Preached on 15 January 2017 at St. John Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Vocation – God’s call – Can you hear it? It’s all through the readings for today.
In Isaiah, we hear the Second Song of the Servant. The people of Israel are returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. They’re refugees and returnees at the same time, trying to put their lives back together. Jerusalem is pretty much in ruins. Great! – they survived. God has redeemed them – well, at least a remnant. And what does God say?
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
The servant songs are ambiguous, perhaps purposely so, as to just who they are addressed to. And that often seems to shift as we read along. Is this about God’s call to the prophet himself? Is he the servant? Or is it about the whole people of Israel?
Christians often hear it as being about Jesus. But we can also hear it as a call to us, the Church, here and now. That’s the beauty of the Living Word of God – it can hold all of those meanings simultaneously.
Too light a thing. It is too light a thing that I have redeemed you and you are survivors. No, not only that, I will give you as a light to the Nations! That my salvation may reach to the end of the earth!
I didn’t preserve you for your own sake, but for the sake of the world.
Then we have the letter to the Church in Corinth. One the one hand, it’s specific. It’s addressed to the people in a particular church. It’s from Paul, the person who planted that church, and he’s writing in response to what he has heard about them – either from a letter he received or word of mouth. We don’t really know the content of that communication, but as we read through Paul’s letter, we begin to get a picture of a community that’s going through a rough patch, shall we say.
On the other hand, although it’s aimed at a specific community, it may also speak to us today. Here are the pertinent bullet points from the introduction that we heard today:
- You are called to be saints.
- Along with all the other folks who call upon the name of Jesus. (You are part of something bigger than your little group.)
- God has equipped you with all the gifts you need to do the work God gives you to do.
- You need them all. No gift is better or more important than another.
Can you hear a word from God to us in that? I hear important reminders – and some are kind of uncomfortable.
We are all called to be saints – along with all the other Christians. Even those we disagree with. There is a lot of “I’m not that kind of Christian” talk, especially in social media. Christians trying to distance themselves from other Christians. And I get that. In fact, I do that.
This reminds me that we are all called to be saints; we are all doing our best to follow that call AND we all fall short. My falling short is not necessarily “not-as-bad” as someone else’s. The fact that I think I get a particular thing right doesn’t make everything I believe or do righteous. Nor does the fact that I think the other person gets one thing totally wrong mean that everything they believe or do is unrighteous.
The goal is not to strive to be alike or persuade them to be like us. Rather it is to strive to follow Christ’s call to us as best we can.
And finally, in Paul’s words, I hear the reassuring hope that God provides. As a community, God gives us all the gifts we need to do the work God calls us to do.
And now we come to our reading from the gospel of John and Jesus calling the first of the disciples – in fact the first words spoken by Jesus in this gospel. It begins with John’s witness and an allusion to Jesus’ baptism. John points him out and says he’s the one. I saw the Holy Spirit rest on him. And immediately, two of his disciples leave him to go after Jesus.
Jesus asks, “What do you seek?”
I can just imagine the two looking at each other, shrugging, trying to find words for that strange feeling they have that draws them to him. “Where are you staying?” they ask. Where do you abide? The question refers to a sense of continuous presence – this is not about what hotel he’s using.
Jesus responds with an invitation, “Come and see.”
What they will see as the gospel progresses is that Jesus abides in God’s presence – it’s ongoing, continuous. And we will find that “come and see” was an invitation to abide in the presence of God.
That question, “What do you seek?” and invitation, “Come and see” are extended to us as well.
In all three lessons, we hear God’s call
Come and see. You are called to be saints.
I will give you as a light to the nations.
You have received every spiritual gift.
This time of transition is a particularly good time in the life of the community to reflect anew – to listen anew – for God’s call, for God’s guidance, for God’s reassurance and hope. The completion of the profile is a step, it’s not the end of this time of discernment. Discerning not only God’s call, but discerning the gifts God has given this community.
When I was in discernment for ordination, the priest who facilitated the group reminded us that our discernment was more a matter of fine-tuning.
Jesus was already pretty clear about what we are called to do:
Feed the hungry. Give water to the thirsty.
Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Heal the sick.
Visit the prisoner. Free the captives. Forgive sins.
Hold one another to account. Go to the nations, to people not like you –
Proclaim the Good News. Baptize. Make disciples.
Teach what he taught.
Pray for one another. Serve one another.
Love one another. Love your enemies.
Do this for the remembrance of me.
Discernment is the work of listening for how to apply the big ideas to this specific community. The people of St. John’s in Snohomish.
Where do you abide? What do you seek?
Come and see, Jesus says.
Abide in the presence of God.
God will equip you with every spiritual gift you need.
Be a light to the nations.