A Sermon for January 21, 2018

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20 – Epiphany 2.

 

These last few weeks, we have re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a small season of Ordinary Time in our church’s calendar – but because it is an ordinary that isn’t ordinary.

It is the ordinal-ed time, the numbered season where we count the weeks from Epiphany – that wonderful feast where we see Jesus made manifest as the Saviour for all – to Lent – where we travel with Jesus towards his death and then his glorious resurrection at Easter.

We visibly show it through changing our church colours to a life-giving green … but that green might be best thought of as a translucent green mixed with white: ordinary time mixed with holy days.

I think that is a good summary of what this season is all about: watching for the holy, for Jesus made manifest in the midst of our daily life.

But what is ordinary?

Some of my psychologist friends would suggest that ordinary, like normal, is really only found as a cycle on the washing machine…

And that is very likely true. Ordinary is only ordinary in a context – my ordinary is certainly different from yours which is certainly different from that of the four men named in today’s gospel reading.

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, an ordinary day seems to include fishing. For they are fishermen.

They live along the Sea of Galilee – a large freshwater lake about 7miles across and 13 miles long – large enough that it really can feel like the Sea…

The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is dotted with villages that exist mainly because of the fishing industry. This fishing industry is one of the primary sources of income in the area and it is largely operated through family-run cooperatives that have somehow been able to obtain a fishing licence from the authorities.

From the overseeing Roman Empire that has decided that they can make more money if they take every last fish caught by these fisherfolk and salt and dry them or turn them into fish sauce and export it all for a huge profit to drive the wheel of the ever-expanding empire and provide immense wealth for those at the top.

For these poor, colonized fishing families, having a fish leftover to eat for dinner is a rarity and their once staple is now gone to feed the belly of an Empire.

It sounds a lot like their ordinary is a struggle.

Against institution. Against an oppressive system. A disheartening existence. One day at a time.

Struggling to make a go of it. And probably also afraid to dream that there might be something different, something better.

Which is both like and unlike our ordinary, I suspect.

It is like our ordinary because I am sure that every single one of us has felt disheartened or alone or like things are a constant struggle – at some point or another. Or have wondered where God is or why the things that are happening are happening.

And are some of us struggling against different institutions that seek to oppress us? Absolutely. Though at the same time, most of us have at least some degree of privilege that makes it hard for us to fully locate ourselves in the sandals of the colonized fishermen of the gospel reading.

And while we often find ourselves caught up in the story from their perspective, as those who are struggling or disheartened and longing for God to call us into something else – and rightly so, we also would do well to remind ourselves that those of us here who are white, educated, North Americans might more readily align with the Roman citizens than with the Jewish fishermen in this story.

But that is the neat thing about the gospels. Today we have the story of call of four Jewish fishermen.

Later on, we’ll read the call of a man who is known to us a tax collector, a man who is overtly complicit with the colonizers oppressing these fishermen, and yet he will coexist and be a valued part of Jesus’ followers in the same way Simon, Andrew, James, John are.

Because it doesn’t matter what your ordinary is… Jesus is there. Not only is Jesus there, but Jesus breaks into and transforms ordinary.

I think that is one of the reasons we have this season of Epiphany – yes, I know we need to somehow fill the space between Christmas and Lent —

But we go from that magnificent celebration of Christmas where we rejoice at God entering into Creation, becoming incarnate and dwelling amongst us …

and then we get this season of Epiphany where we can be reminded that God also comes to us in little ways. In more subtle ways. In ways that don’t always get heralded by angels or celebrated by distant kings bearing gifts.

This season of ordinary time where God breaks in and makes the ordinary holy

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus breaks into their ordinary day fishing and offers a different way: A way that subverts the political structures and offers them a new way of being

A way that creates instability in the empire by declaring that the oppressive status quo is not okay while simultaneously creating some stability in their lives – someone, something to hold onto

No, it is not without risk. But they go with Jesus anyway

We heard the same thing in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning in the story of Jonah. In the brief section of the story we read today, Jonah finally answers God’s call to go to Nineveh and bring God’s message. I love that this passage opens with us hearing that Jonah hears from God a couple of times before he responds because I believe that it is important to hear that it is okay to struggle with following God.

Both Jonah and the four fisherfolk have something in common: They all have to give something up to answer the call and they have to get prepared to experience the unexpected – the small epiphanies, or in-breakings of the power of God into their lives

Jonah has to leave behind his prejudice – as Alastair talked about last week when talking about an “us and them” mentality of the calling of Nathaniel – Jonah is also being called to understand that all are God’s children and none is left out because of where they are from or because we think we might be better than they are.

Jonah has to leave behind that prejudice and in doing so, is surprised to find that God is actually there, at work in Nineveh.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John are called to leave behind the secure insecurity of their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Ultimately, they are leaving the things they are doing that prop up empire to follow Jesus into unknown territory…

Holding these two stories together, I think that we can safely say that there are times where we will see it immediately like, Simon, Andrew, James, and John – even if we don’t understand it immediately – and there are times where we’ll need to see it a few times to get it, like Jonah.

And that both are okay.

Both will involve these moments of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways and bringing holy moments into the ordinary.

But all the time, seen or unseen, God is here. God is at work. And God is proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is among us.

My prayer for each of us this week is that we may catch glimpses of that kingdom of God – catch sight of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways. Showing holiness in the ordinary. Amen.

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Sermon for January 15, 2017

Preached at The Abbey, Victoria
Texts: John 1:29-42, Isaiah 49:1-7

 

This week we re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a season of Ordinary Time in our church’s calendar – but because it is an ordinary that isn’t ordinary. It is the ordinal-ed time, the numbered season where we count the weeks from Epiphany – that wonderful feast where we see Jesus made manifest as the Saviour for all – to Lent – where we travel with Jesus towards his death and then his glorious resurrection.

We visibly show it through changing our church colours to a life-giving green … but the green might be best thought of as a translucent green mixed with white: ordinary time mixed with holy days. And that is a good summary of what this season is all about: looking for the holy, for Jesus made manifest in the midst of the mundane, in the midst of our daily life. All the while looking for little epiphanies where we might see Jesus and find ourselves found over and over again.

***

Perhaps the most frequently used word in our gospel today is some variation on the word for seeing: see, look, watch, seek …

The first major event commemorated by the church in this season after Epiphany is the Baptism of the Lord: Jesus goes down from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. All four of the gospels recount the event  —  Sort of.

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke give a play-by-play, all that is said about Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of John is what we heard read today: John the Baptist’s account of SEEING the Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism:

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.

John the Baptist is so convinced of this that he becomes like that guy on the corner with the sign who needs to tell everyone: Look, here is the Lamb of God! As if to say – I saw the Messiah – he is over there! Do you see him walking by? That is him! Go!
And two of John’s followers turn and follow Jesus.

It obviously wasn’t a very covert follow – there is no way that these two would have passed spy school because Jesus saw them right away: Jesus turns, lifts his eyes into their eyes, and SEES them.

What are you looking for?

Jesus’ first words in the gospel of John aren’t a command to silence a demon, a sermon about the Kingdom of God while sitting on a mountainside, or a proclamation of the year of God’s favour, but a simple question: What are you looking for? 
What are you seeking? What do you need?

It is a question that is simple in its complexity. Because as soon as you have an answer, another, deeper level of question will become apparent.

What are you seeking?
What is motivating you?
What is it that you really need?  — Not just on the surface, but deep down into the very core of your being.
Why are you here? – not here on earth, though that is a valid question, but why did you interrupt your Sunday afternoon to be right here now?
What are you looking for?

Those poor disciples of John. Things get awkward. Quickly. Likely what they wanted to say was something like,  “Um. Hi – we were following you because that other guy said you were the Lamb of God so we thought we’d come take a look…”
What they come out with is Where are you staying?

We can poke fun … But maybe there is more to it than that . Maybe what they really wanted to know was, Where are you dwelling?

Where do you abide?
What lets you put down deep roots into this world and be stable? What is it that allows you to endure life?
What makes you different?
How can we get what you have?

Because there is something different about him. John the Baptist has named it: He is the one on whom I saw the Spirit descend and REMAIN. And in a little while, Jesus will mention this word again: Remain in me and I will remain in you

Jesus, where are you staying?

Jesus’ only response is Come and See.
Come and see.
There is no judgement here. No negative evaluation of a hurried response when being caught following. No criticism.
Only:  Come and see.

We, and likely those two disciples, tend to expect that what results from responding to the invitation to “Come and See” is that we find Jesus – that we learn more about Jesus as we witness him in all of the different moments of daily life – the ordinary and the holy. And it is. But John’s gospel invites us to see more. It invites us to see and to be changed by seeing.

Jesus said to [the two disciples of John] “Come and see” … so they came and saw where he was staying … and REMAINED with him that day.

Jesus, where are you staying? 

Come and see…Remain with me and I will remain with you…

In remaining, these two disciples are found and they are changed.  How do we know this? How do we know that a change took place in their lives?

For those of you who have children, when were they born? I don’t mean the day – but what time was it?
For those of you who have lost a loved one, what time did they die or what time did you receive the phone call telling you of their death?
For those of you who are married, what time was it when you made that decision to spend the rest of your lives together?

Pivotal, life-changing moments have a time attached to them.

They came and saw where Jesus was staying and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon…

About four o’clock. Someone, one of them at least, took note of the time that their lives were changed.

And then they went and told their friends who came and saw and had their lives changed too … and then they went and told their friends who came and saw … and on and on and on for two thousand years.

That, my friends, is evangelism: Come and see.

John the Baptist does it: he sees the Spirit descend as a dove and he tells his followers. They go and see Jesus, have their lives changed and then go and tell their friends… There are no complex steps to take. There is no complicated theological argument to construct in order to carefully counter any potential resistance.

Just:

What are you looking for?

Where are you staying?

Come and see…

Two thousand years of people asking, people pointing, and people coming to see.

I remember one of my instructors in Bible College saying that the one thing he wanted people to say about him after he died, what he wanted to have written on his tombstone, was, “They saw John and followed Jesus…”

Come and see.

Not “you should go check out that church” or “Here go read this book and then we’ll talk about it…”  But Come and see
Come and see Jesus made manifest in my life – the holy mixed in with the ordinary…

If that sounds too much, remember what God says to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah :

“You are my servant in whom I will be glorified.”

But I said, “I have laboured 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, … for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord and my God has become my strength – He says,
“…I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth…
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…”

You are seen. You are chosen.

And we say to all the world –

Come and see

 

 

Sermon for January 18, 2015 (Epiphany 2)

Text: Psalm 139 and John 1:43-51, preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario.

 

I want to start by telling you a story.

It may be a familiar story, it may be not.

It is a story that I grew up with – my Sunday School had it on flannel graph.

It wasn’t directly in our readings this morning, but it was there, hovering in the background.

It’s a story that all of the individuals in today’s gospel would have been very aware of. Jesus would have known it, educated as he was in the stories of the history of his people. Philip and Nathaniel surely would have known it. It is likely one they grew up with on cold evenings around the fire before bed.

It is a story everyone in Israel would have known because, even though it had taken place centuries earlier, it was a significant story of the founding and establishing of their nation, of their people.

The setting of this story is centuries earlier than where we are with Jesus, Philip, and Nathaniel. To get to its location, we must go a little ways south of where the gospel is set in Bethsaida, south past Samaria and towards Jerusalem, but not quite that far.

It is mountainous country here, rocky and cold; the kind of barren land that makes it an unlikely place to stop and spend the night. But when you are fleeing for your life, anywhere that seems safe will do.

Fleeing for your life.

Jacob, the younger twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, is fleeing from his brother Esau. Esau the hunter, whose hunger for lentil stew was more important than his birthright. Jacob the deceiver, who tricked Father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, and thus earning the hatred of his elder brother. To escape being killed by Esau, Jacob runs.

The Psalmist (139) says, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night.”

Jacob runs until he can run no more, until he is covered by the night – both a night of darkness and a night of despair. At night it is cold – as cold as the angry brother left behind – and having nothing soft to lie on, Jacob takes a stone and makes it his pillow.

But, again, as the Psalmist says, “You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways … You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me … Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast … For even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Jacob may be able to flee from his angry brother, but he cannot flee from God.

So Jacob sleeps using a stone for a pillow. With an uneasy resting place like that, it is no wonder that Jacob has a vivid dream:

He dreams of a ladder set up on the earth. It must have been a ladder without end for its bottom rested on earth and its top rungs reached all the way to heaven. If that were not enough to make it an unusual ladder, the angels of God were ascending and descending on the ladder: crossing between heaven and earth. Heaven’s gate, where the earth becomes heaven’s door.

God has found Jacob – he cannot flee from God – and now God is standing right beside Jacob:

He speaks: You may be called the deceiver, Jacob, but I am the God of your father and your grandfather, and I know you. I know you and now I want you to know that I bless you. I promised to Abraham, I promised to Isaac, and now I promise to you: I am with you always. I am with you and your descendents – even when it seems all hope is lost and I’m not there, I am. And from your descendents will come the one who will end all of our exile…

Jacob awakens and takes the stone that was his pillow and makes it into a pillar and calls the place Beth-El – the house of the Lord. And it is at this place, Beth-El, that God changes Jacob’s name from Jacob – deceiver – to Isra-El – God is triumphant.

Centuries later, where we began with our gospel, this is the vision that Jesus presents to Nathaniel:

“Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

You are no Jacob, the deceiver; you are Israel – you speak your mind and you speak the truth.

“Where did you get to know me, Jesus?”

“I formed your inward parts and knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made – your frame was not hidden from me when you were being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Ps. 139)

“I saw you under the fig tree,” says Jesus. I saw you… sitting, enjoying figs, philosophizing with the best of them … I saw you scoff in disbelief when Philip told you that they’d found me in Nazareth; that they’d found the one about whom Moses and all of the prophets spoke – the Messiah, the Anointed.

And as Nathaniel glances around, trying to remember if he’d seen someone hiding, eavesdropping, in the fig tree while he and Philip had been speaking, he has an epiphany – his sudden and striking realization:

“Teacher, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It is YOU!

Jesus, in turn, offers him a further vision: “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Remember the dream of your ancestor, centuries ago? I am the ladder, says Jesus. Come and see, heaven is open. The kingdom of heaven is upon us.

Come and see.

And that is how we got here, in Bethsaida, with Jesus and Philip and Nathaniel:

Philip sought Nathaniel and told him they’d found Jesus.

Nathaniel scoffed.

Philip’s only reply:

“Come and see.”

Come and see

That is all that is asked of us, and it is especially relevant that we get reminded of that in the gospel this morning, during the season of Epiphany.

Nathaniel came and saw and found Jesus and, in finding Jesus, found himself as a disciple.

The shepherds came and saw and found a baby, lying in cloths in a manger and, in finding Jesus, found themselves his messengers proclaiming what they had seen.

The magi came and saw and found an infant king and, in finding Jesus, found themselves the bearers of extraordinary gifts for a king.

God sees us – where we are, who we are, what we are.

God knows us – every single intricate part and all of the thoughts we daren’t even voice aloud.

God calls us – calls us by name. Our deepest names. Because of, and in spite of, knowing us, God calls each one of us.

All we need to do is come.

Because it is in answering the “come and see” that we have our own epiphany – our sudden realization: we find Jesus and Jesus finds us. In that finding, we realize who we are – who we are as Jesus’s followers and we learn what it means to believe.

Come all you who are faithful, and all who would like to be faithful.

Come all you who walk in darkness and hunger for the light.

Come –

Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, disbelief enough to draw near and see for yourself.

Come.

Come and see.

Come and be found.