Archives for January 2008

Our discipleship, 3 Epiphany (A) – 2008

January 27, 2008

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

The Bible is full of beginnings; not only the universal one, when God speaks into existence the components of a magnificent cosmos, but other beginnings as well. Thus the human race begins with Adam and Eve, and begins again after the flood with Noah and his family. In old age, Abraham answers the invitation of God to go away from home and begin anew.

The Bible presents us with beginnings over and over again, until at the end a holy city comes down from heaven to earth, and its name is not Jerusalem, but New Jerusalem, for it is a place to begin, the start of what will be forever new.

Some of the beginnings in the Bible are known as call stories. A call story recounts how somebody was invited by God to begin something new and unexpected. God calls this person to begin, and not only to begin, but – and here’s the hard part – to persist, to persist so that another beginning can take place.

One day Andrew and Simon, James and John get up when the sky is still dark, walk down to the sea, and hurl nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It is a day like so many other days. Nothing special. These men have engaged in this same routine hundreds of times before. This is what they do, for they are fishermen.

Amid familiar water and nets and fresh fish, rough wood of boats, rhythmic motion of waves, in the midst of this familiarity, for these four men, a beginning takes place.

Jesus turns up at the waterside. Have they met him before, heard about him? It does not matter. Today, as he calls them, a beginning takes place. He glances out at these working men with their nets and their hard-won catch, and announces in a voice almost comic, the way men kid one another, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The four hear this as a put-down, a dare, a challenge from this landlubber on the shore.

Like every other call story in the Bible, this one is an adventure. According to G. K. Chesterton, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”

Other rabbis wait for disciples to come to them. This Rabbi Jesus goes out and finds his own. He looks, not among the likely candidates, the best and the brightest, but down at the docks, where he interrupts fishermen at their work.

An adventure is something that comes to us, that chooses us. Discipleship is the great adventure, for the one who comes to us and chooses us is great beyond all measure. We are taken away from predictable lives, plunged into adventure.

Woe to anyone who dilutes this adventure with dullness, who makes discipleship into something safe.

Happy are those for whom the adventure remains forever sharp, who find themselves always at a new beginning.

Are these four men – Andrew, Simon, James, and John – ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them, that chooses them, this adventure of discipleship? Jesus at the waterside does not collect resumes; he does not check references. The personal histories of these four do not have the last word about their futures. Christ’s call means a new beginning. He takes a wide-open risk by inviting them. They do the same in their response.

Subsequent events do not demonstrate that they are particularly fit for their call. Simon, who will come to be known as Peter, betrays Jesus in an even more boldfaced way than all the rest. James and John, nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, not the most agreeable pair to have around, indulge in dreams about their own enthronement, missing the point completely when Jesus announces that downward mobility is the path to his kingdom. Andrew rarely appears again on the radar. Maybe his flaw is playing it safe. Yet Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them to share in his adventure, and partners with Jesus is what they finally become.

The novelist James Baldwin once wrote, “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it … the end of safety.” The call to discipleship of these four fishermen, the beginning their story represents, implies the breakup of their familiar world, the end of their safety.

They leave behind old securities: the waterside, the boat, the nets, those days of fishing that so resembled one another, and even old Zebedee, the father of James and John, standing astonished in the boat as his two sons suddenly walk away. The new beginning requires this. Disciples must walk away into the future. They may be afraid, but not so afraid that their faith does not lead them forward.

The Bible tells us of this beginning for the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they claim no knowledge.

In the same way, our discipleship means a new beginning, one that appears before us again and again. We keep experiencing the end of safety so that we may participate in a new world. We find ourselves engaged in an adventure, for however strangely, however unjustifiably, Christ comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to be the next new beginning in the world.

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2002). 

God calls us, 2 Epiphany (A) – 2008

January 20, 2008

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

In both Testament lessons and in the gospel of this second Sunday in Epiphany we sense a strong line running through them, like a rope that pulls us up to the realization that God calls us. We surface to the light of Epiphany and pray that this light will assist us in understanding the meaning of our call.

In the Old Testament lesson, we sink ourselves into the stunning poetry and metaphors of Second Isaiah and the Second Servant Song. This part of Isaiah belongs to that critical time when the Babylonian exile was ending. The prophet is filled with hope for the redeemed Israel of God, the servant of the Holy One. He compares the nation that was unfaithful before the exile to the new nation that has learned its lesson and is redeemed by the grace of God and the faithfulness of God.

What is vividly manifest to us and to those who first heard these words is the conviction of the prophet that the ones who are called by God are known by him from the beginning of time. This is what the words “who has formed me in the womb to be his servant” mean. God, who knows no past or future, who lives in the eternal now, knows us before we are even formed and calls us to be his people. But even that is not enough, God reveals to the prophet. God calls his people to be more than servants – to be a light to the nations.

So, as we bask in the wonder of being chosen, being called, we are confronted with the enormous burden that comes with the call: to be a light to the nations, so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Even to the people of Israel, who thought that they only were the chosen nation, God makes it clear that salvation is not something to be hoarded selfishly but is given only that it may be shared with everyone.

St. Paul is more aware than anyone else of the glory and responsibility of being called by God. At the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians he uses forms of the verb “to call” in its many different versions in the Greek. He is convinced beyond any doubt that he is called to be an apostle – to bring the good news of God – to the gentiles. He tells his Corinthian children-in-the-Spirit that they are “called to be saints”; he says this to that troublesome, divisive congregation. He offers them his loving greetings because he knows that despite all their faults they are “sanctified” and joined with others as they call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the use of the verb is reversed: once we are called by God, we are given the right to call upon God through the Name of Jesus the Christ.

For Paul, the called of God receive the riches of the Spirit: speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. For Paul, this calling makes us blameless before God at the end of time, because we have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ the Son of God. And once we are in fellowship, how can we become estranged?

How does this calling come about? The writer of John’s gospel gives us some vivid pictures of the call as it came to the first followers of Jesus.

We have been looking at John the Baptizer from various viewpoints throughout this season of the church, starting with Advent and continuing through Epiphany. John the fiery is also John the humble. It took huge humility for John – who was sure of his own calling – to recognize that he was not the one who would save the people of God. John’s call was to point to another. “I told you he was coming,” he says in effect to his disciples. “He ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” This is a consistent theme in the Gospel of John: that Jesus has existed with God from the beginning. The Baptist tells his disciples that this truth was revealed to him at the baptism of Jesus by the Holy Spirit; that the testimony about the role of Jesus came to him from God through the Spirit of God.

We have lovely pictures in this reading of John standing on a hill near the banks of the Jordan, flanked by his disciples and telling them, “See the one who is passing by? He is the one you should be following, because he is the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples don’t hesitate. They leave John and run after Jesus.

Jesus hears them and turns. “What are you looking for?” he asks. An interesting question. He already knows they are following him. But what are they looking for from him? They don’t know yet. They are attracted by what John has told them, by that redolent phrase, the Lamb of God, which reminds them of the Exodus and of Isaiah’s words of personal sacrifice. They show the desire to learn. So they ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus offers them the concise call to those who seek: “Come and see.” They must have spent hours asking questions, listening. “They remained with him that day,” the gospel writer tells us.

For one of them at least, Andrew the fisherman, the day resulted in a passion for sharing the good news. By four o’clock in the afternoon there was no question left in Andrew’s mind that “this is the Messiah, the Anointed of God.” He runs to his beloved brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. The called becomes the caller. He becomes the light leading his brother to the Light of the world. And Jesus immediately calls Simon by his new name, “Peter.” This is the meaning of being called: we are changed and afterward we cannot, we must not, keep the knowledge to ourselves. We must share it with others for the salvation of the world.

May the light of Epiphany lead us to the glory and the responsibility of being called by God.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. For more on her books, retreats, and workshops, search www.katerinawhitley.net or email katewhitley@charter.net.

Covenant and inheritance, 1 Epiphany (A) – 2008

Baptism of Our Lord

January 13, 2008

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

“Covenant” is an interesting word. Mind you Episcopalians hear so much about the “Baptismal Covenant” nowadays that it is in danger of becoming one of those pious slogans often used and seldom contemplated.

When The Book of Common Prayer was revised in the 1970s, some of the leading thinkers in our church were developing a new emphasis on baptism and its place in our faith. A new emphasis doesn’t mean something newly invented. In the sixteenth century some of our Anglican reformers who had spent time in exile in Switzerland eating chocolate and cheese and listening to a preacher called John Calvin came home and talked and preached a lot about Covenant. Anglicans were reminded that all are called into God’s new world.

Even then there was nothing new about it all. The Old and New Testaments are full of language about God’s agreement with human beings. Of course the word “testament” means “covenant” and the word “covenant” is something like our word “will.” The only difference is that God isn’t dead, and we still get to inherit. In a manner we can’t fathom, a manner that makes us gasp with mental pain, we know that Jesus sealed this covenant when he died on the cross “for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.”

Today’s gospel is about Jesus’ encounter with his cousin John the Baptist at the River Jordan. John would horrify our ushers if he turned up in church today. He wore a smelly old camel skin, didn’t cut his hair, probably only washed when he waded in the Jordan — more a stream than a river — and ate an extraordinary diet.

Even worse, John the Baptist was blunt. Yes, we all say that we like blunt people. No we don’t! We may know where we stand with them, but who wants to stand feeling guilty? John had been telling off every part of the community and urging them to “repent”; literally to turn around and walk in a new direction. He even told off the equivalent of bishops, priests, vestries and even General Convention. In the end, his bluntness cost him his head.

Jesus meets this wild-looking preacher at the river and asks to be baptized. John doesn’t want to do it. He knows that his cousin needs no baptism, doesn’t need to turn around. He knows that his cousin is “good.” The word “good” and “God” in English are closely associated. The translation is telling.

As Jesus is baptized a voice is heard by some, and they believe that they are hearing God, and God is acknowledging that Jesus is in a unique manner God’s son.

What has all this to do with a covenant? Probably all of you have been baptized. When water was poured on your heads, God adopted you. You are now children of God and heirs of God’s world, God’s kingdom.

On each of our foreheads there is an invisible sign, marked in holy oil, which signifies that we have been adopted by God and become members of Christ. In the Christian vocabulary, the word “member” doesn’t mean someone who joins, but rather, as St Paul reminds us, it means someone who is joined to Someone. Like the limbs and organs of a human body, we are joined to Jesus and to each other.

Being joined to Jesus in a sense means that we share in who Jesus is. Jesus is described as being, among other things, prophet, priest, and king.

The Covenant means then that first, because we are joined to Jesus, through baptism, we are to be members of a “prophetic” community. That doesn’t mean that we go around making up new things. A prophet is someone who says “This is what God says.” We learn what God says in the scriptures, and above al, as we seek to live as Jesus lived. We belong to a forgiving, loving, caring Jesus-community. Our job is to tell the world that God is love and God is forgiveness. Telling also means living, and living means being practical and demonstrating where we are what a loving, forgiving, caring community looks like.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism we are members of a “priestly” community. Priests represent people to God and represent God to people, normally in Jewish and Christian tradition in rituals and meals. As priests, we say to the world, “Here is God loving you through Jesus.” We say to God, “Here is the world yearning to be loved through Jesus.” In the Eucharist we bid the world to eat and drink with God and to receive God’s Son through the Spirit.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism, we are members of a “kingly” community. Kings, or at least good kings, rule the earth for God and for everyone. Jesus is the Good King. In Jesus we are to care for the earth, guard it from exploitation, and in Jesus we are to care for all beings, human and animal, and love and serve them sacrificially.

So that invisible mark on our forehead shows that we are Covenant people. Yet two other points must be remembered. Alone we cannot be or do any of these Covenant things. Alone we “err and stray.” We are to act like God’s people, and when we fail we are to repent and ask God to forgive us and renew us. Secondly, we need feeding if we are to grow in strength. If baptism begins our Covenant life, in the Eucharist we receive Jesus into the very core and fiber of our beings as we dwell in Him and He dwells in us.

Inheritance is one thing, a very wonderful thing. God’s Covenant tells us that we have inherited God’s Word, God’s sacraments, and God’s world. Yet we must also listen to John the Baptist. Unlike Jesus, we have need to turn around and walk in God’s ways all the days of our lives. Only then will we receive the Baptismal Covenant with thanksgiving. So be it.

 

— Father Tony Clavier is the ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia and priest in charge at St. Thomas a Becket Church in Morgantown, WV. He is the editor of LEAVEN the journal of NNECA, http://www.nneca.org. Father Tony’s blog: http://wvparson.blogspot.com.

Arise and shine, Epiphany (A,B,C) – 2008

January 6, 2008

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Celebrating the birth of Jesus is an incredible opportunity for all Christians to begin again – be born again – to a life of transformation, first of ourselves and then as instruments of transformation in the world. Our scripture readings today mark the feast of the Epiphany, a word that Webster defines as “to show forth, manifest” and “the revealing of Jesus as Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi” and also “a moment of sudden intuitive understanding; flash of insight.” The definition of “epiphany” is apparent in our readings today. We are invited through the feast and its meaning to understand what it means to be a Christian and what God seeks to reveal to us and through us.

Since the early third century, the Eastern church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany honoring the baptism of Jesus. Together, the feasts of Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost brought together water and light as imagery representing new life. But during the fourth century, the Western church disassociated the baptism from the feast of the Epiphany, emphasizing instead the manifestation of the Good News to the Gentiles through the figure of the Magi. But the symbolism of light and baptism come to life as we consider our readings today along side the season of the year.

Only weeks ago we experienced the shortest day of the year, winter solstice; and now more light, more day comes with each new dawn. Considering that it is much more difficult to see even the most obvious things in the dark, this season invites us to travel toward the light so that we might see what it reveals. But it also compels us to bring all our gifts, no matter how humble, to honor Jesus and all that Jesus stands for in our lives and the world.

A star both announces and guides the wise men as they travel to be witnesses to the birth of Jesus. They bring to him gifts that represent the best of what they can give yet humbly pale in comparison to the great gift Jesus promises to be for the world. They logically seek their “king” first coming through Jerusalem. But as the story tells us, they are met with fear.

Their encounter with Herod illuminates how fear can prevent us from seeing what might bring us closer to God and living out our call to be followers of Jesus. Of course we want to know what might prevent us from our call, but our other readings, and especially the Psalm, guides our path for understanding.

Jesus as a light to the world put the spotlight on injustices suffered by the poor and needy. Jesus gave us the hope for peace in abundance and a life free of violence, oppression, poverty and injustice. The writer of the Psalm described it as “rain upon the mown field, like showers that water the earth.” The poetic nature of the words might seem almost dream-like, but they are very much a reality if we are living life as God intended.

The Psalm is reminiscent of the Millennium Development Goals adopted as a way to reconcile ourselves to God and to live out our mission in the Episcopal Church. They include:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Achieve universal primary education.
Promote gender equality and empower women.
Reduce child mortality.
Improve maternal health.
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
Ensure environmental sustainability.
Develop a global partnership for development.

Isaiah calls us to “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. … Lift up your eyes and look around.” Indeed we are called to look around us, to be enlightened by what we see, and to offer all our gifts humbly honoring every part of creation. The Millennium Development Goals highlight poverty as the root cause to all eight goals obvious to those who lift their eyes and look around. But Isaiah did not stop there. Isaiah demands that we rise up and shine so that God may come in glory.

Isaiah also said, “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday … you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

The Episcopal Church has pledged seven-tenths of a percent of its budget to accomplish these goals by 2010. It is a small and humble offer when we consider the proportion of the challenge. But most importantly, the pledge shines as a beacon to each other and to the world. The pledge is an essential testimony to our Christian faith. As the Episcopal Church Center website says, it is a struggle that leads to true liberation for “more than one billion people – one-sixth of the world’s population – who live each day under the weight of extreme poverty. While income poverty is part of the problem, the dimensions of human poverty are much greater. Pandemic disease, widespread conflict, environmental degradation, chronic hunger, and a lack of access to education are all both causes and effects of human poverty.”

Light is a symbol commonly used in ceremonies and liturgies to signify a light in God’s world. But it can only shine brightly through us and our actions. Light makes things more visible, and our scripture reading demands that we acknowledge the needs of the poor and come out from the dark places that represent complacency and false peace.

This prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me, Lord, a right faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity. Give me, Lord, wisdom and discernment, so that I may carry out your true and holy will. Amen.”

Rather than allowing fear to dampen our spirit or darken the day, we have an opportunity to see the light that is directing our path toward the promised kingdom, revealed to us when we see the face of Christ in each other. This new season in the church along with the season of the year on God’s earth is an invitation to be a light in the world.

As we live into these seasons and recall our baptismal covenant, may we arise and shine to see the glory of God possible and do what is needed. May they know us, as Christians, by our works.

 

— The Rev Debbie Royals is a Regional Missioner for Native Ministry Development based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.