Note, the manuscript differs markedly from the audio as I went off script again! 🙂
Please pray with me, gracious and holy God, give us the courage to jump when you call. Amen
So today we ordained and installed new elders and deacons. They have been called to be spiritual leaders in this community, to give of their hearts, their wisdom, their insight, to collectively discern where God is calling us and how we can best contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth. It’s an incredible invitation, to see the hope, the potential, the possibility; to see the new thing that God is bringing into our midst and to participate fully in mid-wifing this new thing. Yet we also care deeply about our traditions and those who have deep visceral connections to our traditions. So there’s a tension here, a care and compassion for our history and traditions but also a willingness to follow where God leads and we don’t always know where that will be.
In our text today we have a different version of the call of Peter than we heard last week. Last week Peter’s brother Andrew came and got him told him he just had to come and see, this week the two brothers are fishing and Jesus sees them in the midst of this common ordinary task and calls them into something new. He sees something in them that no one else can, that they are more than just fishermen and he calls them to this new thing. Let that get a grip on you for a moment, God sees you each and every day, engaged in your daily tasks and calls you into something new at any moment. “Leave your nets, your computers, your fields, leave the routine of the hospital or school, I have something new in mind for you,” imagine. Along the way the disciples are remade, re-created, made new.
Being called and ordained to the service of God changes a person in ways that are hard to identify and name. We are seen through the eyes of God and this is a whole new way for us to see ourselves, to have all our potential and possibility called into being through the act of being seen. It’s a holy moment, a becoming, an act of ongoing continuing creation within us. Shakespeare wrote that, “We know who we are, but know not what we may yet be,” and God calls us into that unrealized potential, “Come and I will make you fishers of men.”
This liminal space, a threshold moment, when one is called into something new, passes quickly. Matthew’s text says the men immediately left their nets, left their families and followed. They stepped into this new thing without hesitation. Most of us hesitate. When I left for seminary I hesitated, and hesitated, and told God that if this was supposed to happen, he’d need to figure out the logistics, because I didn’t see how it could. I knew as I drove across the US, through two February snowstorms, that this was a threshold moment, a before and after moment, a it’ll never be quiet the same moment. We get those now and then, and sometimes we are aware of them when they happen, sometimes we only see them in hindsight.
We know where we’ve been, but we are only beginning to discover this new thing we are called into. Every Sunday we pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, but today we are reminded that we are called to be a part of that coming. We are to be about our Father’s business.
If previously our lives were ruled by the ways of the world, fears of scarcity and exclusion, wanting to make sure we got ours, because there wasn’t enough to go around, and being on the outside of the clique isn’t just painful, it can be dangerous, if this is where we have been, where me and mine ruled our thoughts, we are invited into a broader kingdom, a more gracious era where the me and mine is stretched to include you, and you, and you, it is stretched to include the other, the outsider, the unclean, the lost and the lonely.
Being called to work in and serve the kingdom of God here on earth as in heaven, changes us, remakes us, and as we stand in a new place, a new vision, a new paradigm comes into view. We are changed, and therefore everything is changed. We cannot go back to the way we once were, this threshold moment brings us into something new. If a person is in Christ, they are a new creation, see the old has passed away. It’s hard for us to let go of the old, to walk away without hesitation. We fear the loss that change brings with it, and at times it’s just too much.
We can get caught up in longing for the good old days, which weren’t really all that good, but they were familiar and mostly we remember the good times. Being called into the kingdom business invites us to look for the potential, the hope, the creative possibility, it is a forward looking action. We who long for security and comfort are invited on a creative journey where no such promise is made. The birds of the air have their nests, the fox has its hole, but the son of man has no where to lay his head,..oh, and let the dead bury the dead, go on and leave your family behind for your family will be humanity, all of God’s beloved, and perhaps Jesus should have told them this right from the beginning! Instead it comes later, in Matthew 8.
But that’s the thing about liminal spaces, those threshold moments, we know we are moving into something new, but we can’t yet see what this new thing is. We know it is a moment of creativity, of God’s ongoing creative work in us, but we can’t see the outcome. We know we are invited into a whole new way of being, but we hesitate, we hedge our bets, we hold back, and no one steps through a threshold by holding back.
We are called to be a living witness to the kingdom of God, to be a light on the hill, that all might see how wonderful and beautiful the light is and come, but we cannot do this with one hand in the past. We honor and treasure our past, but we live and work in the present. We keep our eyes on the future that God is calling us into. We are watchful, keeping our lamps trimmed and our eyes peeled as we seek always for the potential, the hope, the possibility that God is calling us into.
Leave your nets, your old ways of being and the security of home, that you might join in the fragile, creative action of the kingdom. We are called into a new era, a new way of being, one which is founded on the trust and love of God and which asks us to lay aside fear. Laying aside fear we are opened to wonder, our tender hearts vulnerable to the world, to each other, and who knows what might happen then?
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Come and see. It’s an invitation to experience God. It’s an invitation to experience Christian community. Come and see. It’s our best advocacy when people ask us, “why be a Christian?” Come and see. See where I am dwelling, where my heart abides, come and see this community. See what a difference we are making in the world. Come and see how following Jesus changes a person, has changed me, will change you. No pressure, just come and see.
It isn’t enough for someone you respect, such as John the Baptist, this new fangled prophet with his new baptism for the remission of sins, to tell you it’s good. You’ve got to come and see. Perhaps it was that they were already following Jesus that prompted him to turn around, to ask them “what are you looking for?” He didn’t ask them what they wanted, he knew already they were looking for something, they were seekers, but could they even say what it was they wanted to find? How often do we go out seeking for Truth with a capital T but are still unsure exactly what it is we want? We need to have meaning and purpose to our lives and so we seek, we look, and Jesus says, Come and see.
See where I am dwelling, see where I am abiding. See how I abide in God and how you can have that tender intimate relationship also. Come and see that he dwells with those most in need of God’s love and care, that he loves those who need it the most, and this is all the meaning and purpose he needs.
Shane Claiborne is a devout Christian and he determined to Go and See himself. He wasn’t finding God at seminary so he went downtown. Shane admits he was nervous at first. He left all his valuables in his dorm room so the poor people who lived on the streets wouldn’t rob him and he went downtown. He says he met Christ in those people. He met a group of them that had moved into a large abandoned Catholic church and set up home. He became friends with many of them and did what he could to help them stay there, keeping a roof over their heads, and advocating for better housing. Unfortunately on his first foray into the wilds of street ministry he was robbed, but not by the people on the street. When he returned to his dorm room he discovered someone had broken in and all of his carefully stashed valuables were gone. Come and see, where Christ is dwelling, where God abides, come and see. It isn’t always where we expect.
In our text today Peter responds to his brother’s urgings, just like the Samaritan woman at the well, his brother says to him, “Oh man! You’ve got to come meet this guy! I think, just maybe, he’s the messiah!” and Peter follows him. Come and see, he finds there a man who dwells in God’s presence, who abides with God, who embodies God, come and see, he finds there a community of people living in grace and love, a love so startling that over and over again they fail to get it, fail to see it, that their expectations are constantly shattered. Come and see and let your world view be changed, be shifted. Shane Claiborne expected to meet dangerous thieves, but he met kind and loving people living in community. When we go looking for God we ought to be open to meeting God in very strange places! We ought to be open to seeing Christ in very different people.
Despite Peter’s three years of following Christ he remains as stubborn as a Mississippi mule. If I don’t see, I won’t believe it. God knows this, so before he sends him to Cornelius, a most unexpected person in which to see the image of Christ, God confronts Peter’s stubborn insistence on seeing God only where he expects.
Surely if God were going to convert anyone, he would convert a Pharisee, right? Or a Rabbi? Or, well, someone appropriate, someone at least of the Jewish lineage, but no. God answers a god-fearing Roman and his household. Peter, who is in the habit of dwelling with God, abiding in God, is doing just that, up on the roof of his house, meditating, being “still and knowing,” God. And God comes to him, “take, kill, and eat” he commands setting before Peter a host of uneatable things. I hope for Peter’s sake there was some lobster or some other wonderful thing previously unknown to him in there! And Peter protests! These can’t be edible! It would be a disgrace to eat such filth! It would make one unclean. He won’t do it! Like Shane Claiborne going downtown to the homeless he is worried about how contact with all this stuff might damage him, might infect him with something untoward, but God speaks to him again, “what I have made clean, you shall not call unclean again!” The image of God lives in even the most unlikely people, and who are we to deny it?
And off Peter goes to the foreigner’s house, the invader’s house, the house of a Roman occupier. If Shane Claiborne expected to find dangerous people when he went downtown, Peter was sure to find a dangerous man when he went to the house of a Roman occupier. This was not even a common Roman soldier, but an officer, a centurion. But yes, even to those who commanded the occupying army, God came. Come and see.
If we then, are to take seriously this come and see method of evangelism, we need to ask ourselves exactly what it is that people see when they are here with us. When people ask you, why are you so generous and kind, I hope that you will say, “because God first loved me, because God taught me that whatever I do to the least of these, meaning those who are hurting, scared, outside of community, left out in the cold, whatever I do to them, I do also to God, and I love God, so I must love them.”
If we take this come and see seriously, can we say that we are a community in which God’s love so shines that people will want to bask in that glow? Can we say that we are a community that longs to love all people, regardless of their native language, their psychiatric history, their faults, their flaws? Are we a community which is so shook by compassion that when we see others hurt, scared, and afraid, we are moved to action? To holding them within the love of Christ, knowing that God can heal what we cannot? Are we that community? For if we are a community that can honestly say, Come and See, how we abide in God, how we dwell in God, then there is no limit to what we can achieve, we can change lives!
God has never asked us to understand everything and have the right answers, God has asked us to love all people who he puts in our path, God has asked us to love each other, as we would love Jesus Christ himself.
This weekend is MLK weekend and so we are challenged, can we see the image of Christ in the “other?” Can we see the image of God in those who are “other?” Can we love all people who come here and invite them to enter wholly in, that they will not have to leave any part of themselves outside these doors in order to fit in?
My friends, we have a challenge, to be the image of Christ to all people who come through those doors and to all people whom we will meet each and every day. We, if we are to claim Christianity, are to be the image of Christ to those we meet, and we are to see in them the image of Christ. Peter was called to see the image of God in an oppressive, military commander, one who may have been called out the very next day to supervise a crucifixion like the one which took the earthy life of our lord and savior, one of those….and see in him the image of God.
If I could have anything, anything at all, it would be that this community would so resound with love for one another that people would leave here saying, come and see, come and see how they love one another, come and see how they abide in God, come and see, it’s so wonderful! Come and see how they welcome others wholly and completely, inviting them to show up exactly as they are, no need to leave any part of yourself outside these doors.
How we live with one another reveals how we live our faith. In times of difficulty or trouble, we return to our faith. Our faith teaches us how to live in community, it is not solely focused on the hereafter, but on the here and now. Our scripture is full of language telling us how to care for and love one another. The foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the sick, how we treat the most vulnerable among us reveals to the world how we live into the words of Jesus. We can boldly say, Come and See when we live fully into our faith, loving all of God’s children, caring for the most vulnerable among us. We can stand tall and be a light on the hill for all people that they might see God at work when we abide in God and in God’s Word.
Peter did not know what he was getting into, he did not know how far outside the lines God would push him, but he was faithful when that push came. He went where he was called and loved even the most unlovable. May we do the same,
We are going to get God-drunk today, our heads spinning, everything seems uncertain and the ground on which we stand may sway. We will stand in awe and wonder, because today we are imbibing that rich concoction that is the Trinity, and we will try to avoid heresy as we discuss it. I’m not going to give you advice on how to live a better life today, or how to get right with God, because wisdom, as the proverbs remind us, begins when we stand in awe and trembling before God; letting the wonder of all that God is shatter our preconceptions and stir our hearts and imaginations.
Our text today was written centuries before the development of the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was brought about by the emperor Constantine, who insisted there had to be one right answer and the best theologians of the land needed to get their heads together and figure it out. The primary question, at that time, was who is Jesus Christ and what is his relationship to God Almighty? Some said he was a prophet, others the son of God, and therefore not equal to God but somehow lesser, some insisted he was divine right from the start, even before he was born, others insisted that divinity was conferred upon him at his baptism. Today, we are listening to scripture which predates this attempt at certainty.
Proverbs 9 tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but I want to challenge that translation. Where we can, we use scripture to understand scripture, and there are few phrases that are more common than “do not be afraid,” so I want to challenge the translation that states we ought to be afraid of God. I want to suggest that a better translation is, “The beginning of wisdom is to stand in awe of the Lord,” with all due trembling and wonder, with our knees knocking not because we are afraid but because we are over-awed, standing before the enormity and majesty of God, allowing the un-captured and unlimited mystery of God to sway us, to touch our heart;
So let us begin;
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was with God and the Spirit of God, the Ruach which moves where it will and cannot be bound or contained, moved over the tohu wa bohu, the chaos and darkness, and the tehom, the depths from which all life would be called forth. God seen through a Trinitarian lens, shaped by the Nicene creed, is present in the beginning wholly and fully, all three aspects or persons of God present. The Word, the Spirit, the Creator, moving over the chaos and darkness, acting on the watery depths, began to create.
Yet there must have been some sense of separation when the son of God became incarnate, became enfleshed and accepted some of the limitations of humanity. This separation which is so painfully evident on the cross as we hear Jesus crying out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus, Beloved child, chosen one, in whom God’s soul delights, who will bring forth justice for all the nations (Isaiah 42) experiences a separation from God the Father, calls and cries out. The temple veil separating the holy of holies is shredded as if in grief and loss. God is set loose on the earth, no longer housed in this space. But I get ahead of myself. Our eyes are drawn to the climatic scene as the heavens are rent and torn open, too many spoilers ruin a good story.
Returning to Jesus birth, we have this sense of individuation, separation, and perhaps even appreciation, as when you happen to glimpse someone you know well and love but for a moment, you fail to recognize them, for a moment you see them as a stranger would, and then familiarity reasserts itself bringing with it a deeper appreciation of who they are, of how others see them.
It is almost impossible to speak of the Trinity without committing one heresy or another. Do we lean toward seeing God in three persons and suddenly we have populated our theology not with one God but three, or do we lean toward the one and suddenly we have a God who is always one and only one but wears different masks at different times, now appearing in the mode of Spirit, now Creator, now Savior? God, very God, three in one God, wholly and completely three, wholly and completely one, eludes us. We just can’t wrap our minds around the concept.
Here in this instance we see God looking at God, and looking with joy, awe, and appreciation. Here we have God the Creator looking at God the Savior and exclaiming for all to hear, isn’t this wonderful? This movement of the Savior toward humanity, drawing the Creator, drawing the Spirit near, with deep appreciation and love. Witnessing the consecration, the submission of the Messiah to human necessity, not godly necessity, but human, and we see God very God, in an act of gentle humility submitting to the care and love of John the Baptist. God again giving God’s very self into the care of a very human person. One who would proclaim Jesus in one moment, but express doubt later.
As John preached and called for repentance on the banks of the river Jordan, offering a new baptism, one that was particularly effective, not one that needed to be done and redone but one that sealed a change in one’s being. This was a new thing, just as it was new for a prophet to offer a remedy to those he challenged. John’s call for repentance, for preparing the way of the Lord was not new, his offering a baptism was, and like all new things it drew a crowd. And as this crowd came in all their difficult humanity and diverse understandings of what was occurring, Jesus walked in their midst. He comes to John just as all the others do and he refuses to accept a position of privilege. Fully committing himself to his humanity, he asks John to baptize him. Jesus who was without sin, washes in the waters of the Jordan, just like everyone else. There is humility and tenderness in this, a quiet surrender to the will of God, not simply as an example, do as I do, but in fullness, without intending an audience, but quietly going to John with “please” on his lips and gratitude in his heart. This act of surrender and submission to God’s will does not make Jesus the messiah, he was that at his birth. It does serve to consecrate him to this task, an anointing, making him the Christ, the anointed one.
And the heavens are rent apart. How different is this moment from the moment of his birth when the heavens were filled with angels proclaiming his arrival. This rending of all that would stand as a barrier between God and humanity re-unites all three aspects of the Trinity. God the Father tearing through the fabric of space to be reunited in joy with his son, the Holy Spirit flying down over the waters, over the holy child, resting upon him, gentle as a kiss. This is the tearing down of all barriers that might separate God from God’s self, that might separate God from the world, that might separate God from us.
The heavens are torn apart, just like the temple veil which separates the holy of holies will be torn apart when Jesus dies. God is let loose in the world, no longer confined in some distant heaven or far off place, no longer confined to a small section of the sanctuary which no one enters but once a year and then trembling in fear of God’s wrath. God is loosed upon the world. Barriers between us and God are destroyed, overcome, obliterated, no more. If the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos of creation is so vividly recalled when the Spirit of God hovers over the chaos of humanity’s desperate attempts to be made whole, to find salvation to be healed, if it causes us to look back at the creation, then the tearing of the sky foreshadows the tearing and over coming of the temple veil. Our view is at once drawn back to the first creation and forward to the new creation, the new order. Somewhere between these two events we remember the crossings of the red sea and the Jordan, being freed from slavery, the promise of a home, a land flowing with milk and honey freedom from want and deprivation. In our baptisms we are set free to live a new life, a life freed from fear.
Every baptism is an image of beauty in the midst of chaos, recalling the chaotic waters of creation and the Spirit of God hovering over the Tehom to call forth beauty in her midst. Every baptism is a reminder of liberation from exile, the waters parting as we walk out of bondage and into hope. Every baptism is an invitation us to open our eyes and see God at work in us and in spite of us, a holy wind rushing through the community of faith as we feel the splash of water upon our skin.
Feeling the Spirit descend upon us, we would know that no matter what was raging around us, the Spirit of God is always hovering over the waters of our world, a beacon of hope, a promise of new life. Over the chaos and apparent dysfunction of our daily lives, of our society, of this beautiful world, teeming with life, with loss, with new birth, with death, God speaks and moves, still creating, still bringing us into the new creation, bringing us through the waters and into the promise. The Spirit of God still hovering over and around us, God still creating, still shaping and molding us into a new creation.
If we are brave enough, we will grasp this gift that God is giving us, this new promise. If we are brave enough we will take that outstretched hand and enter the dance. May it be so,