Epiphany 3-A: Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
In the name of our ever-faithful God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Years ago, my daughter Katie—she is here today, along with her brother Andy, Stephanie and Duncan—she gave me a poster of “the Narrows”, in Zion National Park: you see the back of a woman as she walks up the middle of a narrow stream flanked by 40-foot rock walls. Up ahead the stream turns to the left but all she and we can see are the rock walls.
As I’ve said before, how we react to that picture depends on what frame we unconsciously put around it: If we put a negative frame, we may imagine there is a wall of water coming around the corner to sweep us away into oblivion. If, however, we put on a positive frame, we may imagine there is more beauty up ahead.
There are countless turns in the River of Life, so the frame we use to face them is crucial for our happiness and well-being.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John are doing hard work that sustains thousands of people. But then around the bend comes Jesus of Nazareth calling them to leave their good work and follow him into God’s work—God’s work of healing the sick, forgiving the guilty, and transforming violent humanity into the Peaceable Kingdom, of heaven on earth.
Under the impact of his call, the four young men leave the known and the safe to follow Jesus into God’s revolution for mercy, justice, and peace, so they can learn how to welcome others into the new life in God.
In the first months it seems they’ve made the right decision: massive crowds show up and the disciples bask in the glow of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But then comes another turn in the river and men with religious and political power violently sweep away Jesus and his idealistic “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” movement.
Now it’s time for the disciples to hide, so they don’t end up buried next to their Master.
But then comes another bend in the river and Jesus is in the Upper Room breathing Resurrection Spirit into them, transforming everything.
In The Acts of the Apostles other surprises come, some good, some terrible, but they know they are walking now, not just in water, but in Spirit, with Christ by their side.
Now they know the violent and the powerful who destroy community will fail, because Love wins. As Paul writes today, “For Christ sent me to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
Today you and I face another bend in the river. Christ is calling me, not into retirement, (I hate that word, as if I’m going to sit in a semi-dark room and stare out a window for the rest of my days,) but calling me to full-time writing with some teaching and preaching, and work with the men in the Catholic chapel at MCI-Concord. And, and more time with Stephanie, the four kids and 4 grandkids and, of course, University of Georgia football—Go Dawgs.
Christ is calling you, All Saints’ Church, to keep growing in the wisdom and stature of Christ, as you welcome the stranger and reach out to those wounded by the system.
My time with you has been an incredible blessing. I couldn’t imagine I would end my full-time parish ministry in such a wonderful parish, filled with so many loving people whom I love:
+I have loved working with the faithful and talented leadership that has been part of your DNA since foundress Anna Eliza Hunt started an Episcopal Sunday School in 1880s Chelmsford.
+I have loved the creative and committed staff—Maggie, Margie, Laura, and our sexton that builds community with 85 kids in Church School, 60 plus in the music program, with fabulous administrative leadership and care for the building. I will deeply miss the kids, the music, and the teamwork in Christ that makes it happen.
+I’ve loved studying, writing, and preaching sermons to a congregation that actually listens.
+And I’ve loved walking with the sick and the grieving on their journey into Love and Light. You have taught me so much about courage, compassion and the faithfulness of God.
We follow Christ because day by day Christ awakens in us the desire to follow him. As you’ve heard me say countless times: the good news is not about climbing some moral ladder to get to God, but God coming down to us in Jesus Christ: All the way down into our sin, sickness, and death to lead a jail break into the freedom to love those crushed by systemic racism, slaveholder religion, soulless consumerism, and narcissistic political visions that have neither merit nor mercy.
I’ve understood my work these past almost eight years to call attention to the New Life given by Jesus Christ: Today Jesus says, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is arriving”.
As N T Wright puts it, “people have thought repent means feeling bad about yourself, it doesn’t. It means ‘change direction’, ‘turn around and go the other way’; or ‘stop doing what you’re doing, and do the opposite instead.’” Matthew for Everyone, page 29
Our social media which we consume and which consumes us, says life consists only of our stuff, and only if we have the best stuff, will we be happy. Beneath this claim is the frame of philosophical materialism that would have us believe that the world is only made up of subatomic particles, just idiot stuff, floating through a meaningless void.
Repentance means to reframe our experience with the vision of Christ that sees God’s realm, God’s Spirit, everywhere, thus freeing us to turn our attention away from ourselves and onto our neighbors, whoever they are, wherever they are on their journey of faith.
One of the many, many things I’ll miss sharing with you, is the yearly Treble Choir Festival. This afternoon at our youth choirs go, without me!, to Andover to join with the choirs from St. John’s, Gloucester, and Christ Church, Andover.
At the festival a number of years ago, I was deeply moved by the song, “The Call of Wisdom”—which our choirs will sing during communion today. The words are in your bulletin, so you can follow the haunting refrain that says: “I am here, I am with you, I have called, do you hear me?”
The song begins, “Lord of Wisdom, Lord of truth, Lord of justice, Lord of mercy. Walk beside us down the years, till we see you in your glory…
Silver is of passing worth, gold is not of constant value. Jewels sparkle for a while. What you long for is not lasting…
I am here, I am with you, I have called, do you hear me?”
Even though we must soon part ways, so you can fall in love with your next rector, as is your custom, we will always be together in the heart of God.
And every morning we will hear the same Christ call us to see our lives, not framed with fear, but with the faithfulness of God:
+who is here,
+who is with us,
+who calls us to follow Jesus into that risky New Life, where we can say with the psalmist: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”