We are moving into the second half of an Epiphany Season. And this is turning into a little longer series of at least semi-joined sermons. This second half often just gets dropped, when Easter is earlier, so we don’t always get to these lessons, which is a shame. Because it is these that ask the important questions of how do we respond to an Epiphany. If we have seen God, what do we do?
Last week showed a couple of broad wrong paths and the narrow right path. This weeks lessons walks us through the deeper give and take. Epiphany, Repentance, Reassurance, and Call.
This is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar. That means a couple of things. The first is that we typically roll out the long creed – the Athanasian Creed. We break it into two logical portions in the service and I’ve tried to capture that here. The second thing that Trinity Sunday invites is a more theological approach. What I mean by that is that the day concerns the nature of God which is something that we can never fully comprehend. If we could, they we aren’t pondering God. This sermon is an attempt to mark out some of the boundaries of pondering God. Not boundaries on God himself, but things that should bind us. And it does this through a contrast between King Uzziah, whom the text starts off telling us died in the year of Isaiah vision, and Isaiah’s vision and call. The contrast I’d boil down to the path of pride and the path of promise. One is the path of life and the other of death. I hope you enjoy this.
I’ve always been fascinated by the synoptic gospel accounts of the disciples juts leaving, dropping their nets and following Jesus. For a long time I thought it doesn’t make any literal sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t history, but that there had to be a lot more behind those stories. John’s gospel I believe gives us some of that more. John and probably Andrew had been watching this Jesus for a while because of the Baptist. So when he comes by the Sea calling, they drop their nets and follow. But there is more psychological depth to these stories. They are stories of longing, and stories of opportunity. God passes by, the moment moves quickly on, do you live, or go on with life? Do you embark on something original, or stay in well worn ways?
These stories are important to moderns because we have a twofold problem. We are surrounded by origin stories and new beginnings, but then none of ours satisfy, because we don’t actually live them. The call of Christ is the call to true life. It is not something we can live at a remove. We can stay in the boat, or get go toward the shore. We can leave the nets, or hold on, but not both. This sermon attempts to explore that area of necessity and longing.
The world is full of voices. In the past week we’ve heard from some of the more gruesome. What Jesus says in the text today is “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He also says bluntly that those who don’t believe (because they haven’t accepted/heard the testimony) are not his sheep.
What the Gospel according to John sets up is the duality of voices. The voice of Christ is the call to life, and the call to life is the call to repentance and a life transformed by the Spirit. All the other voices, whatever their form, are voices of the world leading to death, voices breathing threats and murder. And there is no blending of these voices, just a division. Either we follow the voice of the shepherd, or we follow other voices. Either we believe, and nothing will snatch us out of the Father’s hand, or we join the voices contra Christ. There is no middle ground. And if this week has done anything it has shown the foolishness of dialog with those voices of the world. Voices not based in the life of Christ yield bad fruit.
It is a truth of this world that the really important things are usually hidden right in our midst. Think “rosebud” from Citizen Kane. All the great stories are about going out and returning home. When we leave, we don’t know what we are leaving. Think the prodigal. And when we stay, we don’t recognize the good. Think the older son. The good stuff is hidden in our midst. And it takes a revelation for us to see it. [By the way, this is the story of the Odyssey. In The Aeneid, Aeneas stops in the underworld to talk to the mighty hero Achilles and asks him if he would rather have the glory of renown promised, or the years at home. Achilles the shade answers he’d rather have had the stuff he turned down to get on the ship.] And in our moderns world – it is usually the things that shout the loudest that get our attention. The 6-year old sees a commercial and asks for whatever piece of junk it is pushing. He mocks me now he’s heard it enough, but I usually answer him “if it has to be advertised it’s a piece of junk”.
This is true for congregational life is spades. All the really important things God has hidden in our midst: The sacraments, the Word proclaimed, the communion of saints. None of them call out. All of them tend to be neglected. We don’t always recognize them for what they are. Yet these are the real, the important things. Yet we so often react or treat them as the residents of that town of Nazareth. We are scandalized that they are not bigger, or grander, or that they claim too much. This is how God acts? Water, Bread, wine and some fool flapping his mouth? The Word Hidden in our Midst.
This sermon isn’t so easy to break down. It is really a longer argument around that call to be perfect. We don’t hear perfect the way the disciples did. First I had to try and restore that original sound which is more completeness and wholeness and maturity. In a world of children demanding their rights, their honor, Christians were to be mature. That maturity would be salt and light.
The modern world, miracle of miracles, learned something from the church. That is good news. The modern world is better for that. The common good has increased. Something has been restored. But it has left Christians a little less salty, looking a little less mature. Figuring out how to again be salty – to be whole – to be perfect, is part of the disciple’s call.