Sunday, January 25, 2015

Epiphany 3 B - Jan 25, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mr. Will Owen, Postulant
Epiphany 3 B, Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

The calling of  Peter and Andrew
It’s a little cruel, and some might even say providential, that we postulants have been given these Epiphany texts on Jesus’ calling of his first disciples to preach on. And try as I might to escape it, I cannot avoid the questions and assertions about vocation that our Gospel reading today raises. Our readings today are all about vocation, about how we respond to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. And yet, when we really look closely at them, they’re not about vocation in any of the ways we typically think of it.

Our Gospel begins with Jesus’ call to the people of Galilee to repent. He comes telling them that the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is near, repent, turn back to God, leave behind all that stands between you and your salvation. And then the text continues with an account of a specific call Jesus gives to Andrew and Simon and then to James and John: follow me. Follow me and I will make you fish for people. It would be so easy to read these texts and hear Jesus telling the general crowd to ask forgiveness for their sins and these specific people to become disciples, or, read through our ecclesiastical lens, to become the first bishops of the church that we are now a part of. Everything within me screams out WRONG. Or, if not wrong, then at least woefully incomplete. Much, much too simple. Much, much too easy. And much, much too small.

You see, Jesus’ call to Andrew and Simon, to James and John, to the people of Galilee, and to us here today is nothing less than the call to new, abundant, and transformative life in God. It is nothing less than the call to salvation, to wholeness in Christ.

Take that in for a moment. Wholeness. Transformation. Full and total healing and renewal. New and abundant life. Life itself. Life. That’s a pretty radical statement, that God wants nothing less for us than total and complete healing.

This vision of vocation is completely unreasonable. To talk of healing, salvation, and vocation in this way is to come dangerously close to becoming that person walking down the streets of New York crying out “Alleluia! There is good news in Jesus Christ!” As Brother Roy so astutely pointed out in his sermon on radical hope during Advent, what most offends us reasonable folk in these evangelists and evangelicals is their utter and unreasonable certainty that God will make them and all things new again, indeed, that God is already doing that.

My first semester of seminary, I had to take introductory theology. At the end of the lecture on Christology—the theology of Christ—one of the students asked our professor about the Resurrection, something he hadn’t even mentioned. The professor got a large smile on his face, started chuckling, and said, “You’re in seminary now, people. You’ve got to leave all that resurrection stuff behind. You can’t let your faith turn you into a stupid person.” Although this professor’s response was deliberately provocative, in essence he only described what most of us do every single day: we resist, nay even deny, that which is unreasonable and, in this age of scientific progress and inquiry and secular humanism and atheism, that which is utterly indefensible. If we cannot give a reasonable accounting of the faith that is in us, then we don’t even try.

And yet, what good is a salvation that is reasonable? The evil that fills our world is anything but reasonable. Child sexual abuse is not reasonable. A third of all black men in America in prison is not reasonable. Abandonment, addiction, miscarriages, marriages falling apart, the loneliness, self-doubt, and shame that so often fill our lives—none of it is reasonable! And if we settle for a vision of salvation that is reasonable, then we have lost, and evil has won.

Sometimes, I think, we’re so afraid that evil actually has won that we can’t bear to hope for new life. Because to hope for new life and not to get it might devastate us even more than we have already been devastated. It’s as if we’ve been locked in a dark basement for years and years, so long that we have forgotten what light looks like, so long that even the faintest ray of sunshine is painful to our eyes. We become afraid that the daybreak from on high that is God’s flooding into our lives will annihilate us. And so we tame the Gospel, and we make it small.

The truth is that this inbreaking of God is painful. It cracks open our hearts, splits them right in two. And that breaking of our hearts is a good thing, a necessary thing. For only with our hearts broken open do we have enough room for the love that God wants to bring into our lives and for the love that God wants to call forth from us. Only with broken hearts can we begin to heal this hurt and hurting world we have been given to be a part of.

The good news is that the Kingdom of God is near at hand, the time is fulfilled. We are continually given the opportunity to respond in a new way, to turn back from our fear and to embrace the Gospel of New Life in Jesus Christ. As many times as we say no, God continues to say yes. Saying yes to new life is our true vocation as Christian people. I don’t believe God ultimately cares whether we’re doctors or monks or fishermen, whether we’re married or have kids or live single or celibate lives. It’s not that none of this matters—of course our relationships and our jobs can contribute or distract from the fullness of our lives—but God’s call to us is so much bigger than we could ever imagine in our reasonable minds. God’s call to us to hope for wholeness in Christ Jesus. May we walk this path together in freedom and in love.

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