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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

 

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All Things New Again

April 27, 2013 1 comment

“I am making all things new again.” With these words from Revelation, the Lord has reaffirmed that creation is an ongoing event. He didn’t say, “I’ll go ahead and make some changes now” or “after this you’re on your own,” but He says “I am making…all things new…again” What comes out of the old, out of the used, out of the unwanted and yes, even out of things destroyed, something new is emerging and we need to take notice. In our times these events might not be as magnificent as rebuilding a temple or raising someone from the dead, but God is constantly at work renewing everything around us. Life goes on whether we pay attention to it or not. And just as in our day, in the times these books were written there was a great deal to pay attention to. Christianity was new and there were small sects forming everywhere the apostles went. And of course there was Paul who had just begun converting the Greeks to Christianity. Rome was keeping an eye and ear out for challenges to their dynasty. Many of those people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah were in disbelief that He even died the way He did, and could barely comprehend Him rising from the dead. And not only were they struggling with the idea that it could even happen, Luke tells us in his narrative in the Acts of the Apostles that even those who did believe, struggled with the thought of the Good News being intended for people outside of their own faith and culture. Because when someone who is different from you claims to have received and benefitted by the same blessings – without going through the customary rituals and trials that you have; well, we think something has to be very wrong with this. Still we find one of the most important events that helped make Christianity universal and indistinctive to cultures or countries right here in this text.
What had started out with one small group of Jews was now being made new and was spreading throughout the region. The stories of Jesus were being heard. The Holy Spirit was moving through the land. So it was only a matter of time before word reached out on the country roads apart from the villages and cities to these outsiders. I’m sure it was a tough decision for Peter who was given the vision and tasked with going to meet the Gentiles – and let’s be reminded that the word Gentile means “people living in the country” – that they were just as worthy as those who celebrated the customs and lived by the laws of Moses. I know this Peter; right here would have been a bit more confused with the issue at hand in the vision. After seeing everything on the sheet that came down from heaven and being told “eat”, I might have said, “finally! Pass the bacon and shrimp, please?” But as we know, the symbolism of the dietary restrictions being lifted meant those who didn’t abide by these laws were also worthy, and so Peter makes the visit and sees first-hand what the power of the Holy Spirit can do. He knows at that moment what was being made new again and saw that the old covenant was no longer: a new one had been made in and through Christ. Who was Peter, to oppose what God had ordained and make his own determination as to who was worthy or not? This displayed the faith that Peter was noted for but it goes deeper than faith. It takes great courage as well. To see beyond our self-imposed boundaries and the boundaries established by governments, religions, and corporations, and see that others are truly worthy of these same gifts of the Spirit – and that we are all created by the same God – is a gift. It was this gift that allowed him to see how God was “making all things new.”
This gift was also special because it carried with it hope that they were accepting these changes for the good, because there is always the chance that along with change come challenges and confrontations can escalate quickly in times of stress and trouble. Sudden change can create fear and for some, fear may be a constant factor in never dealing with new things.
So which direction do we turn when confronted with change? Do we walk in faith or turn away in fear? Do we condemn others and ignite violence? Or do we turn and face the situation head on? Can we honestly search out what we can to find the hope within the situation and seek out what God can make new again? In events such as the bombing at the Boston marathon we observed similar responses and types of thought. One response was to begin searching for reasons and profiling subjects that weren’t even known, planning out retribution and how to get even. Yet another response showed the compassion of bystanders – rushing into the blast area, even before the smoke had cleared, to see what help they could provide to the injured. They assessed the situation, and used all their available resources to save lives. Peter’s situation wasn’t a bomb exploding, but it held the same tensions and contained similar attitudes when he returned from meeting with the Gentiles. New territory had been reached in communicating the work and words of Jesus with people outside of their group. Not only were they Gentiles, not only did he meet with them; but he ate with them as well. If you know anything about the care taken not to contaminate a kosher meal, you can understand how much of a shock this was to the disciples who had just heard the story. A meal was sacred and all Jewish faithful did what they could to follow the laws. There was finger pointing and probably some name calling. But Peter calms them with his explanation and they are beyond satisfied; they are silenced and awed by the result.
As the apostles and other disciples slowly began to accept others into their fold, we can begin to see the words of Jesus in John’s gospel take shape within them. Something was being made new again. Jesus was gone from their sight, but His words were still fresh in the minds of His followers. “I give you a new commandment.” He wasn’t parting with the ways of Torah, but rather refreshing it. He wasn’t destroying something old and useless, He was re-enforcing it. He wasn’t denying anyone the love of God, He was multiplying it. And to this end, we have the answer to everything we need to know about how to handle every change we face. “Love one another.” There’s a story that the apostle John, who had lived longer than any of the others was in his final days, being cared for in Ephesus. As was the custom, when it came time for the sermon, John would be carried in on a mat where he would preach to the crowd. He always ended his sermon with the words “Love one another.” As he became weaker and his strength began to fail the last several times they carried him out, all he said was “Love one another.” After a few times of doing this, someone asked him, “John, why do you no longer speak the way you used to? Why do you keep reciting the same words over and over?” John replied, “Because I’ve come to realize that those are the only words that matter. Love one another.”
And so as we leave here today and begin to think about the changes in our lives and around us – let us pray we understand that by being presented with changes, God is making all things new again. And may we also have the faith and courage to react and respond to God’s actions with the only words that matter; “Love one another.”
ref: 5th Sunday of Easter, RCL year C. Acts 11:1-18; Rev 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Deacon Pete Gdula

Have You Been Formed?

January 29, 2013 1 comment

I’m sure you’ve been asked if you’ve been “saved.” Conversion is something the religious world holds as an end-all to being … well … “religious.” It amazes some how anyone can possibly go about their lives not being sure whether heaven holds a place for them or not. We can wonder if perhaps part of the incursions made to us by zealous disciples is simply the other person’s reflection of their own uncertainty. Yet genuine encounters with God most definitely abound. Many of us long for a hint of an epiphany such as this season represents. We ask; “How will God be revealed to me?” or “When will I experience that event set apart from my ordinary life that can only be classified as ethereal and holy?” Whether it is as dramatic as St. Paul being knocked off his horse, or as sullen as a slight chill that raises the hair on your arms, a profound and unmistaken sense of knowing God and where the Holy Spirit moves in our lives can elude us for what seems like eternity. If this is has been the case, consider there may be another more subtle option going on; the option of being formed. When we create regular habits of reading scripture, when we listen to sacred music, and when we allow the spiritual connections with others to move us – rather than make them into what we think they should be – we begin to settle into a way of life where the main thing moving us is the Holy Spirit. And this is what is meant by being formed. Holy things form holy people. The difference is, while an epiphany can be earth-moving, formation is a settling-in. One day we arrive at a place and notice how our ways of doing business in the world are quite different than when we first started out. And maybe then we get that slight chill and the hair on our arms rises up. You’ve been formed!