Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Jan. 15, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Jan 15, 2023 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Jan. 15, 2023

The new minister was young, he just 19 when he graduated from seminary, having already completed his undergraduate degree. By 26 he’d received a Doctorate of Philosophy, wrote his dissertation, and was called to be pastor of his first church. His path was good, and it was with God. His father, also a minister, had been his mentor, along with professors and church elders. Yet by end of his first year two other leaders would capture his attention and his path would turn. First was Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old black schoolgirl, unmarried and pregnant, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested. Shortly afterwards a 42-year-old seamstress named Rosa Parks did the same. Soon Martin Luther King Jr., still considered the ‘new pastor’, was asked for the use of his church for a meeting on the ensuing bus boycott. King demurred, reluctant to risk putting his new wife and even newer infant daughter in harm’s way. But he said he’d to think it over, and after receiving a call from a respected colleague seeking to enlist his help, King agreed—and there both his life and the Civil Rights Movement took on new energy, power, and determination.

I have to wonder how the congregation felt when King resigned to work for civil rights full time? I know a small few stood in protest at first, and then more, not to protest but to tell him they didn’t want him to leave, and also fully supported him.

I wonder how John the Baptizer felt watching his disciples follow after Jesus because he was only the forerunner.

After preaching and baptizing his own disciples, having baptized Jesus, and declared to them “I have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The very next day in front of two of his disciples John exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” With that, Andrew and Simon Peter turn and follow Jesus, asking where he is staying. “Come and see”, he says, and they do. There was nothing at all wrong with being John’s disciples, many continued as such we hear in another chapter or two. Their call to follow Jesus was right in a new and stronger way. 

Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel, and the question has never been more relevant than it is today. What are you looking for? They answer “Rabbi, where are you staying?” It doesn’t sound like an answer to Jesus’ question to our ears, perhaps it did to him though. He tells them, “Come and see.” He knows they seek something and he invites them to come seek it with him. If John was a bit torqued at Jesus making off with his disciples we never hear it, and no mention of leave-taking words. They move to follow because as Andrew tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.” Orthodox tradition names Andrew by the title ‘first called’ and first evangelist. 

It’s fairly easy to discern the choice to turn from destructive or sinful ways to good ways in life—not easier to do, but certainly easier to explain. Turning from good ways to new or greater ones, to follow a deeper stronger call is not lightly undertaken. When have you found yourself there? We’ve grieved the loss of several people from St. Michael’s who moved because they were called to something they knew was right to answer, usually for the sake of someone else. A young person changes direction in college, because while they’d be a very good laboratory researcher, they discover a fierce passion for public health. I’ve heard people say they’re just looking around at different churches—and then they’re back the next week knowing they’ve found their new faith community, feeling a call to stay and talk, to volunteer, give, grow, lead.

We are all of us changed when we follow God’s call in new ways, perhaps ways more challenging than what we might have thought we would, and there are always risks. At first we may struggle to see or trust that inclination of our heart or sense of your mind sparking and spirited. We may hesitate for fear of consequences, or discern that we can accept them. Both Andrew and Simon Peter went far and wide to preach the good news of the risen Christ. Tradition holds that the Andrew even preached at the borders of modern-day Ukraine, reaching what is now Kyiv where he erected a cross, and where Saint Andrew’s Church of Kyiv now stands. Simon Peter was a gifted leader among the Apostles and of the newly emerging Christian church. Both are believed to have been crucified in the end. Coretta Scott King and their daughter Yolanda (whose safety Martin had so feared for) were indeed at home when the King house was bombed shortly after the bus boycott began. Her friend and biographer Octavia Vivian wrote, “That night Coretta lost her fear of dying” and she committed even “more deeply to the freedom struggle.” 

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses divisions among the early church in Corinth, urging unity of “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” His letter offering God’s grace and peace begins by giving thanks that such grace “has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…” Its a call to unity among a divided conflicted people, and thanksgiving for gifts Paul subtly suggests are underutilized. It’s an elegant way of saying ‘You know better!’ They have the gifts most needed and Christ is strengthened among in community. Sound wisdom for our faith journey too, and for all the times we lose our way in following Christ.

What are you looking for? . . . Come and see! This is Christ’s exquisite invitation to all of us who follow him, the invitation to discern what we are seeking and to do it alongside the living, loving, forgiving, Christ. Hesitation, stumbling, going after the empty goals at times; none of us are immune. Our determination may waver, we might live our fears more than the great things we are called to, yet with Christ we get the Holy Do-Over. Come and see! he will say to us, again and again. Remember how Peter denied Jesus three times in his darkest hours? In the resurrection Jesus showed forgiveness and restoration by three times inviting Peter to declare his love and commitment. 

We cannot be sure of all that’s ahead and even when we think we have a handle on it—things change and can invite us deeper, even when we can’t quite see where we are going. Today we send Elizabeth off with our prayers and blessings on a special journey. She and several other people preparing for ordination and also newly ordained will travel with Bishop Greg on a pilgrimage of the Holy Land. He warned them it was not a tourism trip, it was a pilgrimage—and I hope it is a holy walk with Christ for her and all of them. There’s a bit of trepidation (what if I forgot something?), and uncertainty (am I covered enough to go to some of the holy places?), and possibly worry (I’ve never been there, what if I get lost or injured or … or… ?). Elizabeth you will journey with our prayers, with fellow pilgrims, and with Christ. He is calling you to Come and see!

I’ll close with T. S. Eliot’s words * describing what I believe was his own seeking of the path with Christ.

The way is unknown, and so requires faith —
The kind of faith that issues from despair.
The destination cannot be described;
You will know very little until you get there;
You will journey blind. But the way leads towards possession
Of what you have sought for in the wrong place.

We must always take risks. That is our destiny.

* from T.S. Eliot’s play, The Cocktail Party,1949.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.