January 25, 2015

Epiphany III-Fishermen

We turn this week to two pairs of brothers and their epiphany, or understanding, of Jesus. The Old Testament lesson from the lectionary is Jeremiah 3:21-4:2 in which the people are called to turn from idols and return to the Lord. Psalm 130 is one of yearning in which ‘my soul waits for the Lord…more than the watchman for the morning…’ In 1 Corinthians 7:17-23, we hear Paul encouraging the people of Corinth to lead their life for the Lord in the ‘condition’ in which they were called, whether that was as a slave or a Jew or free.

It is in Mark 1:14-20 that we hear of Jesus calling his first disciples. The same story is found in Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 5:1-11, and John 1:35-42. Luke and John offer some additional information not found in the straightforward account by Mark.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

The fact that Andrew, Simon, James, and John are fishermen, on the Sea of Galilee, means that they were not wealthy or of the priestly class. It would seem that perhaps James and John are a little better off because their father has ‘hired men’ working for him. In any case, they are not the type of men that most rabbis would seek out to be their disciples. From the very start, Jesus does the unexpected.

Mark says it happened “as Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee”. Was Jesus just strolling along the shore? Or had he come to Bethsaida, to that very spot, in order to find the 4 men? Like with Nathaniel, we can guess that Jesus knew what was in the heart of each man. They may have been men who were seeking a deeper experience of God. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 130 they were waiting “for the Lord…more than the watchmen for the morning.” (vs. 5-6)
When they first meet Jesus on the shore as they ply their trade, what made them leave their nets, their families, and the only livelihood they knew? Mark says that “immediately they left…and followed him”. In the account in John, it is Andrew who first follows Jesus because John the Baptist tells him to. In the Gospel of Luke, the miracle of the fishes causes Simon to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Mark doesn’t give us any of those details, instead, he implies that when Jesus said “Follow me” they dropped their nets and set off with Jesus without even asking ‘where are we going?’

For me this conjures up images of the Pied Piper. You remember the story of the town of Hamelin who hired a piper to get rid of all the rats in town. When that was done, the leaders refused to pay him and he led the children of the town away by his enticing music. According to Wikipedia, the story originated in the 1300s, based on an entry in the town chronicles stating "it is 100 years since our children left.” There was even once a window in the church in Hamelin depicting the piper and children (destroyed in 1660). While the story appears to have originated in fact, no one knows for sure why the children left. Theories include participation in the Children’s Crusade (1212), being kidnapped by a neighboring landowner as serfs, or emigrating to somewhere else in Europe.
The dark and mysterious part of the story aside, Jesus does act the part of a charismatic ‘piper’ who calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John to ‘follow’ and they leave their boats and do so. Jesus took these 4 fishermen and transformed their lives so that they became leaders of the new movement after the Resurrection. From the beginning, they were willing to trust and to follow and to learn from Jesus. In Jesus they found that “in the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:7-8)

Jesus called the quartet just as they were. There was no requirement to study or to do great things prior to becoming a disciple. This is similar to Paul’s advice to the Corinthians to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you…remain in the condition in which you were called.” (I Corinthians 7:17, 20) The 1963 hymn Lord of the Dance that you can watch here depicts Christ as calling us to “Dance, dance, wherever you may be, I am the lord of the dance, said he. And I lead you all, wherever you may be, And I lead you all in the dance, said he.”

Is Jesus calling you to leave something and set out on some new adventure? How has Jesus transformed your life as you seek to follow?

January 18, 2015

Epiphany II-Nathaniel

During the season of Epiphany, which is the time between Christmas and the start of Lent, we are looking at how Jesus was ‘manifested’ or made clear and obvious to people during his ministry. Last week we looked at John the Baptist and the power with which he preached the Good News of the coming Messiah. This week we witness an entirely different moment of insight.
This week’s readings from the Book of Common Prayer lectionary feature the call of the child Samuel (I Samuel 3:1-20), and the admonition from St. Paul to the Corinthians that we must remember that our bodies are members of Christ and not to be treated as trash. (I Corinthians 6:11b-20). The Psalmist bemoans the fact that “my souls thirsts for thee…as in a dry and weary land…” (Psalm 63:1-8). Then we come to the Gospel. In John 1:43-51 we hear about Nathaniel.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
As an interesting side note, the name Nathanael/Nathaniel means ‘Gift of God’ or ‘God has given’. It is from the two words “nathan” (to give) and “El” (God). His parents must have thought this child special to name him ‘ gift from God’.
Rather like Samuel, Nathaniel doesn’t quite hear God’s call at first. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asks. Samuel runs to Eli thinking it is a human voice when he hears God calling his name. Like Eli, Philip points Nathaniel to the One who is really calling each of us. He says “Come and See”.
The friends walk toward Jesus who announces, seemingly randomly, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” However, when we dig into that comment, it is an affirmation of Nathaniel’s fair-minded approach to life. Even though he has his doubts about this rabbi from Nazareth, he comes with Philip to meet him.
It is easy to judge a person by their outward appearance, their hometown, their job (or lack of), their religion, on and on. It is harder to step past those prejudices to meet the person. Nathaniel prejudged Jesus by his hometown, but was willing to at least meet the Rabbi. In that meeting he was transformed.
Nathaniel’s conversion is immediate. When he is recognized as being an honest and straightforward man, he announces “you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” Nathaniel must have seen in Jesus someone who saw him for who he was. Perhaps he was used to be judged wrongly himself. Maybe, like Zacchaeus a short man, or perhaps he was used to being laughed at because he was too careful about his friendships or too honest in his dealings. Jesus sees through the walls he may have erected and sees the real man.
I can see Jesus smiling in a friendly and loving way as he responds to Nathaniel’s enthusiasm by saying, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
To this reticent and honest man, Jesus offers an early hint of who he is by referring to Jacob’s dream of the ladder to heaven. (Genesis 28:12) Nathaniel, in his honest willingness to meet Jesus even though he clearly had doubts, discovered not just a teacher, but the Lord of Life. He brought his questioning heart and it was filled with answers beyond what he expected.
Are you called to be Philip today and bring someone to Jesus? Are you, like Nathaniel, hesitating to open your heart because of some doubt or prejudice against someone? Have you been hurt and don’t want to trust God with the pain?
Our loving and living Lord sees you where you are and welcomes you with a smile and open arms. Sometimes it’s not easy to get up from under the tree where we can safely observe the world going by. When we do, we might just meet Jesus and become involved in what Steven Curtis Chapman calls the Great Adventure.
Next week we’ll meet two brothers who left their professions to follow Jesus.

January 11, 2015

Epiphany I-John the Baptist

Last time we explored what the word ‘manifest’ means and asked “how does Jesus ‘manifest’ his Divinity today?” During this church season until Lent (Feb. 18), we’ll consider how Jesus was ‘manifest’ or ‘caught in the act’ of being God Incarnate with the goal of being more active as followers of the One who was both human and divine.

The lectionary readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany bring us Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10: 34-38, and Mark 1:7-11. In Isaiah God is calling us to “Behold my servant” who has the Spirit of God to be a “covenant to the people, a light to the nations…to open the eyes that are blind…” In Acts, Peter states “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable…”
The Gospel reading tells us how Jesus came to John the Baptist who was preaching in the wilderness and who confesses, “After me comes he who is mightier…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

What do all these readings tell us about Jesus and about John’s insight into the truth (John’s epiphany)?
First, we notice in Isaiah that God is promising a Servant who will be for all people and nations. This truth is affirmed by Peter. Peter’s confession comes after he has arrived in Caesarea to preach the Gospel to Cornelius, a Roman soldier! For a Jew, this was an unheard of step of faith. To associate in any way with the Gentiles, much less with a man who would be considered a ‘godless Roman centurion’ was to become unclean yourself. Yet, Peter manifests the Gospel by going to this man’s house and talking to him as an equal.

John knows that he is the ‘messenger, preparing the way’. One wonders if he had any inkling of who Jesus was until the time of baptism when “he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.’” In Mark, we are left to wonder, but in the parallel reading in Matthew we hear John say, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). Either way, to see the dove descending on his cousin Jesus would have been an affirmation of John’s ministry.  
John preached the coming of Messiah and “all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem [went to him] and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, as in this image by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. What sort of preaching makes that kind of impact? This week the Rev. Laurie Brock in her Dirty SexyMinistry blog  suggested that the kind of preaching that makes people respond like that is “preached from our feet”.

She says, “The Gospel preached from our feet is not the Gospel of dry, controlled, rational love preached from layers of rationalizations and footnotes. It is the Gospel preached from our own wounds, our own deaths and resurrection, from our mind and heart, from the Word that has become flesh in our bodies and souls and given us life….”

I am not a professional preacher, nor are most of you, my readers. John was not one of the scribes or Pharisees or Sadducees, either, yet his preaching moved people to act. Jesus taught “as one with authority, not like the scribes” (Matthew 7:29) and his words changed hearts. Each of us in our own way is a witness who preaches the Gospel to those we meet at work and at play and at church.
Laurie Brock asks, “When we are called to preach the Word, do we allow it to become flesh, to become embodied with life and emotion, with joy and grief, with hope and challenge? Do we dare to preach from our imperfect earthiness, from the voice of our deep soul, and from that which moves us?”

It’s a challenge to be that open to the Word and to the Spirit. As those who follow in the footsteps of John and proclaim ‘Emmanuel, God with us’, can we do any less?
Next week we’ll look at Nathaniel’s response to Jesus’ invitation to ‘follow me’

January 4, 2015

Epiphany-making manifest

During Epiphany, which is the church season between Christmas and Lent, the lessons in the lectionary focus on ways that Jesus was ‘made manifest’ to the people. Manifest isn’t a word that’s regularly used much anymore. It means “to be obvious, clearly seen or understood”. According to the dictionary it has roots in the Latin manifestus, meaning caught in the act (often in a flagrant act). Maybe when you hear the word 'manifest' you think of a document detailing a load of cargo, or 'Manifest Destiny' (the idea that the westward expansion of the US was ordained). You might think of the hymn by Christopher Wordsworth detailing ways Christ is manifest which I explored back in Epiphany of 2011.

The word epiphany refers not only to the season, but to an ‘appearance (or manifestation), especially of a deity’. It can also mean an insight or perception of what something means and it can be the moment when that insight happens. The word comes from the Greek for apparition or appearing: epipháneia.
On the Feast of Epiphany (January 6), we are reminded that the first manifesting was to the wise men. Their arrival is indicative of Jesus being a Savior for all humanity-for Gentiles as well as Jews. Throughout his ministry, Jesus was known to show no distinction between his care for the Chosen Children of Israel and the Gentiles who sought him out. Romans, Phoenician, Samaritan, or pagan, all were treated equally by Our Lord in his ministry. The wise men or Magi experienced their ‘epiphany’ when they saw the ‘star in the east’ and realized that it meant that a savior was born.

Jesus also makes manifest his Divinity and ministry in the Calling of his disciples. These were unlikely candidates from a human standpoint. They were not learned men, nor were they wealthy or well-known. Each one individually had his own ‘epiphany’ of who Jesus was and realized he had to follow this rabbi, even at the cost of his livelihood.
And, of course, Jesus manifests his Divinity in the many miracles of healing. During this Epiphany season which stretches from now until February 18, we will look at some of the early healing miracles of Jesus. For everyone who was healed, I am sure there was an ‘epiphany’ of who this rabbi was and insight into how their life must change because of being made whole.

So, how does Jesus ‘manifest’ his Divinity today? How are we made aware of Jesus and how do we experience insight into his life and work? How do we respond to our personal ‘epiphany’ of Jesus in our life?
In looking at the Gospel readings from now until Lent, perhaps we’ll find some insights of our own. Perhaps we'll get some ideas of how to 'manifest' Christ in our own lives by 'getting caught in the act' of being a follower of the One who was both human and divine.