Sunday, January 26, 2014

Epiphany 3 A - Jan 26, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. James Michael Dowd, OHC
Year A - Epiphany 3 - Sunday, January 26, 2014

Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Calling Peter - Duccio di Buoninsegna, d. 1319
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The Call: Fishers of People
I'd like to begin this morning by talking about Peter and Andrew, James and John for just a little bit. We tend to divide our discussion of the apostles into a “before they went to heaven” and an “after they went to heaven” kind of dichotomy that I am increasingly uncomfortable with. I don't think it is fair to their memory or to us, who have to live with that memory.

The “after they went to heaven” approach to the apostles is that they are these glorious saints, who are the holders of the Truth of the Gospel, who each have a gate of heaven, and hold the very keys to heaven. It's a little much, really.

On the other hand, we have the “before they went to heaven” discussion of the apostles, heard in many a sermon, as complete dullards, men who didn't have a clue about their faith, were egotistical, self-centered and more interested in their own glory than in the glory of Christ.

And I think both of these extreme views of the apostles does them a disservice. For me, the reality of the apostles was that they were, quite simply, faithful human beings. People like you and me who got it right a bunch of the time and occasionally really messed up.

Now I think this because of these two verses, regarding Peter and Andrew:

“ 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

And these two verses: ...[Jesus] saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately, they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

Now I don't care how charismatic Jesus was, or how attractive his message and very being were, the very short sentence “come follow me” is really not enough to give up your whole life – to leave your family, your livelihood, your home, everything, to follow an itinerant preacher doing who knows what. No, something else is at work here and that something else is, I think, the faithfulness of Peter, Andrew, James and John.

You see, the nature of a call is not that you have heard some voice of God that gives you brand new information that you've never heard before or that you have never even thought of before. The nature of a call is that God brings to light the truth that already lives within you. That's what Matthew is trying to communicate to us when he quotes the great Prophet Isaiah “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The first four apostles had been sitting in the darkness for a long time. Indeed, all Israel, whom the apostles are a stand in for, had been waiting. And faithful Jews throughout the land had been waiting for the light; praying for the light; hoping, always hoping for the light for hundreds and hundreds of years. For generation after generation, the people – or at least some of them – did their best to stay awake enough to be ready for that light. And when the light dawned, the faithful were awake enough to recognize it. That's how Peter, Andrew, James and John knew to follow immediately. They were awake – perhaps just enough – to see the great light that was shining before them.

Yes, they would be temporarily blinded, now and again, in later parts of the story. And toward the end of Jesus life they would not live up to all they might have, but these men had prepared all their lives to meet the light and when Jesus walked by, they were ready. In the end, though sometimes having to be awakened as from a nap, that would be the case throughout their whole lives.

I would argue that even the feast we commemorated yesterday, the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, teaches us the same thing. Even though Paul, then known as Saul, was persecuting the Church – quite viciously actually – he had been faithful to the Law, to reading Scripture, to worship of God. The problem for him was that he was allowing his furious rage to rule his soul and interpreted these new followers of the Christ to be apostates who were actually threatening the very survival of the Jewish people.

But when the light appeared to Paul, in the form of what seemed like a blinding sun, Paul was able to dig much deeper within himself. Now, it took him three days of a simulated blindness to dig as deep as he needed and to wake up. Note, his taking to following Christ was not immediate as was the case with the first four apostles, but nonetheless, Paul, too, had lived and hoped for the coming of the light. And in those three days of no doubt great repentance for all that he had done persecuting Jesus, and what must have been very painful searching for the truth within, Paul was slowly beginning to perceive the light that Christ bore within him.

What do I mean by that? Well, these great saints, just as surely as you and I, were created in the image and likeness of God, and so, from the beginning of our lives, we already bear the light within. The likeness of God is that part of us which is the image of God, an image of a light so great that we are not only called into the mission of God, but called to become the christs – that is, the anointed ones – as we follow Jesus, the Christ.

And so, how do we prepare ourselves to recognize the light when it shines on us and to hear the call when it emanates from us? It doesn't matter who we are, we might be fishermen types, doing our duty, working for a living, faithful, but ordinary people. Or, we might even be notorious sinners, persecuting God's people, supporting the oppression of innocents and the use of violence against people who believe differently from ourselves. In either case, the light still longs to shine on us, and the call still resides within us and God finds different and compelling ways to help us to see that great light and to hear that call. But it does take cooperation from us. We must be willingly placing ourselves into a position of “here I am Lord”, making ourselves available to God on a regular basis. That is what prayer is.

But note well, the very minute you get a glimpse of that morning sun, even as it is just peeking over the horizon, you are called into mission. A mission to become fishers of people. You see, Christ's mission – and ours – is to ever expand the kingdom. By calling more and more people into the kingdom we become God's instruments to help each individual to recognize the light and to hear the call within themselves. For within that recognition lies great healing, great repentance, great, great love. That is what Jesus is talking about when he proclaims “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In fact, it is so near, it is within and among us, right here, in this church, this morning.

And so, my sisters and brothers, to pray is a faithful search to find the light. To find the light is a faithful way to hear the call. To hear the call is to take on the mission of the kingdom, which is, as we know, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to welcome the stranger, to comfort the mourning, to be Christ to one another. Look around you, look within you, the kingdom of heaven has drawn hear! AMEN.

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