The Bible is full of beginnings. In Genesis it begins with the familiar words, In the Beginning... God created the heavens and the earth. There, he merely speaks the word and the cosmos comes into being. God forms humankind in his own image out of dust of the earth and breathes life into them. He chooses Abraham to be the grandfather of nations and begin the history of God’s people and Israel.
We are presented with the beginnings of a new story, with An Angel and a girl named Mary; with her sister and her son, John who will grow up to become the greatest of prophets. His cousin, preaches and teaches far and wide, heals the sick, raises the dead and points us to yet another beginning- one in which there is a life in eternal glory around the throne in the presence of his heavenly Father.
These are but some of the beginnings. Other beginnings in the Bible are called call stories. These are stories where one is invited by God to begin something new and unexpected. In the Old stories of the Hebrew Bible, we hear of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and others. God calls this person to beings, and only to begin, but -and here is the hard part- to persist and to persevere. The one who is called is to persist so that another beginning can take place.
Our Call story in Matthew’s gospel begins with Andrew and Simon, James and John. They are all fisherman it is likely the know each other in the village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I imagine it’s still dark, off the go to hurl their nets into the water to haul in the days catch and take it to market. A day like any other day- nothing special.
Except it isn’t. today is a day for a new beginning.
Jesus shows up at the water’s edge. There is something to suggest that Jesus has a reputation. Have they heard about him before? Maybe heard him speaking and teaching in the synagogue? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. But Jesus calls them. And in calling Simon, Andrew, James and John, a new beginning takes place. He says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Nice play on Words Jesus! Was this a challenge to them? An argument that if they can fish for fish, could they fish for something larger?
In call stories, there is not a call to mundanity, but a call to adventure. No fisherman wants to be called and say, “Follow me and I will make you fish for…fish.” The call is to something not just new, but to the unknown. Moana- you remember her- How Far I’ll Go is her ballad of leaving the mundanity behind and answer the call of the Sea to adventure. G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”
In the ancient time Rabbis would typically wait for disciples to come to them. Rabbi Jesus, the Lamb of God, goes out and finds his own. And this Jesus is also quite different in another way- he doesn’t go out among the elite- the best or the brightest. He goes down the docks, to the blue collar of his time.
Adventure is something that comes to us and choses us. And though in our Christian vocation we chose Christ, one might say that God chose us first. God chose us from the very beginning – God who, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “formed me in the womb to be his servant,” chooses us to be his instruments. God chooses us for a great adventure.
Discipleship is the great adventure for us all and we are taken away from our predictable lives by the one who is great beyond all measure.
Woe to anyone who dilutes this adventure with dullness, who makes discipleship into something safe. Don’t get me wrong, we like things safe, secure, predictable. But where we are called to be is right on the edge, walking the narrow path between safe, predictable, and secure- hear comfortable- on the one hand, and the adventure of the unknown- the intellectual and emotional risk taking that helps us stretch and to grow.
Today, in addition to our annual meeting, we celebrate our patronal feast day, St. Timothy. Timothy was called to an adventure by the Apostle Paul. When Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, Paul healed a crippled person leading many there to become Christians. When Paul returned, this time with Silas, Timothy was already a member of the Christian congregation along with is mother and grandmother. Timothy became Paul’s disciple and later his constant companion and co-worker in preaching. This is around the year 56 or 57. Timothy would go from Macedonia to Ephesus to Corinth arriving just after Paul’s 1st letter reaches them. He would eventually govern as bishop of the Church in Ephesus. Historically, we lose track of him in the New Testament after the book of Acts. In a book, not in the Bible, called, the Acts of Timothy, the story is told that in the year 97, at the age of 80, Bishop Timothy tried to stop a procession in honor of the goddess Diana by preaching the gospel. The angry pagans beat him with clubs, dragged him through the streets and stoned him to death. Hence the symbols on our banner.
By all accounts he and Paul were quite close and without a doubt his life and ministry as a follower of Christ was an adventure. He was chosen and called in to the service of Christ.
Are these four men- Andrew, Simon, James, and John- ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them? That choses them? They are certainly in good company. Did Moses feel equipped? He responded by saying “I am slow of speech; how will Pharaoh understand me?” Isaiah said, Woe is me I am a man of unclean lips…Jeremiah said, I’m too young, I’m just a kid and there are others. All of them called by God at a time when they felt least prepared. They are fishermen- skilled in mending nets- what do they know about fishing for people? Christ’s call means a new beginning.
And these men are far from perfect- even in faith. Simon who will become known as Peter- when the moment comes, he denies Jesus, not once but THREE times. James and John nicknamed the Son’s of Thunder, are not the most agreeable pair around, they will jostle each other to sit at Jesus’ right hand and miss the point completely when Jesus says that to become the greatest you must become the least of all. Andrew rarely appears on the radar. AND YET- Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them. They are called to be partners with Jesus and partners is what they finally become.
The Bible tells us of this beginning of the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they know nothing.
In the same way our discipleship means a new beginning. This year and every year is an opportunity for us as a follower of Jesus to embark on a new adventure. As a congregation we can play it safe and continue to do all the things we have done- daring nothing- and in the process grow old and whither on the vine. Or we can dare greatly and heed the call of Christ. Jesus is calling St. Timothy’s in 2020 just as he called St. Timothy in the year 57. We are called to be faithful and to follow where Christ leads us. We now find ourselves engaged in a new adventure- and however strange as it may seem. Christ comes to us and CHOOSES us and sends out to be the next new beginning in the world.
Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of salvation, that we can the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works, Amen.
Epiphany 2A January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
The first Sunday in Epiphany is always about the Baptism of Jesus. The Second Sunday is devoted to the calling of disciples.
Last week Jesus was baptized and the the Holy Spriit Descended upon him like a dove. We renewed our baptismal vows and reminded ourselves that we are anointed as God’s own for ever.
Today we move from being anointed to being called.
We should not forget the marvelous, prophetic voice of Isaiah that says: 6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people,* a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
God calls us, and takes us by the hand and holds us close that we may be a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind- to be a light to those who sit in darkness. And now, in today’s reading from Isaiah, we have similar imagery. Once again the prophet proclaims to us that God, has called us forth even before we were born. And once again, makes us a light to the nations.
God says, “I have called you.…” That fits right in with this section of John’s Gospel, where we hear that evangelist’s account of the call of the first few disciples.
John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, stop following John, and are called by Jesus to follow him. They hear that Jesus is the promised one, and they are called by him to follow. So off they go. Matthew and Luke share similar stories of the calling of the first disciples and in fact we will hear this story next Sunday. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and says to Peter and James, as well as to Simon and Andrew- “Come and follow me.” And we are told that they leave their father and their nets and go- following Jesus.
What is it you think of when I say the word, “Calling”?
Now this business of “being called” is a tricky and important thing. It is easy to get confused about it, especially the way we use it these days. The word “called” as we know it is part of that “churchy” language we have and we tend to equate being called with doing some specific thing—usually a pretty major thing. We talk of being called to be ordained, or being called to a special—perhaps a full-time and professional—form of service.
And that is about all we do with being called. So, on the one hand, most of us can listen to the call of these disciples and neatly separate what happened to them from what is going on with us. “After all, they were called—we’re just ordinary people.”
These two to whom Jesus said, “come and see,” were called exactly as we are called. They were called to be disciples—as we are called to be disciples. Whether we are supposed to be ordained or not, when we are called by God, as we are each called in our Baptism, we are, like those first two, called to be disciples. In them and in their call, we can see, the call of Christ to each of us, and to all of us. From the very beginning, Jesus called, not individuals alone, but he called individuals with the purpose of forming a community, and the idea of a call makes no sense, from a Christian perspective, apart from a community.
And Jesus does not first, or primarily, call us to do a particular job, or to fill a particular role. Our call as Christians is not a call to “work” It wasn’t for Andrew and the other disciple.
Jesus’ call, instead, is a call to relationship. In calling us, Jesus does not say, “do this,” he says, “come and see,” or “follow me.” And when we do follow, when we engage our relationship with God, when we embrace our anointing in baptism, what God would have us DO comes into focus.
The Protestant Work Ethic that invades our society, insists that for something to be valuable, it has to produce, we start looking for what we are called to do. But that’s the thing, we do, and we do, and we do, and if we do it too much or we are the ONLY ones doing it, the words of Isaiah ring true:, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…”
Those first disciples were not called to go somewhere in particular—they were called to go anywhere Jesus might lead. They were not called to renounce this thing or that thing, but to be able to walk away from anything and everything, for only then would they be free—only then would their lives fully belong to Jesus.
As they followed Jesus, they stayed close to him for a while. They learned what they could and got to know him a little. Then, long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them jobs to do. For some, these jobs were dramatic, for others they were quiet and invisible.
But the call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But before the ministry, comes the call. The call comes first. There can be no real, abiding, and sustaining ministry without relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.
2020 approaches 50 years of being on this property. Who are we called to be? In the end, this is the question we must ask ourselves. But rather than jump to the place of what it is we are called to do, it’s more of a question of what kind of community does Jesus want us to be?
So what kind of community does Jesus want us to be? When those who come to our doors to for worship arrive, who or what will they find? Think for a moment why it is YOU come to church? I can assure you, it’s not for the coffee. I am willing to bet that one of those reasons has to do with relationships. And when I say that we might think about the relationships and friendships we have among our prayer groups, ministry groups, work groups, and fellowship.
Jesus comes to us and says, “follow me.” He calls us first to himself—to a relationship with him and shared life. The early disciples of Jesus followed him and established their relationship with our Lord. They would be empowered with forgiveness and grace. They would be filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and take the message of God’s Dream and the good news of God’s love with others.
We are called to be disciples. The Lamb of God calls us to follow him. We are empowered with forgiveness and grace. We are filled with the Holy Spirit in baptism taking the message of God’s Dream and the Good News of God’s love- extending our relationships beyond these walls and beyond our campus. And when we do that, we do not labor in vain.
At certain times and places, we use holy oils in worship. They are three principal oils set aside for use at different times. There is oil used to anoint Catechumens- those who are preparing for confirmation or baptism. There is the oil used in the anointing of the sick- Oleum Infirmorum. And the last one is Holy Chrism- Sancta Chrisma or Oil of Gladness- it is used at baptism where the sign of the cross is traced on the head of the newest Christian with the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
When Jesus joined the crowd at the river Jordan, there wasn’t any oil we are told of. His cousin John has been baptizing people with the “water of repentance” he tells them. Remember John? The seemingly crazy madman in the desert tells those who gathered at the river that the one who is “coming is mightier than he- that he was not even worth to hold his sandals- he was baptizing with water ofr repentance, but the one who was coming would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John challenged the religious leaders of the day calling them a brood of vipers!
Baptize with fire?
Someone so great, John won’t even hold his sandals?
Someone who will wield an ax to cut down what? The curse of the Roman occupation?
Listening to John’s prophetic voice, I wonder whom they thought would show up.
Jesus joins the crowd at the river Jordan. He is there to be baptized like everyone else. Only John recognizes the greatness of the Messiah. I need to be baptized by you, he says, and now you come to me? Here in this moment of baptism there is no grand show, no parade of horses, no axe, no fire- nothing different. Yet.
In Sunday school and even now as adults we have asked- “Why did Jesus need to be baptized? He doesn’t sin- he never sinned- why would he need it? Well forgiveness of sins is only one part of the grace of baptism. Even more, baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as children and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church.
So Jesus, in being baptized, was showing his solidarity with his community- he was showing is willingness to be counted among the people of God. The Incarnation- the eternal Word that became flesh and dwelt among us was content to come among the people and live like them. This was all just he beginning 0 marking the start of Jesus’ time of ministry- the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descends like a a dove along with the voice that declares- this is my beloved, my Son, which whom I am well pleased. More will come- temptation in the desert, healing, raising the dead, his passion and resurrection.
Various Scritpure passages bring into our mind baptism. The reading from Acts today, Peter explains to new followers that the spreading of the message of peace preached by Jesus began in Galilee after Chrsit’s baptism. We know there are other stories of baptism- such as the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Phillip (Acts 8) and the baptism of the prison guard and his whole household by Paul (Acts 16) and of course the baptism more than 3000 after Pentecost (Acts 2).
For too long we taught and understood baptism as only being the sign that original sin was washed from our souls. We would baptize infants in fear for their immortal soul and for centuries people put off baptism until moments before their death, believing that with baptism their sins were washed away and they were guaranteed heaven regardless of what kind of life they led. Fortunately, the liturgical renewal of the 1950s onward restored our understanding of baptism as an initiation - a recognition of our status as children of God.
When we consider our baptism we might think more consciously about that beautiful verse in Genesis 1: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” Yes, we believe baptism cleanses us from sin, but even more, it gives us power and grace to realign ourselves with our creator and accept our own ministry and mission as offered to us by God.
It’s tempting to compare our baptism with Jesus’ baptism and for us to come up short- wanting more.
He was anointed with power and the Holy Spirit.
He went on to preach, teach, heal, and collect a vast number of followers. He suffered, died, and rose again.
He was, after all, both human and divine. But what about us? Our baptism surely must be less. We aren’t divine. There’s no audible voice declaring OUR blessedness. Some of us don’t have a memory of when we were baptized- others baptized when they were older. Shouldn’t we accept baptism and then go on to live ordinary lives, moving forward and allowing the moment of our rebirth to be a distant memory. forgetting perhaps even the day of our baptism?
Absolutely not. The church reminds us every year at this time about Jesus’ baptism. That should be a clue that our own baptism is vitally important. We should remember the day. That is why we put water into the font and have it available for us to dip our fingers into the bowl and touch the waters of our rebirth. We make the sign of the cross to celebrate the fact that we too were baptized with power and the Holy Spirit - the same Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove. We might never have gotten the visual of the dove and the sky broken open, but we are equally graced, filled with the Spirit, adopted as God’s own, and given a ministry and mission for our lives. It is just that important.
Baptism should be life changing. And it is.
Imagine what the church might look like if every baptized member took hold of and used the power that is freely given us by God in our baptism.
In Isaiah today we heard these words,. God Says, “I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Powerful words of hope and promise. Though they were used in Isaiah’s time for his community, we now use them to talk about the Messiah, but we must understand that they are meant for us too. Baptism doesn’t insulate us from the hardships of life. Jesus constantly tell his followers, and us, that we as disciples must take up his ministry and continue spreading the good news? We are called to care for the poor, build up the weak, and spread peace? In the examination, each baptized person makes five promises. Each of us promises to God five things that, if we take them seriously, could change the world. Can we recite those promises by memory? We should be able to. It’s just that important.
Can we change the world or do we give up in despair? The tradition in its wisdom gives us this celebration of Jesus’ baptism every year, maybe in the hope that it will make us think again about our own baptism. Maybe that memory will ignite the fire that smolders in our souls. That fire is there. Baptism gives it to us, and it never goes out. We often call the people who let that fire burn brightly “saints” But again, imagine what our church would look like if we all let our fire burn. Remember the words to the hymn: I sing a song of the saints of God ... and I mean to be one, too.
We are created in the image of God. All of God’s people are loved beyond measure -We are loved beyond measure -. Imagine our congregation. The power of the Spirit moves in and through us spreading a peace and joy that is both ours and our gift to the world. God says, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
This is our anointing. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.