Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Jan. 17, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Jan 17, 2021 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 17, 2021

The two songs in our liturgy today, one on our way ‘in’ and the other on our way ‘out’, are both songs which ‘hook’ me because their questions beg us to answer. The first has ‘the Lord’ asking, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” And it continues to ask if we will do so in all of the challenging times and places. At our service’s end, the Lord speaks of hearing the people’s needs and asks, “Whom shall I send?” We sing the refrain, in answer, and also with another question, “Here I am, Lord, is it I Lord?” Have you ever answered this call in your mind? Felt that spiritual tug as these words of God’s call are sung one’s own lips? Notice your internal response as we sing our way out from worship into God’s service today. 

Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael

Both of our readings are also about the Lord’s call to individuals. First the Lord God calls Samuel, who doesn’t understand until Eli explains it, instructing him to answer simply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In our gospel, Jesus first calls Philip and then Nathanael, who makes a flippant comment about Nazareth being an unlikely source for anything good, and then recognizes Jesus as the Son of God. What is curious to me as that neither Samuel, Philip or Nathanael are asked, they are told, commanded even. “Samuel!” God calls. “Follow me” Jesus tells him. Yet in spite of scripture’s enunciation of these directive calls, we have this idea that God’s call is somehow optional, a question, and that we’d better make sure it’s really you or me that the Lord means. “Is it I, Lord?” Do we make it a question because we’re afraid it is us — or it isn’t? (Spoiler: It is us!)

Tomorrow we honor the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., each year we start early on Sunday morning. We look back at his famous speeches, sermons, books and letters and wonder at how we still struggle with inequality and racism. We recall his acts of peaceful protest, powerful marches and bus trips seeking equality and and integrity. I feel buoyed by his beautiful words and insights, while saddened by rampant racism and white supremacy still alive and kicking these 50 years after his assassination. This year is horribly painful because it seems we are going backwards to an extent. This morning we are sandwiched between a mob of largely white supremacists and other angry extremists and some protesters swept up in attacking the U.S. Capitol intending bodily harm just ten days ago, and the widespread threats promising to do more of the same this Wednesday at the inauguration and sadly also today. Bishop Greg messaged the clergy to be aware there were active threats made on progressive or more inclusive churches in addition to those at state capitol buildings — starting with today. 

Into this, we consider God’s call and our own responses; Follow me. Follow the Way, the Truth and the Life. To have been trying to do just that, to act with justice, love, and truth, makes it that much worse to see some of those steps forward shoved back before our eyes, doors we hoped were behind us being broken back open. We wonder, how can we still fail to recognize the humanity of all God’s children, to love those neighbors, including those who are different from each of us in whatever way—loving them as ourselves? Difference is more than skin deep, language, nationality, or gender identification; we are seeing it between middle America and the coastal states, between north and south, poverty and security, and more. This makes it a time to listen and to act in hope. Even now, especially now, God is calling forth hope and we need to hear it. One such hopeful listener is poet Amanda Gorman. She writes,

In this village
We make the globe a little smaller
So we can dream bigger,
so the dream need not wait.
Here in this gathering, 
we do good so that the world
might be great. 
—excerpted from The Gathering Place

In our closing hymn, the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send?” Poet Amanda Gorman is a voice answering God’s call eloquently and passionately. She is our first National Youth Poet Laureate (2017), born some 30 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, she speaks of the impact of him and other great orators on her work. They helped her find courage to speak in public, a terrifying prospect for Gorman who deals with a speech impediment. Before every poetry performance she recites ‘a mantra’ to gather herself: 

“I am the daughter of Black writers, who are descended from Freedom Fighters, who broke the chains who changed the world. They call me.”

It will come as no surprise that Ms. Gorman has been invited to write and deliver a poem at President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ inauguration next week. She was in the middle of writing it when she watched in horror the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol. It typically takes her days to craft a new poem. “It was like someone pressed the on-switch in my brain,” Gorman said, “I finished the rest at home that very night.” She looks ahead and sees, “a new chapter in America, which we so desperately need—one of dignity, and integrity, and hope and unity…” (Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN, Sat January 16, 2021, CNN Interview with Amanda Gorman).

We are caught between violent and hate-fueled events which continue to engender alarming threats in every state, and we have to grieve. We have to grieve what this shows us, what this does to our country, communities and individuals. Only what is honestly faced can be changed. I’m not talking about being optimistic, happy or sad—I’m saying much as we want a break from seeing so much anger, destruction, fear, and outrage, we need to look at it. We need to listen and face it, whether we are protesters or those whom protesters oppose. This reflection and grief work is necessary if we have any hope of ever changing it. People need to be accountable, ourselves included. And then we can act as people of hope do, building the kingdom of God. 

Faithful compassion, adaptability, determination, and creativity are some of how we know the Spirit of God is lifting us up. One can feel immobile or overwhelmed sometimes, but for people of resurrection faith that doesn’t get the last word. We are people of hope who, for example, sadly couldn’t gather to sing and play along, and yet a month ago you raised over $3,700 with a virtual Messiah fundraiser—more than 30% above last year! With the Spirit of God we are people of hope helping the Issaquah Community Preschool and the Tavon Learning Center to make it through almost a year of being unable to meet in person or to meet at all. The Holy Spirit breathes in us as we check in and care for each other, embracing each other beyond what any social distance can impede. 

One who answered the Lord’s call with his life and in his death told us, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963). Now nearly sixty years later Amanda Gorman is a spiritual heir to King and another visionary She writes, “Americans know one another by our love of liberty. When in fact, we are liberated by our love for one another”  (from Believers Hymn for the Republic 2019). Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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