First reading Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Second reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23
“Come follow me.” Jesus’ invitation, in this still-dark season. And an implicit pledge that the promise is being fulfilled—that the people who have walked in darkness will see a great light.
Because … to risk quoting a completely different Gospel [John 1:4], “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Yes, there’s something about Jesus that illuminates situations and lives and the whole wide world. That is of course what this season of Epiphany is about.
Jesus had just learned that his cousin John… who had recently baptized him… had been arrested. The same word that describes his getting away from Nazareth to Capernaum—translated here as “withdrew” is the same one used to describe how Joseph and the little family got away from Bethlehem to Egypt right before Herod murdered the children.
These are dark times, and it’s in the middle of this darkness that the Light of Epiphany shines in the call, “come follow me.”
I told Deborah this morning that I’d really not wanted to preach on this gospel. I felt I didn’t know enough about this “call” business. –But you’re a spiritual director, Vivian! How can you not understand it? -Well, I have lots of things I know about it, it’s doing it that’s the problem. -That’s it in a nutshell!
So what is this essential call, and if it’s for all of us, how do we know we are answering it? This answer has to be lived, not preached about. I’ll try to offer a few observations and ideas.
Last night … yes, before finishing this talk, a half dozen friends came over bringing wine and cheese. Now, none of these women is a church goer, though some had attended Sunday school. As the evening unfolded, and because they knew I had a sermon to finish, they asked “tell us what you are going to say.” And I read them the Gospel passage we just heard, and then threw them a two-part discussion question I’d found for this week on the internet:
“When have you walked in darkness? and what helped?”
One of them raised two children as a single mother; another has accompanied her sister through serious illness for decades. Now we meet twice a year or so to touch in on where our lives are taking us, sharing our challenges and hopes. “When have you walked in darkness? and what helped?” “Friends”, they said. “And trusting I’d find the strength to keep going.”
Haven’t you noticed that Christians don’t have a monopoly on love, or on faith?
What we have is a language for God that names Jesus as both an integral part of God and as part of our own humanness. Our identity includes intimacy with the unknowable God who is both creator of the universe, and powerless in the face of suffering. Who is the God of life and love. The light of the world.
This is the one who says “Come follow me.”
I was a fairly new Christian in the mid 70s when I went on a weekend retreat where the speaker started off by saying they would be helping us explore God’s call for us. One member of the parish spoke up right away. “I’m sorry, but I have four little boys and a husband to take care of. I’m not ready to hear I need to take on one more thing.” The speaker responded warmly, and gently. “Do you really think that God will ask you to make light of your own heart? of these real commitments of yours? I don’t.”
That moment stayed with me up to this day. Who we are, and what we love—not what we do, or what spiritual hoops we jump through—constitute the ground of the call we hear. It is from this point that we start discerning how to respond.
Years later, I had the good fortune to hear Benedictine Bede Griffiths talk about his experiences in India at McGill’s Faculty of Education. Then he led us in a silent meditation. Afterwards one of the students asked, “when we graduate and begin working, how can we teach this to our students?” He smiled. A slow and beautiful, appreciative smile. “When I remember my teachers, what comes to mind isn’t really the things they taught. I remember who they were.”
We could do worse this morning than to reflect on the teachers (substitute if you like colleagues… or bosses… or employees) we have experienced, in thinking of what it means to follow a calling. I hope we’ve all known teachers who were energized over and over again by their subject, by the opportunity to spend their lives sharing something they have a passion for.
I was blown away on Friday by Nicholas Cappozolli’s doctoral lecture and recital – not simply by the stunning performance of a wonderful organ work by “Messaien’s forgotten [first wife] Mie” that had not been played in … is it sixty… years?… but by his enthusiasm as he took up every question, eager to share with his teachers and fellow students more of what he had discovered in the new Messaien archives. It was a joy, too, to watch his professors already receiving him as a colleague and acknowledging his expertise.
Discernment includes community, it includes this kind of reception and confirmation.
And discernment is lifelong.
Going back to our teachers … if only because we have all had the chance to experience a spectrum of possibilities … we have likely also known some for whom teaching, or some other form of work,…had become a drudgery. There are obstacles in life, and seasons in life, and also new opportunities.
Sometimes the call IS to make a change, whether in what we do, or how we do it. Sometimes even without knowing what’s next.
Damian Zynda, a spiritual director who has visited Montreal a few times, preached in this Cathedral on the life and martyrdom of Oscar Romero. His example gives me great hope, because it was late in his life that he had the freedom to reveal God’s glory in El Salvador and in the years before his death to give more and more hope to the people there.
In Isaiah’s words, “ the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken.”
And that’s really what the call of every human is: to find and to share the freedom to reveal the glory of God. Each in our own way. So, in Damian’s words, “Theologically speaking discernment is not a surefire practice for decision making. God could care less what we DO. The question to start with is ‘what does God desire for you?’ The movement to becoming truly ourselves has to be towards God. From here, she says, we can hear a double invitation from God:
“First, -‘Can you come with me where I want to go?’ and second, ‘can you do it the way I do it?’”
Now, to hear this invitation we need to let God come close. As the psalmist writes
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
That’s exactly what happened in Capernaum. Jesus came close, and these first four disciples answered him. And they were free to respond. This freedom for the things of God is a grace. They surely were ready. We know this because they didn’t respond the way you or I might. “I’ll have to pray about it,” or “I’ll consider it,” or “I’ll take that under advisement,” They just followed him. They didn’t know where they were going to be going. They didn’t know how they would be “fishing for people.” They didn’t read the job description and decide to sign up.
They followed. And the story continues!
In the words of Saint Paul—who never personally met Jesus, but who knew and followed him: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.” Amen. [Ephesians 3:20, 21]