed, and our sins have been blotted out (Isaiah 6:7). Their journeys call us to look and listen to perceive not only God’s glory but also, God’s calling.

In general, our calling is to witness to God’s glory. The work is not always pleasant. It may require us to name how, when. and where we are missing God’s point; how we are not treating each other as the image of God, how we are failing to tend the land as God (in Genesis2: 8 & 15) put us in the garden to do.

What I draw from the awesome memory at the entry to my ordination is that I am not alone, that day the seraphic voices of the countless voices singing were filling the world with the glory of God in the words of St Patrick’s Breast-Plate “I bind unto myself today ….” that moment my calling was not to, but with God’s people.

Today there are many voices, in countless and sundry forms singing the glory of God. We sing it weekly

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

May our voice join theirs, moving from grace to calling. May our voices join theirs, in being courageous voices speaking the hard truth, as Isaiah did. May our voices join theirs, and draw people into the presence of God, as Simon’s and the Apostles’ did. May our lives join theirs, so that all we think, say and do, or do not do, draws others into God’s gracious, ever-present glory, that all may live as worthy servants of God (Crichton and Wisher).


References

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 5:1-11.” 10 2 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Ashley, Danáe M. Trusting Jesus Epiphany 5 (5). 10 2 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 2 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Giere, Samuel. Commentary on Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13). 10 2 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 5C Luke 5:1-11. 10 2 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Catching People.” 10 2 2019. Working Preacher.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 5C Isaiah 6:1-13. 10 2 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. “”Over the Water”.” 10 2 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Tucker, Gene M. The Book of Isaiah 1–39. Vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. OliveTree 2016.

 

 

It’s Time

A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:6-14,
1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20,

 

In my computer systems career, I was once the operations manager for JACC, so I got to deal with all the unhappy customers. I dealt with just a few, most were happy. But I will always remember one. They weren’t a bad customer, they just were hard to work with. They were very particular about what the programs would do but were never willing to pay for any changes. They were specific about when and who did routine maintenance, which made it difficult to schedule because there was a staff of one. The day their system would not start. I dispatched our technician. The tech worked through all the prescribed checks with no results. The next diagnostics were more complex, involved removing some parts to have access to others that need testing. The owner got irate, called me to say he was telling our technician to leave. I asked “Who do you expect to come finish the diagnostics and repairs? The reply was, “I don’t care, you!” I told him I was not qualified to do the required testing or reassembling. I’ll never forget the tenor of “I don’t care, I don’t want Anonymous Tech here, you figure it out!” followed by a dial tone. When I went to my owner, I was more than a little put off. I was told “Call and tell Anonymous Tech to leave; you go put the computer back together, as best you can, and bring it back here.” Bringing it back to the office was not like putting a PC in the back seat, the cabinet involved was about the size of a legal size two drawer file cabinet. In the end, the same tech found and fixed the problem in-house, and one of our programmers, who drove a pickup truck, took it back to the customer and connected the terminals and printers. After which nothing changed, I had a high maintenance low producing customer; who was now more difficult to serve; oh, there was one change, now I had an upset tech.

The story is memorable because my owner was right, you do what is necessary to take of your customers. And also, because you never know who will reveal life important lessons. I never dreamed this customer would teach me anything.

Today’s bible readings involve unenthusiastic prophecy, abandoning one’s family and an incorrect prediction. This morning we see that for well more than 2 thousand years we have heard unenthusiastic voices calling to pairs of folks willing to desert their better than average prosperous families to follow the Kingdom which they in silence have been waiting for, that now will be here any day.

Jonah is called to go proclaim to Nineveh, capital of Assyria – the arch enemy of Israel, that God is about to destroy them. Jonah’s knows God’s tendency to forgive so he flees by sailing far away. Or at least trying to until a gigantic storm overwhelms the ship. The sailors cast lots so they can learn whose fault this is. It falls on Jonah. They ask “Why?” He tells them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the sailors are even more afraid, and asked him, “What is this that you have done! What should we do?” (Jonah 1:9-10) Jonah tells them

Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12-13)

The sailors still try to save the ship, but they cannot, so they throw Jonah overboard and he is swallowed by a great big fish. In the belly of that fish he has significant time to reflect. Jonah acknowledges that he fled because he cannot trust God’s vision that is different from the faith he was taught that there is no place for mercy for Israel’s opponents. (Epperly). Eventually he comes to his senses and offers a long prayer. A bit later the big fish belches him up on the beach. And, here we are this morning.

It may be surprise to Jonah, it is a surprise to us that God calls Jonah a second time to go tell Nineveh what’s about to happen. This time he does so, albeit reluctantly (Bratt). Jonah’s behavior looks like he submits, but inwardly he continues to resist (Trible). His prophecy is less than inspiring. His unenthusiastic 5-word prophecy (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah) includes nothing about why Nineveh will be overthrown; and he says nothing about what they should do (Harrelson – Jonah). The word ‘overthrown’ is actually ‘overturned’ and is the same word used to depict the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 18) (Gaventa and Petersen -Jonah). Jonah is the story of a reluctant, unenthusiastic, prophet of few words, which are shallow in their content.

Jesus is as opposite as you can get from Jonah. Nonetheless there are interesting questions; you wonder about his methodology, his choice of disciples or followers, and his timing. By tradition, teachers wait for followers to choose them. Jesus does not, he calls them. (Keener and Walton – Mark). And I wonder about his choice. They are not from the elite, or educated, or religious authority. Neither are they from the marginalized outcast. Fishing was a major occupation on the Sea of Galilee. Commercial fishing, although not elite, was lucrative and their families were economically better off than many Galileans who lived in peasant servitude (Keener and Walton – Mark; Gaventa and Petersen – Mark) A family business, like Zebedee’s, that employed hired servants would have had a sizeable income. To drop their nets is to abandon their family business, which has dramatic implications for the whole family. (Keener and Walton – Mark) It is pairs of brothers who quit their commitments to follow of Jesus, so the family burdens are doubled. (Perkins) Jesus’ timing also seems to be wrong. He is teaching that the Kingdom has come near. But no, it is not here, it is not fulfilled, it is not crashing in, it is not replacing the grim realities of life (Hoezee). Come to think of it Jesus, is a little bit like Jonah, is a bit content light. Jesus’ call does not tell the disciples where they are going, or what they might expect (Hoezee). Being fishers of people; what does that tell you?

And just what are Simon, Andrew, James, and John waiting for? Sure, the Romans are there complicating life, but even they have to eat, and the lake is a rich resource of food. What crisis, that the psalmist refers to, do they face? Why would they be seeking asylum? (Hannan). What leads them to denounce their faith in the powers and protections of the Temple, the state, the Empire, and their modest wealth? (Gaventa and Petersen – Mark).

And what is Paul thinking? It has been 450 plus years since the last prophetic word was heard; but it has been over 2,000 since God sent Abraham off to seek the land and 1,500 since the beginning of the Exodus (Bible-Hub). In this context 24 years, since Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t a long time at all. Why is Paul so convinced time has been made short (Hart). Why is he so sure it is just before the end of time (Keener and Walton – 1 Corin).

Looking at these stories in their historical and contextual background leaves one baffled. Each story leaves us full of questions. Nothing is what a reader expects. And yet there are life’s curiosities. Just after I left JACC the customer, in my opening story, made the largest purchase in JACC’s history. No one would have ever thought it.

We are so far removed from Jonah’s days and so unused to the presence of a wide variety of gods we miss how Nineveh sees Jonah as the prophet of a foreign god, who has traveled all this way, and is doing them a favor by giving them a warning (Keener and Walton – Jonah). It never occurs to us, as it never occurred to Jonah, that Nineveh hears his warning as an opportunity to repent, and through ritual actions express that they believe the warning (Trible). And so rather than being overthrown, they turn themselves over, they turn around, they repent (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah).

We know the Gospel so well; the sense of anxiety has faded away. The Gospel story is in a time of crisis. The peoples’ faith, Israel’s faith, is turning more and more away from God, whose robe’s hem is in the Temple, to the exacting regulations of sacrificial tradition, and to the wealth, power, and prestige of the Roman co-opting policies. It is time to turn away from corrupt governance, foreign powers, and the lure of wealth and prosperity (Hoezee). It is time to trust God and God alone. It is time to ponder where is our heart? where is our ultimate loyalty? who do I trust my life, and my family to? where or in whom does security really come from (J. Clinton McCann)?

We are so used to hearing the Gospel story that the mystery has worn away. It is hard to be surprised by an often-read favorite mystery, even if Agatha Christie wrote it. But still, the Gospel is a mystery. We know nothing about why Jesus calls these disciples, or any of the disciples. We know nothing of why they leave their lives and their families. Jesus calling is a mystery. The disciples following is a mystery. How or why the Gospel continues to be found in the gaping holes of life, in the disappointments, in the blows and losses, in the sadness and grief is a mystery (Peters).

We live in a world that follows chronos, the time of the clock. Our clocks are so precise I’m not sure we can really understand its largest or smallest segments. Our sense of chronos defines so much because its structure makes all things digital work, and today all things are digital. That being said, Paul may well have been using kairos, simply put “the right time.” You know the experience of hearing someone say, “It’s time.” For Paul, for the Corinthians, for us ~ it’s time.

  • It’s time to let go, so what we cherish can flourish and bear fruit (Epperly).
  • It’s time for the divine perspective it’s time to honor and preserve everyone’s and all of creation’s holiness (Sampley)
  • it’s time to live life in unhindered devotion to our creator God, through the resurrected Lord, via the ever-present Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to let go of all the standards of this world, even those the church would impose (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to believe, ~ to trust God is making all this right (Mast).
  • it’s time to receive that all things are being made anew, and
  • it’s time to understand that God refusing to let Nineveh go, is the sign that God will not let us, not let you go.

It’s time to follow Jesus. What is that like? I don’t know everything; I don’t know if I know anything. So, come on and let’s see.


References

Bible-Hub. New Testamenet Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#nt&gt;.

—. Old Testament Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#ot&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 3 B – Jonah 3:1-5,. 21 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 18 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Hannan, Shauna. “Commentary on Psalm 62:5-12.” 21 1 2018. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hart, David Brently. The Mew Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-boook.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018.

  1. Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 B Psalm 62. 21 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peters, David W. “Arrested, Epiphany 3 (B).” 21 1 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/01/02/arrested-epiphany-3-b-january-21-2018/>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commemtary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Living Curch. 1/21: Enclosure and Service. n.d. <livingchurch.org/2018/01/15/1-21-enclosure-and-service/>.

Trible, Phylils. New Interpreters’ Bible, The Book of Jonah. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. Olivetree App.

 

Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

A sermon for Advent 4

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1: 26-38

The Star-Ship Enterprise –D warps through the galaxy exploring new worlds all at the command of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so.” It’s almost like ‘Amen.’ A crew member hands him a Kindle he reads whatever is there, sometimes signs it, and sometimes says “Make it so.”

‘Amen’ comes from the Hebrew meaning to be firm, or truth, or faithfulness; and in some instances “so let it be.” (Orr) Jesus’ often used introductory phrase “I say to you…” is the same Hebrew etymology as ‘amen’ (Holman) so we can see the impetus of “make it so” is similar to the impetus of ‘amen.’ And before you get all excited, no I don’t think the Angel Gabriel is a starship captain out to influence the direction of human development. However, there is a connection with Mary.

The Angel Gabriel brings a message to Mary from God. The short form of the story goes:

Gabriel: Greetings!

No ~ don’t be afraid, God has chosen you, and you will have baby to be named Jesus.

Mary: How can this be – I’m not married yet?

Gabriel: It’s the Holy Spirit!

Mary: “What?”

Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God, your aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.

Mary: Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

This story is one of my favorite, for more than its Star Trek parallel. It resonates with Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

the Old Testament reading for my ordination to the priesthood. Mary answers as Isaiah does “Amen.”

In fact the conversations parallel each other: God calls, either directly or through a messenger, the person objects, God gives assurances, sometimes there are multiple rounds of objections and assurances, the one called  finally sees what God sees in them, (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) and accepts the calling a form of “let it be,” or “make it so,” or “Amen.” Academics have various names but essentially is a call narrative. Through it Luke associates Mary with biblically significant people like: Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.

There is another list of significant biblical characters Mary is associated with, at least in part, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elizabeth. Though she is not barren, Mary’s pregnancy is mystical, clearly God is present with her.

It’s important to note Mary hasn’t done anything special, she is simply favored (Lewis) simply blessed. Like all who serve God, God calls first, what some call election; our response to the call has the potential for divine service. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) You’ve heard me say it before, most often related to life’s tragedies and troubles; however, it applies to God’s call: life happens, calls come, how we chose to respond, whether we trust God, or not, makes all the difference. Mary’s chooses to trust God.

According to Christian belief, no one will ever again be theotokos, mother of God; which raises the question how else is does Mary serve as an archetypical character for us. Karoline Lewis wants Mary’s witness to take Advent beyond its short season so that God coming to us becomes a way of life, a way of faith. (Lewis) So how is one like Mary and allow the here I am – make it so – Amen to come alive?

Julie Gibeau has limited means. Nonetheless, she sees children who have less, and believes that, especially at Christmas, they need to see and know happiness. So for six months she has been baking banana bread. So far, the 1000 loaves she’s sold, has yielded nearly $3000 she uses to buy toys for kids who otherwise would see little or nothing on Christmas morning. (Noel) And then there is Jarrett who won a tablet at his schools fund raiser. He surprised everyone, when he sold the tablet, and with judicious use of coupons and sales, bought nearly $300 worth of toys for other kids: a blanket to a little girl to stay warm, books for another kid to read, and toy trucks for “someone special.” Jarrett said:

Giving is the right thing to do…because you know that another kid might really, really need it … (Ready)

I expect all of us know similar stories, or folks who have and continue to be quietly kind and generous to others, at Christmas, and throughout the year. In their own way they’ve responded: let it be, make it so, Amen.

Steve’s parish is celebrating their 91st anniversary this week. In one of his blogs he wrote:

We can learn a lot from Mary’s example, but as important as it is to show up and say “here I am,” it is even more important for a community of the faithful to join together in saying “Here we are,”

He is right; as important as it is for individuals to say “here I am” there are some things that only the community can convey as together we “here we are.” Sixty First Ave United Methodist Church is a humble congregation, whose members are generally low income, give of their time and selves. For the last 18 years they have run the Last Minute Toy Store, providing toys to neighborhood kids, 90% of whom qualify for free lunch at school. Last year $200,000 in contributions bought 20,000 toys that were distributed to 4,600 children in 1,400 families. The store draws volunteers from all over town, and many receive toys for their family. It’s exemplary of Rev. Paul Slentz teaching of “ministry with the poor instead of for the poor.” (Fiona)

Some times “here I am” is not associated with Christmas. We all know that last week Australia was victimized by a Muslim terrorist. You may not know the incident increased already heightened anti-Muslim sentiment. Rachel was sitting next to a woman on a train; as it came to a stop she quietly began removing her Hijab, head scarf. Rachel told the woman, “Put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Michael James heard the story, posted it online which rapidly spread with the hashtag #I’llride withyou. (COHEN)

[pause]

There are many examples of local folks and community actions that tell similar stories. Still, everyday God’s message “You, yes you, my favored one, don’t be afraid, here’s what I’m asking, don’t worry, nothing is impossible.” dances through our lives. Everyday individually and as a community we have the opportunity to stop, to question, to express doubt, to choose to believe, to choose to trust, to choose to say: “Here I am.” “Make it so.” “Amen.”

[pause]

Amen!


Bibliography

Bates, Rev. Dr. J Barrington. Sermons that Work – 4 ADvent. 21 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

COHEN, NOAM. “Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action.” New York Times (2014). web.

Fiona. The greatest gift. 21 12 2014. <http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/the-greatest-gift&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 1:26-38. 21 12 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 12 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher: Advent as a Way of Life. 21 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Blessed Like Mary. 21 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

Noel, Christine C. “Mom who had nothing bakes for month straight to pay it forward.” USA Today (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/16/inspiration-nation-mom-loaves-bread/20461849/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Pankey, Rev. Steve. “Here I am. Here we are.” 21 12 2014. Word Press: Draughting Theology. <http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hereiamhereweare/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Luke 1:2638. 21 12 2014.

Ready, Lauren. “Boy turns winning prize into gifts for needy children.” USA TODAY (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/15/inspiration-nation-boy-wins-prize-needy-kids/20318809/&gt;.

A commitment, a challenge, and an invitation

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany 

Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. Matthew 4:12-23, Psalm 27:1, 5-13

 No two weeks are ever the same. This week came to an abrupt diversion when my lap top came to an abrupt slow down. So Thursday afternoon till deep in the night and all day Friday were given over to: the evaluation of the problem, the determination of the best solution, the necessary purchases, the journey home, the process of moving 3 computers to different tasks. And I am not so up to date as I was 23 years ago and the road less traveled is not the path to follow in this particular case. However, as dark fell Friday  I was functionally done with the task, as well as functionally done with all things e-stuff, and took advantage of Friday Families, where we (I think there were 19 folks present at some point in the evening) enjoyed pizza, each other’s company and Earnest Goes to Camp. As the night came to a close someone quipped Earnest Goes to Camp doesn’t have the same theological depth as The Rise of the Guardians. They are right, Earnest isn’t a preaching point. Still it is Sunday; it is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany; we still need to make sense of today’s scripture readings; just how does Isaiah relate to Matthew, and Matthew to Paul, especially when it all begins in Judges with Gideon if not in Genesis with light. After all it is Epiphany the season of light; but on the first day it isn’t the sun and moon and stars, in Genesis 1:3 it’s just light, light that comes into the formless void, and darkness, light that comes with the wind, or spirit, from God. It’s in verse 14, on the 4th day, that the sun, moon, and stars show up. [i] It’s enlightening to recall it all begins with the presence of God.

Matthew has been telling the tale of a new, a different presence of God, by referring to back to God’s presence, as revealed by Isaiah, who refers back to a previous revelation of God’s presence in Judges        and Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites. [ii]  Two verses later, which we did not hear this morning, Isaiah’s prophecy notes this light will be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … words that are similar to Egyptian coronation rites indicating Pharaoh’s divine nature, [iii] implying the servant’s divine nature.

As soon as Jesus gets to Galilee he begins to preach the same message John the Baptist did The Kingdom of heaven has come near. As did John’s this notes the Kingdom’s presence in Jerusalem and Judah, to the Jews; but ~ Jesus’ presence in Galilee reveals the Kingdom’s presence to people beyond Jerusalem and Judah beyond Jews. [iv] The very next thing he does is to start calling disciples. He says: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (KJV) trying to be gender inclusive the NSRV translates it Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

I agree with my colleague, who doesn’t like the NSRV; it just doesn’t ring the same. I agree more with David Lose whose interest isn’t gender inclusion (although he isn’t adverse to inclusiveness) but the implications of prepositions. The phrase: fish for people puts the emphasis on the task – fishing. The phrase: fishers of men puts the emphasis on their identity thus Jesus is calling the disciples into relationship. [v] And this relationship with Jesus … completely disrupts the priorities and social and economic obligations of two households… [vi]  with more to come. The disruption comes from the disciples immediately following Jesus; Peter and Andrew abandon the tools of their trade, James and John abandon their boat and their father and family. [vii] It sounds similar to Joseph, a willingness to set aside tradition, to set aside the law, in order to follow the divine presence, in order to be in the presence of the Kingdom.

This is a chronological mess, however, if we snap the fabric of Matthew’s story and all its implications, we see: the beginning is in the presence of God, it breaks with the threat of the Midianites which God through Gideon restores; it breaks with a dispute between Ephraim and Judah allowing the Assyrians to conquer the land; [viii] which Isaiah’s prophecy reveals God will restore; it breaks with Roman occupation, and much more before and since, and Matthew is telling a story of God’s redeeming work through the nearness, of the Kingdom in the presence of Jesus.  At every point in the story God’s presence is redemptive. And when people get away from God’s presence it breaks. That’s Paul’s point to the Corinthians; it doesn’t matter what gifts are greater, it’s all about unity in Christ [ix]  his way of pointing to the presence of the Kingdom.

Beyond the interlocking redemptive relationship references in Matthew, there is also a process gleaning. Jesus calls the disciples into relationship with him, with each other, so later they can call others into relationship with them. [x] Today it works the other way around, we are here, in church, in Christ’s community with each other, ~ so we can invite others into relationship with us, so they can come into relationship with Jesus.

I believe we have the beginnings of all that. So here’s a commitment, a challenge, and an invitation: I am committing to take communion to anyone who otherwise will not know that presence of God in Jesus. I know of four, if you know someone, call me. Here’s the challenge, actually two: if you know someone who used to be a part of St. Stephen’s welcome them home with an invitation to tryout our new worship time; and second – if you don’t participate in Friday Families you’re invited to come and see, and invite a neighbor, yours, or one from around the church. And the invitation: all of you are invited to Angie’s house for a Super Bowl party next Sunday at 5:00 pm, invitations are on the way, bring your favorite finger food, beverage of your choice, and yes invite a friend.

And all of it, from Guardians to Earnest, from computer to communion from invitations to community of all sorts all of it is about being in the presence of the Kingdom that’s coming nearer and nearer to thee; is about sharing the presence of the Kingdom that’s coming nearer and nearer.

 

[i] ‘Light’ INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA
James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor, Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp., the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
[ii] Walter Harrelson, New Interpreters’’ Study Bible, Isaiah 9:1ff 
[iii] ibid
[iv] Scott Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is January 26, 2014 (Ordinary Time) The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 4:12-23 
[v]David Lose WorkingPreacher.org,  Craft of Preaching, Fishers of People,Monday, January 20, 2014
[vi] Harrleson, Matthew 4:12ff
[vii] Judith Jones, WorkingPreacher.org, Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23
[viii] Christopher R. Seit ,Interpretation – Isaiah A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor David Petersen and Beverly Gave Gaventa, New Interrupters Bible One Volume Commentary,
ix Stan Mast cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next Sunday is January 26, 2014 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
[x] Lose