Sunday, January 15, 2012

Epiphany 2B, 2012: Make our eyes new

Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector. This is also the occasion of our Annual Meeting.

Letionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo.

Throughout the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany we have been hearing about the revelation of God to humanity in the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus the Christ. And the language used about the saving grace of God is often language of light. For example, you’ll remember in our Collect on Christmas we prayed, O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light … At the feast of the Epiphany, the light from the star of Bethlehem guided the magi to the child Jesus, confirming that God's grace and salvation are for the whole world.

Today we have moved theologically from a focus on God's revelation in Jesus, to God’s revelation of Jesus in us. In our Collect we prayed that WE might shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that HE might be known, worshipped, and obeyed… to the ends of the earth. You'll notice that we've also changed our liturgical color to green, the color of new life on the earth.

During this season of Epiphany, we reflect on God's call to us to be saints, believers through whom the light of Christ shines, remembering… that the purpose of this relationship is that ALL the world might be brought to know God, to love God. And because they love God, to be step with God's will.

In our Old Testament reading, we see how the call of God can move us from ‘what was’ to what God wants. It’s a story that shows us how God moves us from the path we think we should be on to the path God actually wants us to be on.

In this story, God is calling to young Samuel, but Samuel is so used to God calling Eli, that he thinks he’s hearing Eli calling him. Eli, who had been a faithful priest and prophet, had fallen into darkness. He lost his way and so had the people he was leading. And so his season as God’s prophet was over. Eli recognizes that God is calling Samuel, so he instructs Samuel to respond ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’ the next time Samuel hears his name.

This is good advice for us too. If we are to discern God's invitation to us, we’re going to have to be quiet enough, for long enough, to listen. How can we possibly do God's will until we have given God a chance to let us know what it is? And this is not a bad phrase to repeat prayerfully to help us ourselves get into that quiet, listening place: Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

Now, when Samuel (who represents the new direction God is choosing to go) did hear and recognize God, he was called to a very difficult task – telling Eli that God was going to move now in a different way - and that Samuel would lead the way as God’s chosen prophet. Eli couldn’t be the leader on this new path.

And both Eli and Samuel, being faithful, accepted God's plan and trusted God's promise to love and care for them and their people, even though at the moment, God's will seemed hard, a bit frightening, and even a little bit hurtful. But that is the hard work of faith: remembering God's promise of steadfast love and compassion when our experience in the world feels otherwise.

Even the most faithful among us can fall into the trap of judging ourselves and others by the events of our lives. It sounds like this: ‘We are so blessed. God must be pleased with us.’ - or - ‘That awful thing happened because God is punishing them for their sin.’

Although this kind of thinking is common, it is unfaithful. It’s unfaithful because it forgets God's promise of unfailing faithfulness to us… of graciousness, kindness, and mercy. It forgets that God’s discipline is always coupled with God’s mercy. And it misunderstands God's judgment which is salvation for the whole world.

Tomorrow we celebrate an example of faithful understanding in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a modern day prophet, through whom the light of Christ shone and transformed the world.

He preached a gospel of freedom and peace. His message reflected the value and dignity of every human being, threatened the powerful in the world, and upset the status quo. It’s no surprise, I guess, that Dr. King was killed.

But was his assassination a punishment from God? It certainly was an awful thing that happened to him. Well, if we are to believe that bad things happen because God is punishing us, then we would also have to completely re-think the crucifixion of Jesus, wouldn't we?

Dr. King is an important, modern day prophet and saint. He was not perfect. At no time did he overcome his own sin or humanity. But the light of Christ shone through him brightly and inspired change anyway.

We all still benefit from Dr. King’s work. And we’re all still called to complete it. We aren’t done yet.

It's a long road from law to justice… says my favorite singer/songwriter Dar Williams.

Sometimes our laws and our habits develop in such a way as to be an impediment to God's justice. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, All things are lawful…, but not all things are beneficial.

We often live habitually in the darkness instead of faithfully in the light. We often fail to notice when things have gotten out of step with God's will. When confronted by that, we often hear that very Episcopal cry: But, we've always done it this way!

Well…there are times we've always been wrong!

Other times we cry out: But I didn't mean any harm. We know… but the harm happened, so there comes a time we simply have to repent of it – or forgive it - and move on.

As a faith community, we do that by coming together in the presence of God at our Holy Eucharist, giving our praise and opening ourselves to listen and be transformed by God, who will make our eyes new, so that we, like Nathaniel (in today’s Gospel), can recognize the greater things God calls us to see.

Then God can make our loyalties new, so that we don't cling to law or habit, but to the will of the living God. Then our lives might reflect the light of Christ as we work to build the kingdom of God right now, right here where we’ve been planted.

That, after all, is our purpose as church.

After this service of thanksgiving we will gather together for lunch and our Annual Meeting. We will lovingly remember ‘all that was’ and run forward in faith on the path God is choosing for us in 2012 – praying that we might shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, so that he might be known, worshipped, and obeyed… to the ends of the earth. Amen.

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