Monday, January 27, 2014

Sermon, January 26, 2014: Jesus says, "Follow me."

Sermon 20140126
St. John’s Church, Downtown Yonkers
Epiphany 3 A

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me.”

So you are working hard at your job, in the middle of a project, or just closing up for the day, and along comes someone who says, “Come, follow me.”  What are you likely to do?  Well, it depends, doesn’t it?  Do you know this person? What kind of reputation does this person have?  Who is this person?  What is this person likely to ask you to do?

The disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus must have had some knowledge of Jesus.  They certainly knew of Jesus, his reputation as an incredible Rabbi, a healer, a teacher with authority unlike the others to this point.  If we look at our reading from last week they also knew that John the Baptist was pretty convinced he was the “Lamb of God”.  And they had perhaps even spent time with Jesus in his home.  They even thought he might be the Messiah, the one who was to come, and to fulfill the promises of God, something longed for for over 400 years.  Maybe, just maybe, that had hoped he would come and ask them to follow him.

The disciples saw in Jesus something they had longed for, something they deeply desired, something they hoped would heal their souls.

Yesterday was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  He had persecuted Christians, but in that persecution he also came to learn the message of Christ.  This process prepared him to encounter a vision of Christ on the road to Emmaus.  He came even while persecuting Christians to understand that Christ offered the hope of satisfying his deep spiritual longing for connection to God and to humanity, for a restored earth, for a better way.  He came to say that he counted all things as rubbish, compared to the surpassing knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why the Apostles would leave their old lives behind to follow Christ.  They saw in him hope for their own healing, their own spiritual lives, for their relationships, hope that their lives actually mattered.

The situation we find ourselves in is that Jesus actually issues this same call to us, “Follow me”

And that puts us in the place of saying why should I follow?  What about Jesus makes me want to follow him?  What do I know about Jesus that attracts me to him?  Does the life Jesus show me offer me hope that I can be healed?  That my spiritual needs can be met?  That my relationship with God and with other people can be better?  That my life can actually matter?  Do we see in Jesus something that we long for?

It is not possible to answer this question if we spend no time with Jesus.  If we only half pay attention during the reading of the Gospel; if we neglect reading the Gospels; in our prayer life if we neglect praying and placing ourselves in the presence of God and asking to meet God in Christ; if we neglect our spiritual lives, if we neglect quieting our mind so that we can meet God in the still small voice, in the quiet, how can we know that Jesus offers us the satisfaction of longing?

I wonder what attracted the disciples the most?  I suspect it was that Jesus knew and cared for each of them for who they were.  We have stories of his meeting disciples and showing that he knew them sometimes better than they knew themselves.  I suspect it was that Jesus was a forgiving person.  He welcomed all, sinner and righteous person.  He knew their struggles and wanted to encourage them to take the next step in love no matter where they were starting from.  He did not put up with judgmental holier-than-thou behavior.  Jesus sympathized with people in their suffering, healing their illness, weeping with them in their grief, asking them, “what do you want?”  And he healed them.  Jesus inspired them.  He taught them with authority and they were amazed by his teaching because of its wisdom, but also because it was so surprising.  But this teaching did not come from nowhere.  We often fail to note that Jesus was a serious student.  He knows the scriptures through and through; that was not by magic.  That was from years of study.  And Jesus’ communion with God did not happen by divine intervention; he spent hours in prayer, often going off alone to pray

With some reflection, it certainly would seem that Jesus is attractive because he is the very message he preaches.  He asks us to love God and love neighbor, and we see in his life someone who truly does love God and love neighbor.

When he asks us to follow him, that is exactly what he asks us to do: to also become people who love God and neighbor.  I will make you fishers of people, he says.

And there is a paradox in the call to follow him.  We think our healing will come from paying attention to ourselves, seeking our needs, finding meaning in our lives.  But Jesus tells us the healing will come from learning to be people who love God and love neighbor.  Yes we focus on ourselves, but we focus on our selves capable of loving and serving others.  And the way to learn that is to actually do it.

It is not just enough to follow behind Jesus and watch him be Jesus.  Following Jesus means learning to do, and actually doing what he does.  To follow him means we learn to know and care for people and that we do not judge or discriminate between people. 

This week we celebrated also the feast of St. Francis de Sales.  He was a Roman Catholic bishop in Geneva, Switzerland, and he was famous for his love of the people in his neighborhood.  Someone asked him, “Don’t you find your life of service to the poor and needy a task?”  And he replied, “Yes, it does require effort, and it can be tiring and hard, but it brings a deep healing and joy that there is no other way to know.” 

Also while addressing this question he pointed out that everyone has the ability to love and care for others.  We are not all the same, we do not all have the same gifts, but all of us do have gifts that we can use in the service of God and of neighbor.   He points out that a bishop loves God by caring for the priests and people in his diocese, a monk by saying his prayers, working to support the monastery, and welcoming visitors who need a quiet place to renew.  He says a father loves by providing for his children, teaching them about Jesus, and being a good neighbor to those in his neighborhood.  A tradesman serves God by doing fair business, being charitable, making a difference in his neighborhood. 

As you know, I often visit nursing homes to celebrate the Eucharist where I often suggest to the residents that they can have a ministry of prayer for the world, for their fellow residents, for the staff.  I suggest to them that they can serve God and neighbor by caring and understanding one another.

Jesus called the disciples to leave all and follow him.  He intended to groom them to go out and change the world.  But Jesus does not call all to be leaders and missionaries in the church.  He calls many of us to be mindful of the ways we can follow him right where we are.

Where are the places in your life where you can follow Christ?  What can you do at your home with the people you see every day?  Maybe there are places we need healing in order to be able to love?  Are we actively asking God to heal us, or to show us a way?  Maybe we are unsure of our spiritual gifts?  Are we exploring, asking God to help us find the gifts we have to follow Christ, to love and serve God and my neighbor?

How can you learn to love God and neighbor more in this parish church?  Sure, our community needs to repair this building.  Sure, this community needs to raise money with penny socials and renting the parish hall.  Sure this parish needs people to coordinate fixing the pipes.  But we do all of those things so that every person in this room, and those who did not make it this morning, can actually love God and neighbor by service and putting it into practice in their daily lives.  The bishop told the vestry last week that when someone comes to this church it is important that the see this as a place where their spiritual needs can be meet.  We are the ones who God will help do this, if we will venture out to do it.  Yes, it might seem uncomfortable, or strange, or even challenging, but God also offers to give us the wisdom and the strength to accomplish his will if we will just say yes.  If we will put down whatever nets are holding us back, entangling us,our set ways.  Like the disciples we must put down somethings in order to answer the call.

Jesus says to us, “Follow me.  And we say, ”Yes,  Jesus, we follow.”