Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
As we continue through the Epiphany season, we are remembering the call of the disciples. Last Sunday we heard John relate one recollection of the moments when the first disciples began to follow Jesus. This morning we’ve listened to what Matthew has to tell us about how the first disciples came to form the community traveling with and learning from Jesus.
Matthew’s account, which is much like Mark’s and Luke’s, takes place after Jesus has been baptized, has spent time in the wilderness enduring temptation by Satan, and has made a home in Capernaum in Galilee.
And now it seems that he is ready to begin the ministry to which he is called. He begins by repeating the same proclamation we’ve heard from the Baptizer: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And Jesus takes a stroll by the Sea of Galilee and observes two groups of fishermen – Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee.
Seemingly without knowing anything of the four apart from their occupation - though some scholars observe that there’s nothing in the story that precludes an already-established relationship between Jesus and the fishermen – Jesus summons them to take on the activity of “catching people”.
We have a lot to get to this morning, and I promised to be brief! Let me suggest a couple of observations about the call of the disciples and then, an observation about how that call is connected to our business, this morning, in our Annual Meeting, as we take stock and inform ourselves about our life as the parish of James and Andrew.
Regardless, Jesus brings a message about a different kind of human community that reflects what Michael Curry calls “God’s dream” for humankind; Jesus envisions a community in which we all recognize ourselves and every other person as beloved by God, and we work together to care for one another, and to build a world characterized by peace and justice.
Jesus cannot do the work alone, and so he specifically recruits folks who can help him in the work of “catching people”. Jesus doesn’t go to the Temple to get priests onto the team, or to the palaces to summon the powerful, or to the academies to recruit the best educated. He wants the fishermen.
Like the Good Shepherd of a later parable, Jesus is out to save the lost. It is the fisherman, rather than the priests or the powerful, or the well-educated who can best help him do it.
But we also need to remember that Jesus’ call to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John came because he had a job for them to do. He didn’t say “Follow me and you’ll find comfort.” In fact it was quite the opposite.
We are called too, however we may experience that call.
We’re called to share the news that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and to help bring that kingdom into being.
We’re called to be the community that proclaims and enacts God’s Love, that works so that God’s dream may become reality –
kind word by kind word
meal by meal fed
forgiveness by forgiveness offered
sharing by sharing
Pray that we may hear the call and follow.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
2 Epiphany A 2020
All of these Epiphanytide stories are about the presence of God being recognized in Jesus by those who encounter him. The Epiphany season invites us into our own new discoveries of God’s presence, our own fresh recognition of Jesus.
Today’s story of the call of the first disciples is pretty fascinating. When we think about the calling of the disciples, we generally think of Jesus passing by the fishermen as they’re mending their nets and inviting them to come join him, which is actually the gospel lesson we’ll hear next week.
John’s version of the story (which we’ve just heard) is distinctly different.
For one thing, the first disciples in John’s story are not approached by Jesus; they are already disciples of John. Clearly, they’re already on some kind of spiritual quest, and have left behind their other concerns to spend time with a prophet who they find to be speaking to the spiritual questions of the day.
But when John identifies Jesus as the one about whom he has been preaching, declaring him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and “the Son of God”, two of his followers, Andrew and another, begin to follow along behind Jesus, and an exchange takes place.
Noticing the two, Jesus asks “What are you looking for?”
It’s a pretty big question, don’t you think?
We can imagine lots of reasons why they may not have been ready to say what it is they were looking for. The two, instead of answering, counter with a question of their own – maybe a deflection: “Where are you staying?”, they ask.
And Jesus, in a manner we know well, does not give a direct answer, either. Instead he issues an invitation: “Come and see.”
Last Sunday we began the first session of this year’s class for inquirers – Episcopal Church 101. It’s a dive into the beliefs and practices that make up “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”, which we offer when the Bishop is coming to visit. It aims to assist with discernment by those who are considering becoming “official Episcopalians” through Confirmation or Reception, but it’s also a refresher for those who may be feeling that they’d like to learn more about a tradition in which they have already been members.
What does this have to do with anything?
We began the conversation in that first meeting with Heather asking, in effect, Jesus’ question: “what are you looking for?” She asked it more diplomatically, of course, asking something like “What brought you to take part in this class?”, and we went around with each participant sharing something of their own spiritual travels and the current state of their seeking.
The sharing was amazing to me, both for the diversity of experience that we heard, and for the depth and openness of members’ willingness to speak about themselves.
The group gathered included
But all of those taking part in the class were doing so because something they have experienced in the Episcopal tradition as it plays out here at James and Andrew that caused them to want to find out more.
I don’t want to overstate the analogy, but it seems rather like Andrew and his companion following the impulse to trail along after Jesus.
Here’s some of what we heard in listening to the group:
I’ll bet Andrew and his companion might have shared a very similar list.
Come with me on one more digression, if you would –
There’s a movement that started in the field of business leadership that has made it into church leadership circles. It started with a guy named Simon Sinek who developed an idea, gave a TED talk and wrote a bunch of books about “Finding your Why” (W – H – Y)
Sinek says that the difference between the ordinary, or even the good leaders and organizations, and the great leaders and organizations, is their ability to know and talk about their “WHY”.
He has a diagram he calls “the golden circle”, that has three concentric rings.
Every organization, Sinek says, can talk about what they do, and how they do it. The harder task is articulating why, communicating the core purpose that drives the how and the what.
He uses the example that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only Civil Rights leader of his time, or the only great orator. King, he says, was uniquely effective in mobilizing and inspiring change – not that we have yet achieved the change we need - because he knew and could communicate at deep level WHY racial equality matters.
It’s the getting to “WHY” that fueled us here at James and Andrew in working to formulate a statement of mission, a year after we became a new parish. If you think about the statement we developed, we can see the golden circle, and it starts with our “WHY”:
We believe God is calling us to cultivate a community of love, joy, hope, and healing.
How do we do it?
Jesus is our model for a life of faith, compassion, hospitality, and service.
And then, finally, we say “what” it is that we seek to do:
We strive to be affirming and accessible, welcoming and inclusive; we seek to promote reconciliation, exercise responsible stewardship, and embrace ancient traditions for modern lives.
Jesus asked Andrew and his companion “What are you looking for?” It is such a fundamental, critical question, and we need to ask it of ourselves, over and over and over again, in order to remain connected to our purpose.
Why are we here?
What are we looking for?
Why does it matter?
It is only when we know these things that we will be able to be the Body of Christ that serves God and changes the world.
Rev. Heather J. Blais
This morning I’d like us to spend some time thinking about labels.
Labels are used to classify people or things, and they are often restrictive.
What labels was Jesus assigned--by himself or others?
(Pictured below are the labels we named for Jesus. They include messiah, wonderful counselor, crazy, heretic, Christ, foolish, etc.)
Alright, let’s transition now.
What labels are you assigned--by yourself or others?
You each are going to be given a pen and a post it.
When you are ready, write down the labels you are aware you carry around and then go put them on the “US” stick figure.
These labels can be warranted or unwarranted.
They can be the good, the bad, and the ugly.
(Pictured below are the labels we named for ourselves. They include labels about our physical appearance, our relationships, our occupations, our personalities, our socio-economic status, etc.)
This is a lot that we each carry around each and every day.
Some have truth in them, and some may have been unfairly assigned to us.
Let's turn back to Jesus. If we were to peel back all of Jesus labels, only one would remain.
The label that was affirmed in his baptism, when a voice from heaven said to him,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
The same is true for us. And I would argue this truth begins long before baptism, but at our birth.
Rachel Held Evans once said that,
“[In baptism] you splash water on a baby’s head, or dunk someone underneath the water, and as they come up, tell them that over and beyond any other label that the world might assign you, you are a beloved child of God and nothing can change that.”*
No matter what other labels are assigned to us, none matters more than our identity as a beloved child of God.
This is the truth we affirm in our baptism.
The unchangeable truth affirmed in our baptism is that we are beloved children of God. In following Jesus’ example of baptism, we are saying we recognize this truth, and we long to do our best to live into this truth. We will stumble, we may fall away, and yet this unchangeable truth remains. We are all broken, beautiful, and beloved children of God.
I wonder, which labels in your life do you pay the most attention to? How much does that compare to the time you spend remembering that you are a beloved child of God? Or to flip this all on its head--what labels do you assign others? In the people that drive you the most crazy are you able to see the unchangeable truth, that they too, are a beloved child of God?Given all this--what does your baptism mean to you? Amen.
*Rachel Held Evans on The Liturgist Podcast-Season 1, Episode 19 Searching for Sunday with Rachel Held Evans
Rev. Heather J. Blais
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If at Christmas we celebrate love being made manifest, God becoming present in human form, then at the Epiphany, we celebrate how that love is made manifest beyond the Jewish community, in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. We celebrate how our God is revealed to all people, in all places, throughout all time. While the Jewish community was awaiting a political Messiah, the rest of the world wasn’t expecting anyone at all. Which is why it is so remarkable that the magi would follow a star from the East to pay homage to this newborn child. Over the next seven weeks, we will witness several manifestations, where Jesus’ is revealed to be God’s Son. First in the visit of the magi, then in his baptism and in calling the disciples, as Jesus heals the sick and tends to the oppressed, and again in the transfiguration.
Today’s story features a ruler, his kingdom, wise men, a baby and his family.
For the ruler this is a story about fear. Fear of the stranger. Fear of lost power, place, and prestige. Fear of a child, whose very existence, threatens his rule.
For the people who lived in the ruler’s kingdom, this too, is a story about fear. Fear of the ruler’s instability, his anger, his erratic actions. Fear that children they love will be killed, when the ruler condemns every child two and under to be killed.
Fear of what ends this ruler might take their kingdom if left to his own devices, yet ever more fear of what might happen
should they try and stop them. That kind of fear leads to a blind, disempowering submission.
Yet fear is not the only way.
There is also love.
For the wise men, this is a story about love. They leave the safety and comfort of home to follow a star and pay homage to new kind of king. They encounter a fear driven ruler, and still, love sustains them, and drives them further on in their journey. When they saw the star had stopped, they knew they had found the child. They were overwhelmed with joy.
Because when we take the risk to love, we will always find joy. The joy will overwhelm us and has the power to make us whole. The wise men gave lavish gifts to this rather ordinary, poor family. Gifts of love that had come from a far away land, simply so this family might know their child’s life had already begun to touch the lives of people in strange and far away places.
This is also a story about love for this child and family. They do not completely understand, but know this child is special. The shepherds and strangers from distant lands have all come and bowed down to their child as though he were a king himself. These new parents do not get caught up in the potential power or prestige. Any fear of the unknown is kept at bay by their faith that God must know what God is up to, even if they do not quite understand it yet. And mostly, it is kept at bay by their love for this beautiful and precious child that has come into this world and turned their lives upside down and right side up again.
This story is one about the decision to live in fear or lean into love. In fact, nearly all the stories within scripture
at their core are about this decision--fear based living or leaning into love. Yet the choice between living in fear and leaning into love is not only for those we read about each week.
It is the choice we are faced with every morning when we wake up and start again. And there seems to be a sort of momentum to the decisions. Meaning, if we typically choose to live in fear, that becomes the easiest way to live. It seems to become physically harder and harder to choose to lean into love. Yet it is still, and will always be, possible. If we take courage. And the opposite is also true--the more we find ourselves leaning into love, the easier it becomes. Until leaning into love feels a bit like discovering you have the ability to fly. Choosing to love again and again will take us to faraway places. Within ourselves, our relationships with others, and with God.
The story of the ruler, his kingdom, the wise men, the baby and his family is a reminder of the everyday decisions we must make. Will we let fear or love dictate our choices? From our first encounter in the morning with a spouse or child or coworker. From the sad and scary news we might face when we learn of a friend or loved one’s illness. To the pain and loneliness of a broken relationship with a partner, a child, a sibling, or friend. To the choices we make about how we treat the earth or the effects of the public policy we support, either consciously or unconsciously in our actions.
Everyday we face decisions about living in fear or leaning into love. I’d like to say our faith will give us the courage to always lean into love. But we will all face fear. There will be some days when we will wake up and we will live that whole day in fear. It might even drag out into weeks, months, or years. Yet the great hope of being in a faith community together,
is that we can help one another follow the magi’s example. The wise men model for us how to be bold and courageous
in following the star of hope that leads us back to Christ again and again.
What do you choose in this moment--living in fear or leaning into love?
How can we help one another chose hope and lean into love together?
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