The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Church of the Annunciation Oradell
January 24, 2021
Third Sunday After The Epiphany - Year B
First Reading - Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel - Mark 1:14-20
May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Around about this time of year, we look back on those New Year resolutions...all the things we set out to do, and wonder........what the heck was I thinking? I’m gonna only eat whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies and exercise every day. Riiiiigggghhhttt! Hopefully we can accomplish some of our goals, keep light hearted about all the rest, and try again next year.
Because, that’s just the thing... we attempted to try something...to start something new - we made a step - even if was a single step on a treadmill that lasted all of 5 minutes with gasping breaths and a sense that every muscle in your body was plotting revenge (okay, that was me). Still, it was a single step more than we did the day before. Maybe that is the draw of these resolutions anyway, that we can feel we at least started something.
But, the reason I think we sometimes don’t stick to them is because we often develop these resolutions in response to what we think we should do, rather than what God is calling us to do. And, that is why it is easier to start them, but much more difficult to finish them. We try to determine the destination ourselves, rather than listening for where God is calling us. But, how do we know the difference?
How do we know? How can we be sure we are following God’s call in our lives? We have to open our hearts, our eyes, our ears - our very being, to all that is being revealed around us - to all that God is telling us.
You see, that is what Epiphany is all about. It is from the Greek επιφάνεια: "manifestation" or "appearance". It is about revealing who Jesus is, who we are, and what we are called to do. And it is filled with manifestations, with revelations about the light that has come into the world - a light that itself is a beacon by which we come to know ourselves and our own call.
I love this liturgical season - a time of light and awakening in the darkness of winter. It is a season that ends like it began with God saying, “This is my child, the Beloved” At the beginning of the season, Jesus gets baptized and has an epiphany of his own - an understanding of who he is and what he is called to do. And, it was such a revelation that it sent him into the desert for 40 days to consider what it all meant, and to prepare for the journey.
And the season ends, with Jesus, having been fully living into who he was called to be, and calling others, being filled with light - his face shining like the sun. It is the transfiguration, a moment when Peter, James and John fully “see” who Jesus is - and start to realize what that will mean for them.
These manifestations don’t just happen to Messiahs and Apostles. Have you ever experienced an “aha” moment, as Oprah likes to call them? You know, where you suddenly sense something in yourself, something that perhaps you had been afraid to see? Or have you seen something in someone else, something they cannot seem to see themselves, except through the reflection in your eyes? I call these Jesus and Peter moments – and they are important turning points in our lives.
In the gospel today, Jesus is calling out to Simon and Andrew, and then to James and John - all of them fishermen. And they dropped everything and went with Jesus. Jesus saw something in them, helped them to see it themselves, and their hearts were open to hear him when he called. But in the case of James and John, their father, Zebedee, remained behind.
I always had to wonder about ole Zebedee. I mean, what happened to him? His sons were likely his security when he reached is aging years, and there they went, leaving their nets - the livelihood for the family, and their dad behind. Did Zebedee not hear Jesus? Did he, miss the boat - so to speak, while he remained in it?
No. I think he knew exactly what his role was, and it was to stay behind and keep things running in the home and in the village. He heard Jesus quite clearly - and answered his own call. I think we struggle sometimes with the idea that we might be called to do - nothing at all.
We have times in our life when we are called to action - to go out into the world, and other times when we are called to stay in the boat. And it is those boat times, when we are waiting to hear where God will call us next. And if we are so busy running around, we just might miss it.
One of my favorite prayers in our Book of Common Prayer is found in the Ministrations to the Sick, on page 461. You can follow along with me if you like. It is on the bottom of page 461.
“In the Morning
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring
forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I
am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still,
help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it
patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit
If we move through life always doing, always talking, always heading to a destination, we will miss the “still small voice of God” calling us. It’s not that we intend to not quite down, to not pray, to not listen. I think it’s just that we often get so caught up in the familiarity of our busyness (by the way, have you ever thought about that word - the word we use for the places in which we work - business...busy-ness). Anyway, we are so caught up in it that it becomes so familiar, so comfortable - even if we don’t like it, it becomes like an old slipper. To stop, to listen, to pray...it is a bit too much to do so little. We want to get out of the boat and walk - whether that is our call or not.
Other times, when we have been able to hear the Holy Spirit, we get lost in the Advent of our lives - always preparing and waiting for the “right” moment when we have the time, the money, the body shape, the right job...
But whether it is our flurry of activity, or our perpetual preparation, one thing is clear, we can sometimes end up like all those broken resolutions - unmet, and unfulfilled. What happens to us? Did we not hear the Holy Spirit correctly? Did we somehow end up on the end of the God “telephone” game - with something completely different than what God intended us to hear? Maybe. But I think more often than not, it works a bit like this...
Have you ever felt pulled - drawn really - to write, or paint, or start a new career, or a new relationship? Sometimes that feeling is so strong, and we call it - inspiration, the working of our muse, the Holy Spirit. We know it is something unique to us, something pulling us to do something - or perhaps, to do nothing. It’s an epiphany! And it is as initially exciting as the daydreams one has after buying a lottery ticket. I mean, maybe it is just me, but I buy one of those now and then, and suddenly I am imagining all the things I could do with the money - and it’s fun and can take on a life of its own. BTW: If you DID win that big jackpot this week…the vestry and I would like to talk to you after the service today.
Anyway, we have these inspirations, these epiphanies, and then we walk over to that blank canvas, or sit at the computer to type the first word of our book, or begin to plan the new career, and...we...freeze.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you sat in front of a blank sheet of paper, or a computer screen? A long time ago I used to do that with canvas. I loved to paint, but a blank canvas was the most exciting and the scariest thing in the world. I had tons of them - all blank - all still brimming with possibility - none being filled. And what was stopping me? I had the paints, the brushes, and oddly enough, occasionally - the time...
I was caught up in the idea that it had to “be” something good. I had to have an outcome that I wanted. I was so focused on the destination that I couldn’t make a single step on the journey. I didn’t want to make a mistake, and so I didn’t make one. I didn’t make anything.
I remember reading many years ago in “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch, that in all of us there are only two basic emotions from which we act - love or fear. All else comes from these two. When our actions are grounded in love, we are open, we take risks, we step into new things, we let go and let God. When we are fearful we hold back, we build walls, we listen to the demons in the wilderness, we try to control everything, or we freeze in our tracks like deer caught in headlights.
This, sadly, isn’t just restricted to individuals. It happens in organizations too – even in churches. We fear shrinking budgets, we worry that someone might leave the church, and we definitely don’t like change. All of that means that we are unable to see the bountiful blessings of God in the now, to hear where God is calling us, because we are focused on the past – on how things used to be – that we can’t see the promise and hope of what is to come, if only we will let go and let God.
To live into God’s call, we have to live into God - the God that is love. We have to shed the fears that keep us from moving forward, that bind us to our past, that keeps us in the wilderness of busy-ness. I can tell you that it isn’t easy, but the rewards are great - for yourself, and for all those around you.
This is what can happen when we stop and listen, this is what can happen when we open our hearts to the world around us, and to the calling of God within it. This is what can happen when we allow ourselves to experience the Epiphanies in our lives - we can find ourselves revealed, we can find the light of Christ within us manifested for all to see. And we can see that manifestation in others, and help them to live into their call, help them be all they are to be as children of God. And that is the story of Christ, James, John and Zebedee from our Gospel today.
As for me, I have to tell you that I now paint when I have a few days off strung together, and enjoy it a lot. In fact, the room and I get quite messy - and some of the paint even ends up on the canvas - or whatever I use to paint on. And in the end - it is all good, because in the end, it was never about the outcome, it was always about the journey.
So take a moment to stop and to listen for where God is calling you, look for the light of Christ in yourself and in others, helping them to see it for themselves. And when you do - you will walk in love as Christ loved us - fully alive and fully open to all that you are called to do, even if that is to do nothing at all.