Called to change

This is my sermon from the Third Sunday after the Epiphany in Year B, January 24, 2021. It is the Sunday following the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The lectionary is found here.

After John the Baptist is arrested, so after he has proclaimed Jesus’ coming and baptized him in the Jordan, and after Jesus has spent 40 days in the desert tempted by Satan, then Jesus begins his public ministry with these words:

“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Personally, I prefer this slightly different translation:

“This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!”[1]

In any case, it is only after his cousin and friend, the infant who leaped in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, when Mary announced her own pregnancy, only after John is arrested, and then he himself spends time with the devil, that Jesus makes this proclamation.  Then he follows up by going around the countryside and inviting others to join his cause – to believe that now is the time that God has promised would come, the extraordinary good news that God’s vision of peace, justice, mercy, and hope would be the norm.

As I sat glued to my screen on Wednesday, a day that for so many in this country and the world, signified a new day, a new hope, I thought about Simon and Andrew, James and John, and the choice they made to believe that there was a way to be a part of something bigger than themselves, larger and farther reaching than their familiar way of life, something that could hold and fulfill the promises God made to all people.  As I listened to the speeches and heard the vision, however imperfect, of a more compassionate way of living together rooted in a deep faith, I heard a call to act together for the fulfillment of the dreams of God for all people.  I imagined this is the same call Simon and Andrew, James and John heard when they walked away from their nets and their boats, from the family and their security to follow Jesus on what had to sound as unlikely or impossible as the call to unity we heard on Wednesday. 

Covid is still very much a part of our lives, emboldened white supremacy makes me wonder if we will ever be able to unravel racial injustice from the fabric of our society, and I know the pain of relationships forever changed because of the harsh and often traumatic discourse of the past many years.  Still, on Wednesday, listening to a vision that is rooted in deep faith, I thought about Jesus’ call to change our hearts and minds, and believe that there is good news.

I thought, too, about the reality that becoming the people God created us to be – people who actively participate in changing the world from the nightmare it is for so many to the dream God has for it – is not all hearts and roses.  It takes effort and requires sacrifice. 

We tend to read today’s Gospel as a story of Jesus inviting all people to be a part of God’s dream,  which is, of course, true.  God wants all of us to know we are loved, to have what we need to thrive, and to grow into the best us God created us to be. God wants all of us to take part in making the world the place God envisions.  We feel good when assume that Simon and Andrew, James and John, were poor, that they had only Jesus to give them a leg up.  Of course they would want to follow Jesus because that was the way for them to have a better life, to have the basic necessities assured. 

What we don’t pay attention to is what is written about who these men actually were, or at least James and John.  James and John were the sons of Zebedee, Zebedee who was left in the boat with the hired men.  Zebedee had employees, meaning he had higher status and more resources than many.  Zebedee, and by extension his sons, were not impoverished.  They were at a minimum what we would consider working class, though, given the economy of the Galilee at the time, they likely had enough wealth to be higher placed than that.

So what does that little detail tell us about the Good News today?  What does it mean that Jesus called the bosses’ kids to follow him, to be a part of re-shaping the society in the way we know he did?  What are we supposed to make of the news that James and John left their more comfortable lives to follow an itinerant preacher whose sole purpose was to see God’s vision enacted for all people, including the poor and the outcast, aware that this would mean angering the authorities and those in power?  How can we do our part today, in 2021, to believe in the Good News in ways that are transformative, that change us even as we do our part to change the world?

These are quasi-rhetorical questions because there are not hard and fast answers, at least not in terms of the specifics.  We make promises in our baptismal covenant that we will be a part of realizing God’s dream “with God’s help.”  We each have gifts: those talents and resources and passions that enable us to be a part of overcoming the ugliness and inequities we encounter every day. Those gifts are not the same, they are not one-size-fits-all.  Each of us gets to choose how we will live our faith in ways that make a positive difference in the world.    Each of us gets to choose how to use our talents and resources and passions to lift up the well-being of all people while moving deeper into the heart of God.

We have everything we need to be willing to let go of those things that prevent us from accepting Jesus’ call to us.  We have everything we need to walk away from our nets and our boats, to turn toward Jesus and follow we he leads.  We have faith – though perhaps it is not always as constant as we would like – that God not only can, but God will be with us in and through all of it. 

I leave you now with these beautiful words of wisdom from Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, the beginning and the end of her poem, “The Hill We Climb” (which I commend to you in its entirety):

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We've braved the belly of the beast,
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn't always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

[1] Mark 1:15, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

Copyright 2021 The Rev. Paula J. Toland

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