Epiphany III – 2014

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Back at Christmas we heard the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  But notice that Matthew quoting the prophet takes the situation a step further, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit their lives away in the shadow of death – on them live has dawned!”

John the Baptizer was arrested by Herod and ultimately beheaded From then on Jesus started to herald his message and to say .  .  Jesus began to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand.”  Or as Frederick Bruner puts it, “Turn your lives around, because here comes the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And so it did.  Without marching bands and media coverage, walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew his brother.  This is the Andrew who last week spends the afternoon talking with Jesus.    At the end of last week’s reading, Andrew finds Simon and tells him that he has found the messiah, the anointed one.

We all know Simon.  Jesus nicknamed him Petros, the Rock.   He was a man of giant proportions, wonderfully complex, and passionate: at his best a rock, at his worst, silly putty.  Andrew, was the proverbial “little brother”, stable and dependable.  In the Gospel accounts, Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus.

Jesus calls them.  This was not their first meeting but now comes the moment to decide.   They left their nets, boats, and families and followed Jesus.

Then Jesus called James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  James was the older.     John, tradition has it, was about sixteen.  They are best known for being the loud mouths of the group.  Jesus named them the “Sons of Thunder” because they liked talk about punching the lights of anyone who disagreed with them.  Fortunately, like thunder, they were mostly noise.

Jesus called these four men and they left their:

  •                 Nets:       careers
  •                 Boats:    possessions
  •                 Father:   family

and  followed him.

fishing boatThis is not to say that they never had contact with career, processions or family again;

  •   Peter is later at home with his wife.
  •   All of them go fishing again.
  •   They didn’t give away the boats.

BUT CAREER, POSSESSIONS AND FAMILY were no longer the ultimate focus of their lives.  To do evangelism we must first, BE, evangelized!  We are initiated into this community, we are adopted into this family by Baptism.  We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This baptism is not magic.  It is not like a flu shot.  It is the beginning of   relationship and dependence on God.

We may or may not be aware of the work of the Spirit for a long time.  We should, however, be very aware of the love and nurture of Christians around us.  That is why we need to know each other, love each other, forgive each other, carrying the burden of those overloaded and building a community that promotes maturity in the faith building up the body of Christ.

Fra angelica

Fra angelica

The center of this family of Christians, like all families, is the table where we eat.  This is the place where we gather as the assembly of the faithful to encounter in word and sacrament: The Resurrected the Jesus.

From time to time, what one of my favorite characters in literature calls a “sudden irresistible motion of grace” may well come our way.  We are going along, working, doing our thing, when an event, a person, or a combination of factors STOPS US in our tracks.  Our outer shell is cracked and suddenly our heart is dilated, we can’t explain it.  Something has shifted a bit and we are transformed from what we were.  We call these events: religious or conversions experiences.

Then we move on and reflect on what has happened by:

    1. Study:    what does this mean?
    2. Piety/Prayer:  What is God saying to me?
    3. Action:  Doing what is called for in response to God’s call and grace.

So the process of conversion, which began at our baptism, continues.  The same process is alive in us that worked on the first disciples.   The authenticity of their discipleship resided in their “follower ship”.  They did not simply “believe” Jesus and let it go at that.  They did not “praise” Jesus by verbal declarations of support; nor, did they offer Jesus good intentions about getting behind him some time in the future. They committed themselves.  They made a decision around which all the other decisions in their lives would revolve.  …

James Tissot

James Tissot

They made a commitment! They made a decision, which formatted all the other decisions they would ever make. The fact that they left nets boats and father and followed Jesus doesn’t mean that they never had contact with career, possessions, and family again. BUT none of these things were the focus, the defining principle of their lives.   The defining principle is a person: Jesus and their careers, possessions and family became their means of ministry.

None of us is born Christian — not now, nor in the time of Jesus.  We are never “genetically Christian.”  We might originate out of generations of “good Episcopalians,” but, as the statistics bear out, this origination does not guarantee an active involvement in the community of faith. In every age, in every generation, a decision has to be made. Grandparents and parents can’t make it for you.  A hand-me-down, hereditary commitment doesn’t work.  Sitting week after week in a chicken house will not make you a poulet!  It’s as futile as someone attempting to be baptized on behalf of someone else. Commitment can’t be made by proxy and God has no grandchildren!

 God’s self-disclosure in Christ calls for a response — our response.  That is the essence of today’s Gospel reading: revelation meets up with commitment.”   The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, once said, “a thing is what it does.”

 We can do all we will here in the church to talk about fishing.  We can talk theory, study the book, have a boat, (remember that the section of the church where you are seated is not the sanctuary [the sanctuary in this church is the section behind the altar rail, so when people ask me how many people can be seated in the sanctuary at Saint John’s I say, nine when crowded.] Where you are seated is called the nave from navis which means ship.  If we go out on the lake and paddle around a fish may jump into the boat. But that is not fishing. We are called to transformation and then to be agents of transformation, which brings me to that word that provokes an allergic reaction in Episcopalians: Evangelism, the fishing for people our Lord spoke of so long ago.

 It’s a loaded word.  The word, EVANGELISM, raises images of lapel pulling, 35 pound black-bound Bibles, guilt, shame, and the hard sell.  For some people who have been approached that way it feels like being “stalked” for Jesus.   I am uneasy with that too, but the problem is that in reacting against that we do nothing.  We say something like, “I think that by living a good life, a life of faith, people will observe that life and that will be enough.   Well maybe….

2011_01_23_fishermen[1]

A man who took this position lived next door to a man who was not a Christian.   So the Christian man decided to live out the life in front of his neighbor.  And he did.   The neighbor noticed that his neighbor’s life was different.  One day he said to the Christian across the back fence, “There’s just something about you that is different from me.  Your life is full and you are just more peaceful than I am.  I want to ask you a question?”

  • “Yes,” said the Christian.
  • “Are you,” asked the neighbor.”
  • The Christian began to get a little excited, “Yes, go on he said”
  • “Are you a vegetarian?” asked the neighbor.

There is a time when speaking a word to others about Jesus is exactly the thing required for the manifestation of grace to take place but it must come from deep within us where we hear the spirit speaking words of grace and hope.

It is time to get on with it.   Jesus calls us to follow him: now not later.   We are called to be full of him wherever we are.  Let us pray that our careers, processions, and families will day by day become the means by which “an irresistible motion of grace” may be manifested in our lives and in the lives of those we meet.

Amen.

urn-3 HUAM INV190165_dynmc

ADVENT III


John the Baptist preaching - Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

John the Baptist preaching – Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

John the Baptizer is a prime example of the words Flannery O’Connor when she said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you ODD!”  He came in from the wilderness, wearing camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey, preaching hell fire every time proclaiming a baptism for repentance,

 Publicly calling down Herod Antipas for marrying his niece who happened to be married to his brother got him in jail.   They were close those Herods.  Cooling his heels in jail – he begins, first to wonder and then to ponder and then to fret.  Then he sends disciples to Jesus asking the question, really on behalf of everyone of us who have ever encountered Jesus.


john the baptist prisonJohn the Baptizer, “Are you the one, or should we wait for another?


Tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor good news brought to them.


Brian McClaren in his book, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, Finding Our Way Againtells the story of being the moderator a question and answer period at lecture. In response to a question the Speaker said that he had asked the manger of a book store what were the bestselling book categories.  He reported that the bestselling books were about how to get rich.  The second best category was religion/spirituality.  Then the man asked Brian, “Why do you suppose that books on Buddhism sell better than books on Christianity.  Not knowing what to say Brian asked the speaker what he thought and the man said, “It‘s because Buddhism is a way of life and Christianity is a set of beliefs.”  That’s it. That’s the issue.

 Listen carefully = this is the very reason for Renewal Works. This is the reason for Saint John’s Reads.  Let me see if I can describe the dilemma as I see it.

The enlightenment so elevated the thinking function until we are barely able to consider any other way of dealing with reality.  We have come to think that thinking is all there is.  For whatever happens we work to find the right way to think about it. We do studies, statistics, trends and demographics.   We come up with the word formula and the words are the thing.  And that is not true.


Let me use an example from American culture.

george-washingtonI believe in George Washington.

  • I believe that George Washington lived from 1732-1799.
  • I believe that George was a  good man.
  • I believe that cut down the cherry tree and refused to lie about it.
  • I believe that George was the “Father of his country.”
  • If I am in Virginia, I might go to Mt. Vernon and see where he lived and is buried.
  • Or I might go to the Washington Monument in Washington D C .
  • I can  carry a few copies of his picture around in my wallet.
  • I may take George’s name in vain and say “By George” in conversation but then such talk is cheap.

These are a set of beliefs but they have nothing to do with how I live my life on Tuesday or any other day.  Even if:

  • We accept the data.
  • We affirm the word formula.
  • We can say the word formula the right way so everyone will know we believe.
  • And it is not enough!

Richard Rohr –  not Orthodoxy, right belief, we have more of that than we know what to do with so now we fight about the word formulas to the confusion, consternation and then cold feet of our people as they quietly find the exits because affirming facts and data of belief will not stop the slow leak in their souls.Richard goes on to say that what we need is Orthopraxy – Right Practice.  The enlightenment produced extraordinary intellect and technology while discounting and forgetting the practices that formed our ancestors in the faith.


How many of you have noticed that by reading the Bible most every day something shifted in you? The stories came to mind.  You begin to see your own story in the Bible story. It’s not practicing our faith, it’s “faithing” our practice that must happen.

Jesus didn’t say, “Go and tell John that he needs to believe that I am the Lord, the Christ, begotten of my Father before all worlds. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with my Father.   He didn’t say, “now repeat it back to me so I know you go the words just right.  Now, all together so we all know what to believe.He didn’t say, “Repeat after me.”   He didn’t say, affirm this word formula.

1c-christ-healing-the-blind-el-greco
What he said was, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard.”

  • the blind receive their sight,
  • the lame walk,
  • the lepers are cleansed,
  • the deaf hear,
  • the dead are raised,
  • and the poor good news brought to them. 

Notice that the verbs.  Things are happening to those in need.  John must have been reassured.  What Jesus did what people were hoping for.  What Jesus was doing puts, “Paid” to the baptism in the Jordon:  The Kingdom of God is come near you!  What we know is that people experienced something out there by and in the Jordan.

Remember the Jordan:

  • It is the boundary between the wilderness and the Promised Land.
  • In the Jordon they were washed, baptized into hope

That was happening by the Jordon.  Even the priests came out.  Even people like me who think they have seen it all.  They also came to experience the Baptism of hope.  “Are you the one or should we wait for another?”

This is the one for whom we have waited.  Let us stir ourselves from sleep, rise up and follow him. AMEN.