Monday, January 26, 2015

The Different Path

Sermon preached on the 3rd Sunday after The Epiphany, January 25, 2015, at St. Michael's Church, Geneseo:  Mark 1:14-20

          Last week I spoke of the simple invitation that is ours to make to the world: Come and see.  I argued that this simple statement is the essence of what we mean when we use the word “evangelism.”  It is the free invitation to explore beginning a different path on the journey. 

          Today we have the equally simple invitation of Jesus to all of us:  Follow me.  And “immediately,” Mark the Gospel writer says, Simon Peter and Andrew drop their nets and follow, and soon after, “immediately” again, John and James did the same.  Jesus offered these fishermen a different path.

          What is this different path?  From this text the path is described by Jesus in this way:

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

          Something is up.  Something good and something new.  We are on the verge of it; it is happening now.  Our response is to “repent and believe.”  Apparently this is the path and these are the actions we must take to heed Jesus’ words, “Follow me.”

          The words “repent” and “believe” have both become encrusted with layers of theological muck.  They have become words of threat, control, and power over others.  “You need to repent and believe the way I believe.”  But this is not their gospel meaning at all.  In fact, correctly understood they are transformational and inspirational words.  The Greek word translated “repent” is metanoia, and it means change your mind, turn around, look at and see something different, open yourself to something outside yourself.  Likewise, our word “believe,” in Latin is credo, from which we get the word creed.  I sounds like a “here’s the program, get with it” kind of word, but it is actually a journey word.  The Latin root of credo is the same as cardia, “heart.”  Credo literally means “I set my heart upon,” or “my heart desires.”

          So what Jesus is saying is something like this:  pay attention to the path you are on and open yourself to a new path.  Find your heart’s true desire, what you seek, what you long for, and let it be your guide.

          And one more thing, implicit in this text:  this path can only be taken with others.  There is no solo journey to the kingdom of God.

          The dynamic we are talking about here is another word that tends to make Episcopalians anxious:  conversion.  It is another word that needs to be broken open and un-encrusted.  Its root is Latin also, convertere, literally “to come together,” used mainly in the sense of “to turn around” or “to transform.”  Its use in Latin is very similar to the Greek word metanoia.  What this tells us is that conversion happens when things come together for us in such a way that they catch us up, transform us, change us.

          Repentance, belief, conversion; all of these words are journey words.  They are not ends in themselves, but signposts along the way.  They happen not in a moment, but throughout a lifetime.

          There is a most likely apocryphal story about a Church of England Bishop who was stopped by a street preacher in London who asked him, “Sir, are you saved.”  His response:  “Young man I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.”

          It is a good answer.  Salvation for us is not a moment in time but the journey of a lifetime.  It might very well involve significant moments, but those moments are of small importance unless they transform us for the long run.

          So Jesus calls us like he called fishermen to a journey that may very well require us to change our minds, see things differently, understand and act on our longings and our gifts to add to the journey we are all taking by virtue of our baptism to life in the kingdom of God.

          Jesus offers these four disciples a metaphor tied to their own lives that might help them to live into his call to them.  “I will make you fish for people.”  He gives another metaphor near the end of his Gospel, one that has proven over time a means of grace and transformation.  “Take, eat: this is my Body.  Drink, this is my Blood.”

          Jesus says, receive these very ordinary things and experience my extraordinary love, and then go and do likewise to the world.  Be sacrament in the world.

          We have had a very short time together, shorter than I and perhaps many of you would have wished.  But this has been a moment of conversion, when my life and yours met at a particular moment in time and, by the grace of God, we are in a different place, farther along the path, then when we met.  And all by the grace of God, not necessarily our intention.

          I sense that my gift to you has been a glimpse of what priestly ministry can be, and perhaps what you need it to be in this time and place.  I don’t take the credit for that.  God made it happen.

          And you have given this priest a settling of my spirit, a time when I could live in the moment and pay close attention to the longings of my own heart.  Ironically, the support and love of this community has given me the courage to do what I need to do, and, indeed, what I believe God is inviting me to do and be.  After 25 years of fairly intense ministry, while at the same time trying to manage a mental illness, and reaching a profound breaking point, it is crystal clear to me that I must follow Jesus by letting go, at least for a time.

          It is counterintuitive, but it is my experience that a true call from God for any of us is often just that.  It was not what was expected.  But it was at the same time what made sense.

          Remember this as you call a new rector and begin ministry with her or him.  It is the way of God that what is unexpected is actually what makes sense.  I will remember this as well as my journey continues.  It is what Jesus means when he says to each and every one of us, Follow me.

1 comment:

Michael Hartney said...

God speed on the unexpected journey ahead, Michael. The prayers of your friends and colleagues for you and John ascend to God's heavenly throne. Pax.