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A Call and Response

IMG_2129How can we preach about servant-hood and make the best use of the readings to weave them into what we as Christians are called to do – namely through our baptismal covenant that we renewed a couple of weeks ago – and also by explaining how the Gospels relate to this calling? Throughout this season that began with the Feast of the Epiphany, we are being called to make some very big changes in our lives. It begins by announcing to the world that the almighty, the king of all, has finally been born. But perhaps more than an announcement, it calls us – and again I use the word “call” – calls us to respond to this announcement that the almighty is with us.

I have to comment here about the word “almighty.”   You see when we use the word almighty in the modern English context it sounds good but doesn’t quite have the kick to it that the original Greek word ‘Pantocrator’ has. It entails more of a godly power of omnipotence rather than the earthly power of a mortal ruler. The Pantocrator is the One who has been, who is, and is to come. Speaking of Pantocrator, we have more than a few orthodox icons in our home, some we use for prayer and meditation, others we have displayed here and there as reminders throughout the day that God is with us.

One day back when I was attending the school of Christian Studies the class was at a church looking at some of the artwork and I noticed the icon of Christ the Pantocrator over on a shelf. I pointed it out to a few others who were around me and I said “I love this one, it really draws me in when I’m praying.” And someone asked me if I knew what it was called. Now sometimes I get words mixed up and this was one of them because I responded “Yes, that’s Christ Procrastinator!” Not missing a beat someone chimed in; “well, that explains why we haven’t had the second coming yet!”

Pantocrator, almighty, Christ, King, the Lord; whatever term we use we have to understand that it’s not merely a title. As I said, His arrival calls us to servant-hood, but at the same time we need to respond to that call. And that makes all the difference. Today we read about the responses from Simon who was to be Peter, his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, John and James. Last week we heard about Nathanael and Philip. The week before we even saw Jesus’s response by being baptized. You might be saying, “Sure, all of these incidents show a call and people responded by saying yes.” But it goes so much deeper than that. It requires us to do more than just say “yes.” We’re sitting here in church and hear the call to say the Nicene Creed, we respond by rolling right on through “I believe in God…” now what? The answer to “now what” is found right here in these gospel readings.   Once we acknowledge the call and respond to it we should be as Samuel in last week’s OT reading saying; “Here I am, Lord. Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Peter, Andrew, John and James responded by setting down their nets, walking away from their boats, and yes; even walking away from a father and the family business. Nathanael and Philip have it revealed to them that they no longer have to read about Jacob watching angels ascending and descending. They will be shown the holiness of their own ground, and that heaven is here on earth if we know how to look for it. The story of the Magi has several responses within it; one being to follow a star, a light, a beacon that will guide them to the Messiah; another response is that once we’ve become aware of Christ in our lives, we need to turn and go a different way, a new direction, and avoid the King Herods that ruled our lives previously in this world.   And when Jesus is baptized, he also responds by going a new direction; following the Spirit and venturing into a place unknown… the wilderness.

Yes, Epiphany is perhaps more about what we do with a revelation than the revelation itself! These lessons in the Gospels are here to guide us on the journey. But it won’t do anyone one bit of good if we don’t respond to them. Imagine if Peter, John, and James would have said, “Yeah, wow, that’s cool. We’ll be following you in just a minute, though. A cold front is moving in, those fish are going to be schooling together, let’s get the nets loaded up and haul us in a big catch!”? For us it would be the same response as seeing the fish hatchery truck and follow it up the stream to see where it was going to stock. It wasn’t that they acknowledged the call, it was that they acted upon this realization that something life-changing was available to them and they couldn’t miss out on what lie ahead. They didn’t allow the normal routine to get in their way and cause them to retreat to the normal way of doing business.

Now some people call that crazy. To watch others turn away from something that, to them, seems like a stable and rational way of living, and follow a stranger who showed up on the sea shore and watched you repair nets for a minute or two isn’t normal. You know, I can imagine myself, standing in the middle of a stream on a beautiful day just made for fishing, trying different lures, taking my time, when someone walks down to the bank and says, “Hey friend, I saw you sitting under the dogwood tree earlier. You’re a very spiritual kind of guy. I want you to come along with me right now.” If anyone else around is watching, they surely would be guessing that that other guy is on drugs or just not right in the head, just knowing that I’d be out of the stream onto the opposite bank, leaving a trail of fishing tackle along the way! And imagine the shock on their faces if I waded over to him, dropped my vest and rod on the bank and started walking down the trail with him!

These are the kind of changes that happen when we truly have that epiphany – that true knowing – not just temporal, not just a passing thought – but the knowing that rattles from head to toe. The knowing that makes you turn away from what you are doing and points you toward something you never imagined before. There is excitement in it and something says “go for it!” My story of answering was confirmed for me one spring morning as we drove up route 15 to Lewisburg for classes. I was born with a rod and reel in my hand and rarely missed an opening trout day. We started driving past a large stream that hugged the road and there were numerous cars parked on the shoulder with people putting on fishing vests, hip boots and waders everywhere you looked. My first thought was “Wow, what a great day for fishing, I hope they have fun!” Perhaps the year before, not having reached the point of making a turn in a new direction I probably would have said “Dang, they’re out there fishing and I’m stuck in this car going to some stupid class!” Yes, I did realize my new and different reaction and that made all the difference in the world, knowing that my focus was not on the old way of doing things.

That is just one type of call that we have when we realize the Christ, the Almighty, the King of All, the Lord, has been made known to us. And that’s just one type of response. We all have our call – sometimes even more than one during any lifetime – and we need to respond. You may have a call to inquire on the needs of the hungry and homeless and plan a meal for them on a regular basis as some of you have done. You may have a call after hearing of some disaster and find out the victims need blankets, coats, socks, or water, and then plan on a way to collect these items and get them where they are needed. You may have a call to stand with the others on this altar every Sunday and serve Christ by helping set the table, serving others, and cleaning up. Or you may have been called to lay on hands and pray for the healing of the sick as we’ll do here momentarily. I can’t tell you what your call is, Mother Daphne can’t tell you, and Father Ed couldn’t tell me when I walked into his office eight years ago asking the question “How do I know if I’m called to be ordained?”

Sometimes, as are the cases in the gospels, the call is clear and distinct; “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Other times it may come in the form of a question; “Do you think you could find out where help is needed in the community during cold weather?” Either way, it requires a response and a change in direction. We can’t go back to the old King Herods. We can’t go back to sitting in a boat all day. We can’t go back at this moment in time thinking we have the same resources as a church we had in the past. It’s not saying we won’t ever have that back, it’s saying we need to face a new direction now. We can’t go back, we need to go forward. As we look to the next few weeks of Epiphany, let us look at ways we may have been called to do more. Let us do it together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, and let us help each other through prayer and support, in finding out what things we need to leave behind and which ways we need to be going. And may we find all of those things by, with, and through Christ who is the one that calls us. Amen    Peace!  Deacon Pete

Citation:  RCL;  Year B, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Mark 1:14-20)

NOTE:  An edited portion of this sermon was published here:

http://cumberlink.com/news/religion/faith_in_focus/faith-in-focus-a-call-and-response/article_55ac3b6c-e890-5c5a-a8b1-c023ea585503.html

 

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