Sunday, 8 January 2012

Epiphany 1B Sermon

8th January 2012

Genesis 1: 1-5
Mark 1: 4-11

Sermon - "Called into being"

We've got this notion of call all wrong
A calling is for special people we think
those "holy ones" who give their life to God
those who give up their work
and devote themselves to God's work

Those who study the bible diligently
who always know what to say
in any given situation
those who are ready with a suitable verse
for any occasion
and can pontificate for hours ...
about the epistemological significance
of the parousia in the pseudo-Pauline corpus
or the post exillic aspects
and themes of hope in trito-Isaiah

Those who are good at praying
never lost for a suitable phrase
those whose prayers jump the queue as it were
and are thus heard more quickly and clearly
by the Almighty
and as a result, are always answered
People who are not like you or me we say -
special people ...
... those who have heard God's call -
and responded

Maybe those who travel to far flung lands
who learn new languages
who bring the Good News
to those who have never been to church
Those who long and hard
to bring schools
and hospitals
and clean water
and the gospel
to those whose needs are greater than ours

Or maybe people who work with the marginalised
within our society
who serve soup and sandwiches
to those living under cardboard in shop doorways
who found hostels and run day centres
help the unemployed to find jobs
or run safe houses for abused mothers and children

Or maybe just those odd folk
who often wear their shirt collars back to front
and who encourage bring and buy sales
coffee mornings and beetle drives
to raise money for good causes
to support charitable initiatives
Those who visit us in hospital when we are sick
splash water on the faces of newborns
those who comfort us after the death of a loved one
and who have the temerity
to stand up at the front of churches week by week
and try to help us see what God wants us to do ...
and to be

Those are the people with a calling we say ...
They're God's special people
we could never be like them
And so we put them on a pedestal ...
Once familiarity has bred
at least a measure of contempt
we remain fond of them
We usually think they're ... ok
sometimes we think they're inspired
but not all that often!
We could do better we muse
but we could do a lot worse ...
Most of the time
what they say on a Sunday
doesn't completely connect ...
and we feel terribly let down
if they upset us
or somehow fail to live up to our expectations
(however unrealistic they might sometimes be)

We are eventually surprised to find
that they have feet of clay after all
the euphoria of a new appointment has long since worn off
and it is just a matter of the same old same old ...

And it is here that we find the crux of the matter
We've got this notion of call all wrong

God calls ordinary people
those whom he calls are not especially qualified
they are ordinary, far from special
Sure they go back to college for a while
and they do their best to learn the rudiments of a trade
which covers a wide range of skills
that only the very exceptional possess in full measure
If truth be told they can only ever aspire to be
the kind of people we imagine them to be
and as the pedestal is built higher
so their position becomes more precarious
God willing they never fall off suddenly
but we really need to stop building them up
and leave God ...
to be the focus of our expectations

For here is the reality -
Calling is not restricted to those called reverend
neither is it the preserve
of those engaged in any other so called vocations
teachers and doctors
fire-fighters and nurses and the like
We've got this notion of call all wrong

No, God does not call only the few
but the many
all of us in fact
Yes really!
Older or younger
black or white
rich or poor
privileged or down trodden
gay or straight
educated or neglected
cherished or forgotten ...

- we are all called -

It is as simple and yet as profound as that
The author of that poetic description
that we understand
as the "why" of creation
the source of those magisterial words
on the first page of our bibles
reminds us that God called
the very cosmos itself into being
the very lightness and darkness of existence
owe their being to God

The word of God spoke and it was
all of it
a big bang of divine utterance
and God called them forth from chaos
and named them ...
... day and night
dark and light
sun and moon
God named them and called them
as we are called and named
As the prophecy of Isaiah reminds us: (43:1)

"But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine."

I have called you by name, you are mine.
We all belong to God
we are named by God
we are all called by God
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you

In the beginning ...
... God spoke and it came into being
In the beginning
words which inspired another ancient writer
whose words echo down the centuries:

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people. ...
... And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth."
(John 1: 1-4 & 14)

The one whose birth we celebrated a few short weeks ago
John tells us was there in the beginning
the Logos of God, the eternal Word
the one who spoke creation into being
was birthed himself in a lowly cattle-shed
a helpless mewling infant
the Son of God
the Word became flesh
and lived among us
Yet it is not to John, but to Mark we now turn
and his account of the recognition
of Jesus as the Christ
the Son of God acknowledged by the Father

"You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."
(Mark 1: 11)

At baptism Jesus too was named
identified with the very nature of God
the dove of the Spirit hovered over the waters of baptism
as the breath of that same Spirit
hovered over the waters of chaos
the eternal word of God
was recognised as Jesus
the carpenter's son from Nazareth
and God spoke ...
"You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."
So Jesus too
as he began his earthly ministry
was called by God
as we all are called
and so in baptism
we are called
Katie, George, or Sharon
Trinity, Joshua or Ethan
whatever our name
we too are called:
called into being by God
called to be before ever we are called to do
For being and doing are both required

As Socrates once wrote:
"To be is to do"
And yet the two are so intimately linked
that we can also say with Jean-Paul Sartre:
"To do is to be"

God calls us into being
to be
and then to do
and what ever we do
we are called
we all have a vocation
as children of God
sisters and brothers of Christ
our Doing is rooted in our Being
and that doing is Holy Work

So whether we rear children and clean the home
whether we design nuclear reactors or deliver the milk
whether we teach arithmetic
or whether we sweep the streets
what we do is holy, a vocation
because we are all called
we are all called by name
by the God who spoke creation into being
and we are called into communion round this table
with Jesus the Christ
our Saviour, our brother, our friend

And if all this philosophy
is difficult to remember
we need only call to mind one phrase
to remind us of our calling into being
and the balance between that being
and our vocation of doing
Someone very helpfully set it to music:
"Do be do be do" - Frank Sinatra.

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