January 15, 2017
There is a beautiful pattern being played out for us in today’s scriptures. I wonder if we heard it?
In Isaiah we discover a prophet, a truth teller, who had a powerful and overwhelming sense of being chosen to be a voice for God. “Listen to me” he says, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” Called to do what? To be a “light to the nations that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah’s understanding of his call was that through him everyone would come to know of God’s desire for right relationships and the deliverance of God’s people from war, violence and all things that would work contrary to God’s vision of justice for the world. Never did Isaiah think of salvation as his own personal or private domain – it was always to be given away, always to be shared – for his neighborhood – for the nations.
Then there is Paul, “called to be an apostle.” “Apostle” means: “one sent.” He believes that his apostleship is of Jesus by the will of God, and again, for what? To be the church of God, a reconciled community that invites others to call on the name of Jesus. Paul, like Isaiah, never seemed to have had a sense that his call was only for himself and his personal salvation, but always to be lived and proclaimed for the benefit of all.
Then of course the Gospel event today portrays John the Baptist pointing to Jesus with the words, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He points away from himself to another. “I come,” the Baptist says, “so that he might be revealed to Israel.” John points the disciples away from himself to follow Jesus, not John, and Jesus invites them to “come and see,” whereupon Andrew goes to find his brother to inform him that “we have found the Messiah.”
So who is the recipient of all of this? We are! From Isaiah telling the story to John the Baptist’s witness, Andrew and Peter and all in-between down through the centuries, the story has been told faithfully until it has come to us. It was precisely this story that motivated the man we remember tomorrow, Martin Luther King, Jr., to do the work he believed he was called to do, and the world is not the same because of his witness. How do we think it will be told in the future? Through us, only us, and we never know how one word, one touch, can have repercussions that end up influencing generations. Do you think Isaiah, Paul, John the Baptist, or Martin Luther King, Jr., could have imagined how their words would influence all human history?
One of the things we are being called to do is continue to work on what it means to be a people of faith in a 21st century mission context and how we will respond as disciples of Jesus. There are no easy answers or quick fixes. What we do know is that we have a God who desires to be in relationship with us and is always calling forth our trust in the possibility that God’s dream can be made manifest, an epiphany, in you and through you in the life of this parish and beyond.
We are called out to the world, to the neighborhood, to be agents of love and hope, joy and wonder, confronting and working to change everything that works against God’s love in the world. Christ Church does not exist for itself. It exists for the world and everyone in it.
Let me leave you with a story told by Dr. Scott Peck of a monastery that had fallen on hard times. It once was great but over the centuries persecution and the rise of secularism contributed to a steep decline. All that were left were 4 monks and one abbot. They knew of a rabbi who would occasionally come and stay in one of the hermitages, so the abbot went to him and asked if he had any advice. All he got, however, was something like, “I know how it is. The spirit has gone out of the people. No one even comes to synagogue anymore.” They cried together. They prayed. Upon leaving the abbot asked if there was anything else and the rabbi said, “No. But I can tell you this, the Messiah is one of you.”
The abbot went back to the community and said, “He couldn’t help. We wept. We talked and prayed, but he did say an odd thing – the the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”
Well days, weeks and months went by, and they all kept wondering, who? Who was the Messiah among them? The abbot? He was a holy man and leader. Thomas was great at the prayers. Aelred? No, too crotchety. But a strange thing happened. They began to treat each other with a new respect at the off-chance that one was the Messiah. They got a new sense of purpose and the village around them saw a new spirit of vibrancy and hopefulness in them as the monks ventured out into the neighborhood around them.
This is how it happens. Like Saints Peter and Andrew, we have found the Messiah. The Messiah is Jesus. The Messiah is one of us. The Messiah is all of us. God is at work and we are the called ones to know and tell our story of transforming hopefulness and love and to live it for the sake of the world. Can this parish in its heart of hearts be an answer to what we prayed today in the Collect that, “through us Christ may be known, worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth”? The story continues and can continue right through Christ Church, for God desires to change the world through you.