A sermon from January 22, 2017 by Kalyn Falk
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light
When my son Noah was 7 or 8, he was obsessed with Amenor. He talked about it constantly. Do you know what that is? Neither did we. Because he has profound autism and is functionally non-verbal, he says a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense to us. But he was deeply committed to Amenor. We googled it. We asked the respite workers and school staff if anyone had a clue. And Noah, for months, just said “Amenor! Amenor!” it was intriguing, but also very frustrating.
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One day he came over to me with a Veggie Tales DVD and said pointedly “Amenor” Oh! Finally it made sense – he was asking for a specific video called “Are you my neighbor?” Amenor. Obviously. It was like a lightswitch went on.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
As soon as we got it we looked around the house. He had drawn dozens of pictures of veggie tales and taped them around the TV. It couldn’t be more obvious. All it took was a light to go off for us to make sense of it. This is Epiphanytide.
It is the season where we start to see ramifications of God “moving into the neighbourhood” as Jamie quoted from the Message a couple of weeks ago. When we’ve had an experience of Jesus, we are changed. Things shift – our identity, our story about ourselves, our responses to others. We realize this is not just about us, but that we are caught in a larger story. Some of these shifts come like a lightswitch turning on. Others are a slow burn.
Epiphany starts with the Magi coming to pay homage – the stars have been calling it for years already. Then it moves to the baptism of Jesus, where God names him beloved. Today, our text brings us to the calling of the disciples. Epiphany continues through to us, this sense of God saying “Amenor” to us until we finally get it. And until that time, we wait and watch, sometimes frustrated, sometimes intrigued, trying to understand what’s going on, trying to feel along the cracks until there is some kind of opening to a deeper understanding.
I’ve felt like that a lot this week – a week that started listening to Martin Luther King Jr’s dreams of a just society with dignity for all, and ending with the inauguration of a man who has deeply connected with a population that is feeling impotent and angry. It is clear that our culture is caught in fear and shame; in dislocation and cynicism.
What exactly is happening? And at what point is it reasonable to panic?
What is our response? Most of me wants to jump up and weigh in – to fight and make tersely worded statements on Facebook. Many of us did march yesterday and it was good to feel that our presence contributed to a bigger story; one that stands for dignity and hope for all.
In John, we hear that there is a political change afoot there too. John’s been arrested. Fear is growing.
Jesus withdraws to Galilee; this is not a time for reaction – it’s a time for preparation. It’s a time for defiance in a different way. Jesus begins preaching: “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near”
Now when I hear this I usually hear that as a threat. You can see that foreboding character holding the sign. I googled this phrase and it’s actually sickening what you find – threats of hell, damnation, judgment for others. This phrase has been used to induce fear in us. Clean up your act or you’re going to hell. – that’s because we interpret it in a culture of fear. If we have felt the shift of knowing in our bones that we are loved by God, we hear that with new ears. Repent means turn around; Get a new orientation for the way you live, then act on it. Be changed from the inside. Repent is the invitation of epiphanytide. For the kingdom of God is not an idea or an abstraction; it has been revealed and embodied in Christ and continues to be revealed through us. We need a revolution in thought; a counter cultural stance that defies fear and shame and cynicism.
Instead of being apathetic, we need to be wakeful; this is a call to action. Get out of your boat and follow me. The disciples immediately leave what they are doing to follow Jesus. Metaphorically we need to leave old ways of thinking, old ways of understanding.
We need to hold on to hope as an act of defiance. We are a resurrection people; we believe in the impossible. When Jesus says Follow me, we trust that it will be worth it. This is not the time to fear. This is the time to stand in hope that perfect love casts out fear. To get out of our boats and follow that call into a new way of being; one based on love and grace.
If those disciples had not followed, would Jesus still have moved into ministry? Yes of course. Jesus could have used anyone, but he chose them. We see from this story that it actually does matter whether or not we get out of the boat. There is an old Hebraic image that calls us to carry with us 2 truths, one in each hand. The one hand says, “I am but dust and ashes” it’s not about me. The other says, “For my sake the world was created” It is important that I am here. I can forgive, love, protest, show up, speak. Each of us has at least a fish or a loaf we can give. We don’t need to feed 5,000 because we are not Jesus. But we can give what we have and trust that God will multiply it. We keep our egos in check: I am but dust and ashes. I am part of something much bigger than myself. And we don’t give in to apathy: For my sake the world was created. I am part of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. I am called to embody that truth with the way I see myself, the way I treat others, and the way I move in the world.
So. Epiphany. We are changed. Everything is all worked out. It can start to sound like life is all rainbows and cotton candy.
But then we read in 1 Cor that the reorientation hasn’t fully permeated. God comes to us in layers. It’s one thing to get out of the boat and follow; it’s another thing to work with humans who are annoying.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
This is how Christians fight; we don’t have a dance off, we have a pious-off. We see here that our penchant for finding a team, finding our in group, did not begin with Twilight’s team Jacob/team Edward. The Corinthians are teaming up, finding little sub tribes. Why are they doing this? We don’t know. But it’s dividing them and Paul calls them to unity – to be united in the same mind and the same person. This is different than uniformity. Paul speaks quite a bit about this in following texts. He celebrates the diversity of gifts and talents.
We are reminded again of the shift into the way of thinking that embodies the kingdom of God. We are not alone. We are unified with our siblings; with our sisters and our brothers in Christ. We see each other as dearly beloved and chosen in God’s eyes. We are inter-connected though not the same. What happens to one of us matters to all of us.
This is totally counter to the in-group fighting that is happening in Corinth. The club mentality is about ego and false belonging. Christianity is not about belonging to a team or a club. When we feel the shift into this new understanding, we know that it doesn’t matter whose team we rally under; the important thing is that GOD has claimed US.
God says to me, “I do not care what school you went to or what grades you got. I don’t care how much you weigh or how many likes you get on Instagram. I don’t care how hard you’ve tried to make everyone like you or whether or not they do. You are mine. You belong because of who you are in me.” God says something very similar, perhaps not being quite so clear about the Instagram thing, to you. To each of us.
When this truth permeates our being, we realize that it’s not about us, we are but dust and ashes. And we also know that for us, the world was created. We are called beloved. So we reach out both hands and continue into the story of the unfolding of the kingdom of God, proclaiming the good news.
This is not the end. We are each Beloved. We have work to do.