Sermons That Work

Proclaim, Epiphany 3 (B) – 2012

January 22, 2012


[NOTE TO READER: “Lectio divina” is pronounced “LEK-tsea-oh di-VEEN-ah.”]

The collect for this Sunday begins “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.”

Do we seriously make that request of God? The reading from Mark in today’s gospel lesson depicts the disciples readily answering the call of Jesus, reminding us of the opening lines of Hymn 661:

“They cast their nets in Galilee, just off the hills of brown
such happy, simple fisher folk before the Lord came down.”

Here we are in early winter, less than a month after Christmas, and we are almost propelled into addressing the call of Christ in our lives. This call comes to many of us more than once; the call is continuous. It was with the disciples as well. Every incident, healing miracle, public teaching, or encounter called them further into proclamation of the Good News. We are never fully there because the character of the call is a journey.

A woman who grew up in her hometown church remembers going forward to the altar as a young teenager to make her public decision for Christ. She said she believed at the time that was it: her life would be different and better. But she said she did not realize how often she would have to re-make that decision to follow Jesus in light of things that happened to her. An accident killed both her parents when she was a young mother; later her eldest son was diagnosed with cancer, from which he recovered; and then she endured the eventual breakup of her marriage. She said each of these events were moments when she knew to answer the call of Christ would lead to a new place. Now she knows there were many more times, joyous as well as sad, when grace was given to her to respond.

There is a form of scripture reading based on the Benedictine style of lectio divina, which is Latin for “divine reading.” The reader is asked to read a passage three times: first to note what word or phrase stands out in the reading; then to interpret what the scripture, or God is saying; and finally to answer the question, What is God or Jesus calling you to do? People who use this method for reading scripture find it becomes an active part of their spiritual lives. The living word of God calls to them, beckons them, has them consider something new and challenging. This call is more than a nudge; often it leads to profound change.

A man who regularly participated in lectio divina was studying to be an accountant. His study group met on Sunday evenings at an ecumenical campus ministry. There were a lot of things happening in his life, all of them unfolding with new career possibilities when he began to realize he was, in fact, being called to work with young children. Now he is a volunteer working with a group of court-appointed special advocates for children who have been placed under court supervision. He is also considering going to seminary.

Answering the call of Jesus Christ is based on listening and being ready to respond. Listening is an art in itself. It requires us to do more than just hear things that sound good to us. Listening requires us to filter out all the noise, listening for the still, small voice of God that usually comes to us quietly, often through odd connections with people, sometimes strangers, who see something unique in us and call it forth.

Being ready to respond is quite another thing. At this time of year there is a musical play frequently performed, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. In this story, Amahl is a young boy who must use a crutch to walk, and he has a bad habit of telling fibs. One night as he is sitting outside, his mother calls for him to come inside, and when he tells her that he sees an enormous star “as big as a window” over their house, she does not believe him. Later that night there is a knock at their door, and three kings, the Magi, stand before them, asking if they could rest overnight in the house, explaining that they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child. After the kings fall asleep, Amahl’s mother, who is worried that her son will become a beggar, tries to steal gold from one of the kings. When she is caught, Amahl tries to attack the king’s guard who is holding her. The king is filled with mercy when he sees Amahl’s pitiful defense of his mother, and the king tells her to keep the gold, explaining that the Holy Child, for whom the gold was intended, will not need it, because his kingdom will not be built on earthly wealth. Amahl’s mother, filled with shame and remorse, begs the kings to take back the gold, and wishes she had a gift to send the Holy Child. Amahl gives the kings his crutch, his only possession, to give to the child. And miraculously, Amahl’s leg is healed, and he sets off with the kings to see the child and give thanks.

In this marvelous tale, both music and story work together as we witness an intervention by God into the life of a poor family, an intervention that results in profound change. The call of Christ can be seen as an intervention because that is what it is. “Follow me and you will fish for people,” says Jesus to the disciples.

The call is not always a loud command; it is often a quiet suggestion, but it is always an intervention that challenges us to change direction, move to a new way of thought and life.

If we follow the words of today’s collect, we see that the purpose in responding to the call is not just to better ourselves, but to receive grace to proclaim the Good News. No one has to wear a priestly collar to do that. The places we live, the families and friends we love, the workstations where we spend eight hours a day are all places for proclamation.

What Jesus calls us to do is proclaim, and he calls us to use the gifts we have to be proclaimers of God’s enduring love for each of us.

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