In any case, here's my offering for today:
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 5A RCL 2008
Genesis 12:1-9; Ps 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar
May these words be in the Name of the one who calls us and heals us. Amen.
We’re gonna pack up everything we have and go southwest for a while.
Um, why are we gonna do that?
Well, I sorrta have this sense.
What, are you crazy, Abram? We’ve got a good life here. Look at our property and slaves and everything. What do you mean, you sorrta have a sense. I don’t think you’ve got any sense at all is what I think!
Well, God told me, and we need to do it. Start getting ready.
OK, how about this.
Hiya Matthew, what’s up?
Not too much, Meth. How’s everything today?
Not too bad. There are some boats that just came in that I haven’t collected from yet. And only two people threw anything at me, and this time it was only rotten apples. I think everyone’s gone listening to that Jesus guy. Hey look, there he is!
Hey, you must be Jesus. I’m Matthew, this is my bud Methuselah.
Hi. Matthew, you need to come with me.
Um, …OK. Hey Meth, I’ll catch up with you later. Get someone to take my shift.
I’ve been hearing about that Jesus person. They say he’s been doing all sorts of crazy stuff, like healing people who are sick and stuff. My sister-in-law’s cousin’s niece was healed of her sickness. Heard it from three different people. Do you suppose he can do more than heal? This Jesus guy is over at that slime Matthew’s house, having dinner. I’m going right over and see if he can help me too.What’s so special about each of these stories? As always, there’s all kinds of stuff going on here. The synagogue leader, and the woman with the hemorrhage, heard of Jesus and the miraculous things he had been doing, and then went and searched for him. Matthew the tax collector is asked directly by Jesus. He’d heard of him and so when Jesus asks him to follow, he’s apparently intrigued enough to do so. Abram uproots his entire family and estate to go off to somewhere he’s never been before, based on some God who out of the blue somehow tells him to. For each of these, there is some way that God reached out to them or affected their lives in a way that they become followers. Each of them had an encounter with God that changed them. In each case, too, it wasn’t a tiny change. It was huge, transforming their lives and the lives of their loved ones. None of them - Abram, Matthew, the leader and his daughter, and the woman with the hemorrhage - were never the same again. All of them felt the power of God in their lives.
When you imagine the circumstances of each of these meetings with God, they can be pretty odd at first. I’m not sure I would have wanted to be around when Sarai and Abram were talking about what Abram was called to do. And Matthew was a tax collector – that’s kind of like being an admitted member of Al Queda now – no one liked him. And the poor woman with the hemorrhage had been ritually unclean for as long as she had her condition. That meant that anything or anyone she touched would be unclean too. And that meant social isolation – no one would want to be around her either. And remember what the leader asked Jesus? He asked him to lay his hands on his dead daughter. Doing so would have made Jesus unclean too!
So we’ve got a family living comfortably in retirement, a guy whom everyone thought was pretty much next to the spawn of the devil, and two people who by the rules of society were supposed to not be around anyone else. And what happens? God enters their lives, not seeming to care what their circumstances are, and calls them out of what they were doing.
It’s pretty apparent how each of these figures began their encounters with the living God. In each case it’s obvious, in-your-face even. And the final result is that they all became, in one sense or another, faithful toward God. Abraham ultimately, as we will see, becomes the ancestor of the Jewish people and the ultimate grandfather of Jesus. Matthew becomes an apostle, one is not only called but sent, and his name gets attached to the Gospel we are reading from throughout this summer and fall. And the two people who need healing went searching for it and get it because of their faith, inspired by what they saw and heard around them.
And God did and continues to call to you and to me as well. How have you come to feel God in your life? How is it that you have decided, or are deciding, to be a follower of Jesus? You’re here, after all. Maybe you’ve always been a Christian from your birth, born and raised that way. Maybe, like many of us, including me, you were baptized when an infant and brought up going to church and all, and fell away during high school or college, and have now entered in again into a more active life of faith. Maybe you’ve heard about St. Thomas’ or the Episcopal Church or our Hiker Hostel or something and are wondering what the heck all that is about anyway. It’s possible you’ve been slain in the spirit at an altar call, beginning your life in Christ in a truly suddenly life-altering way. Or maybe you have felt an emptiness, or a yearning, or an unexplainable something that keeps tugging at you and so you’re searching. In these tough times of $4 per gallon gas and high unemployment and thousands dead in Iraq, you may be turning to God in hope that things can be better than they are now. Whatever it is, I imagine it includes some sense of separation, of disconnection, from God or maybe from our family and friends, or society.
Jesus puts it more bluntly. He came, he said, “to call not the righteous, but sinners.” That would be you and me. Whether we know it or not, all of us need what Jesus has. We might not know that we’re disconnected from God. We might at one point in our lives not even have known that God exists, kind of like Abram in today’s first lesson. Or it might be that our relationships with family and friends aren’t what we would like them to be. Anger, jealousy, disappointment – our relationships seem to be characterized often more by those kinds of things at times than by what we hope for, joy, companionship, even love. But somehow through all the crud that exists in our lives, God’s call to each of us can always get through. And it’s all God’s initiative, too, doing what God can to try to get through our blocked-up spiritual ears. God does whatever he can to get the Good News of his love for each of us through to us. It seemed pretty easy for Matthew and for Abram and for the two people in need of healing. Their encounters with God seem pretty straightforward.
How did you first feel drawn to Jesus in your life? More importantly, how and what does Jesus call you to do today? He is always saying, like he did to Matthew, “Follow me.” Now God doesn’t usually appear out of the blue like he did to Abram, and the burning bush is something that apparently only Moses received. For me, it was a dawning sense of, well, hunger. I missed the regular participation in Holy Communion. That ultimately, along with excellent music, an acceptance of questioning, and some welcome and support, were what brought me back to active participation as a believer. Perhaps you’re wondering what the Lord might be asking you to do next. If so, my advice is, ask him. Although I can’t promise a burning bush, I can promise you that if you stay open to God, God will find you. God’s always trying to find you anyway, to connect with you in the deepest possible way. Sometimes the distractions of the world come between us and God, so it gets hard to even make space for God in your life. Things are not easy now for many of us, and so the fact that all of us are here, coming together for Word and Sacrament, is the very basis of all else we do as followers of Christ.
At the end of our worship, I will invite us all to go forth in the Name of Christ, and we will all reply, thanks be to God. Our worship ends, and our following of Jesus begins anew, as it does each week. If you were to have a conversation with God this week, what might it be like? How would you imagine it to go? If you’re wondering what God might have next in store for you, or if you just want to check in a little bit, then try this out. Write out a conversation with God. Be specific. Start with God, because it’s God who always takes the initiative. You could use one of the conversations we heard in Scripture as a start if you’re stuck. How does the conversation go? What does God say? And what do you say in return? Just imagine how the whole thing might go. You get to be both yourself and God here. Don’t worry about it if your conversation sounds silly. Try it anyway. Just write, without thinking too much about if it fits your life or not. And then, put it aside and look at it in a day or so. How does it read to you? Are you surprised by anything? Does something you said or God said resonate in some way with you? Or perhaps something really doesn’t fit at all. Whatever it is, it’s OK. The idea is to practice being open to Jesus saying “follow me” in your life. Sometimes we need to hear it in a different way to really get it. Perhaps this might help in that. And talking over possible new insights with other people is the best way to check to see if you’re getting it right. If you’d like, feel free to contact me privately about what you discovered. Sometimes it’s hard to validate God’s voice by yourself, but I’m always available, and of course, nothing we say together ever gets repeated.
Following Jesus is not just a once-for-all thing. Baptism, where we accept that we are indeed God’s son or daughter, is indeed forever and can never be undone. But that’s just the beginning. Matthew went on to service as apostle and evangelist. Abram became Abraham and the ancestor of all of us in the faith. You and I, as followers of Jesus, have to be continually open to the conversation God wants to have with us. We start that conversation here anew every Sunday, at the Font and the Lectern and the Altar. In here we can practice listening for God and in sense, get our spiritual ears cleaned out so we can hear God. A lot of that happens here. But more probably happens out there, in the day-to-day worlds we live in. Listen again to the prayer of the day, and let it be your prayer this week as well:
O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Here's a setting of Psalm 33 by da Viadana: