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A Call and Response

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

Breaking the Law; Healing the Sick

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStepping up in a crowd to take action can move us out of our comfort zone, but at the same time it stretches you and builds your confidence for even greater things than these. This idea of stretching ourselves is woven through the scriptures and especially what Mark is telling us in the Gospel. Paul gives us more than just a hint about the need to change things up in today’s Epistle. But of course it all begins with Moses telling us that one day there will be Prophet raised up by God to show us the way.
Moses makes the promise, Mark gives proof that the promise has been fulfilled, and Paul demonstrates a way in which we respond. Now to get us into the main storyline of Jesus’s actions in the synagogue performing this exorcism, let’s reflect on what we know about Mark. We know the text attributed to him was the first gospel ever recorded. We know it is not a text on morals or ethics such as can be said of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The fact that he omits what some consider the core of Jesus’s message: the sermons on the mount and the plain; shows us that we’re hearing about what Jesus does more than what he says. It is a story that includes as much history as it does theology. It is a story that sets out to tell us that Jesus was not someone who reverently sat in the pews during service. He was someone that grabbed our attention when we least expected. And He was someone who would rather break a rule for the sake of saving a leper than to blindly obey laws that had long lost their true value.
Mark is personally one who knew Peter and Paul and had not only the firsthand knowledge of Jesus’s authority on earth through their teachings, but also witnessed that authority through the healing miracles performed by those two Saints. We can see through Mark what Jesus did during his time with them, and so he sets the tone of Jesus’s ministry by beginning with an exorcism. These are some very tricky versus for our time and place – where a watered-down Christianity wants to make everything more comfortable for us by maybe trying to replace the word ‘demon’ with ‘illness’; or even by saying that these readings are all metaphors. But if we try to explain away the images and written words that appear here as some Grimm Fairy Tale, we will completely lose what Mark is trying to tell us.
Mark wants to show us that Jesus is not just another teacher, another rabbi in the community. He is one who has authority. He doesn’t just walk into a place all calm and collective, read a few scrolls, say what’s on his mind, and sit down without raising even the slightest eyebrow. Because Jesus has what has never been seen before; the authority of God, the meeting just got a little more exciting. Let’s compare images of how things might have gone before and after His arrival. The scribes are in the synagogue reading the scrolls, then maybe go off on some long, boring sermon about what they think it means. Or maybe they’ve already had their discussion beforehand in the form of Midrash and are giving the people their findings. Everyone shakes their head and nods, exchange some handshakes, sit down and break bread and drink some wine and go home to feed the cattle and tend the sheep.
Jesus walks in and it’s his turn to read. He stands up, takes a scroll, reads and then begins to teach a new teaching. He starts interpreting the words in ways which they hadn’t heard before and now are finally making sense. Instead of people nodding to be nice and mumbling in unison, they’re applauding the words and gasping at the fresh air. Mark uses the word ‘immediately’ throughout his book. In most translations where modern writers frown on using the same word over and over again they wind up replacing this with other words that may just lose some of the intensity such as ‘at that time’, or ‘then’. There is a reason for Mark’s selection of adverbs and this one is to set a rhythm and tone to the events as they unfold. He wants to show the impact Jesus has on people. And impact them he does, for two other words he uses over and over are ‘astounded’ and ‘amazed’. They are always astounded and amazed at what Jesus has done.
What we can draw from this so far is that first, we are to be sure that Jesus teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. He came not to read, but to teach! And his teachings were alive and fresh… think about that… what it would be like to sit down in church and have someone preaching for hours and you are so rapt up in this person’s ideas and presentation that you completely forget about your Sunday pot roast simmering in the oven. (Remember those days?) The pot roast – not the sermons. Secondly, we can see that his authority stretches out beyond the confines of a stone building, beyond the words he speaks, beyond our wildest dreams because he has complete command and control over evil… something that up to this point only God had control over.
But what about Paul’s letter? How might that tie into the idea of being in control of instead of being controlled? Paul’s lesson is one that deals with the moral and ethical problem of doing something that is legal and okay with us, yet might cause another harm. For example, I know of a few alcoholics and drug addicts. Exchange meat for alcohol in Paul’s letter and you can see what he’s saying. I would not invite an alcoholic to a party where wine, beer and liquor was being consumed by everyone else without letting him know that up front. To have him show up unaware could be more temptation than he could handle and I could be liable for sending him back into rehab. Another example of this is a real life case that just happened in Paris with the Charlie newspaper. Do we have freedom to print what we want? Here in the western world, yes. But before we make something public, perhaps we might want to consider what the consequences will be if people radically disagree with our thoughts. Just because something is legal to do doesn’t mean it should always be done. Paul tells us it’s our responsibility to look out for the greater good in all we do.
Which is another vein of thought we get from the gospel. We can easily infer that people who were possessed with demons (or were ill, sick, dying, hungry, homeless, etc.), these people had previously sat around on the perimeter of the crowd and yet had been ignored by the rest of society. Nobody turned to them when they cried out. Nobody asked how they could help. Nobody ventured into that safe space between themselves and the ones in need because most everyone has a fear of the unknown. This is more of the wilderness we spoke of last week. The wilderness that Jesus walked into after being baptized. It’s were we all need to go. And nobody dared to go there then and few dare these days. They – we – just sit pretending to be comfortable and not take notice. Everyone except for Jesus.
Yes, they sat back and ignored everything around them. When we sit back ignoring what’s wrong in the world and allow evil to be evil we give it power. Jesus refused to allow evil to have power over him and with him in our lives we can be sure it has no power over us. But if we don’t stand up to what is wrong and turn it away, if we sit back and say “nope, that’s none of my business, let someone else take care of it” we are just like the scribes who told the same old story time after time after time. To do nothing about a situation allows the problem to persist and more than likely get worse.
Jesus knew the needs of others then as he knows the needs of others now. Through Mark, he shows us that not only is he a talented teacher of morals and ethics, but he shows us that he also has the authority to make all things right. Do we have the courage and strength to do what is necessary to stand up to evil in the world, no matter how it presents itself? Do we know and trust that as Christ’s own, we have his authority at our beck and call whenever we need it? It continues to be one of those call and response situations we encounter during this time after Epiphany, and that we talked about last week. However in this case, it just might be that we are the ones who are calling to Jesus for His response and authority in a time we may need it most. So will we call and be amazed and astounded at the result? Or will we sit around nodding our heads and mumbling with the crowd? Let’s hope we can tell everyone how amazed we were at the power and authority of Jesus! Amen.       Peace!  Deacon Pete

Citation:  RCL; Year B, 4th Sunday after Epiphany (Deut 18:15-20, Cor 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28)