22 January 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed, Rector
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of North India (United)
St. Peter’s Church, Lake Mary
St. Francis of Assisi Church, Lake Placid
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus calls us to relationship: follow Him to return home. On Sunday evenings years ago, a pastor and his son loved to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to see the wonders of God’s creation unfolding in the natural world. A favorite episode for both father and son were the story of the very large earless elephant seals of Argentina and the relationship between mother seals and their newborn pups. For soon after giving birth, the mother seal left her newborn seal pup on shore and swam hundreds of yards away to feed in the rich coastal waters. Miraculously, upon her return to shore, the mother and seal pup, even in the midst of hundreds of other mother seals and pups were able to find each other and be reunited!
So how in the world did God make this possible? From the moment of birth the seal pup and the mother were imprinted with each other’s scent and sound identifying and following each other’s scents and sounds even in the midst of hundreds barking mother and baby seals the mother and pup came home to each other. Upon seeing this incredible episode, the father, the pastor, reflected “You know that is how it is with you, son, and I and God. At our creation we are imprinted with a memory of God and at our baptism we are reminded of God’s imprint upon us. Each of us is God’s beloved son or daughter and God’s calls us to follow God and have a relationship.” He went on “And even when we move away from God, God continues to speak to us, longing for us to recognize God’s voice and to return home no matter how far we have strayed and been lost.”
As we hear this morning Jesus invites us to be his disciples to follow Him, listen to his voice, and return home, trusting he seeks us as well. This morning we are at an important turning point in Jesus’s young ministry. After being baptized, challenged by Satan in the Desert and beginning his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus makes a clean break, moving 20 miles north to the busy city of Capernaum after hearing John the Baptist has been arrested for his calling out the evil King Herod and his even more evil Queen, Herodias.
While we might conclude Jesus leaves Nazareth to avoid the same demise as John, Matthew clearly indicates as he tends to do with his Jewish audience. Jesus comes to Galilee of the Gentiles to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy we heard read just a few minutes ago. We heard Isaiah’s prophecy and its fulfillment in a matter of minutes this morning. But Matthew is recalling it has been over 700 years between God’s promise to liberate the Israelites living under the darkness and shadow of death under the Assyrian empire and the coming of the Great Light, Jesus! Jesus the true light, the light Isaiah and John the Baptist pointed toward emerges to fulfill God’s promises for the Israelites under Roman oppression. Jesus will make glorious the way of the seas in the land beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of all the nations and for all Gentile and Jewish believers.
Jesus gets right to work in Capernaum, calling his first disciples. Last week, in John’s Gospel, we heard John the Baptist introduce his disciples, Andrew and likely John, to Jesus, the Lamb of God and Jesus inquired what they seek, their goals and Andrew and John asked to spend time with him, to know him more fully.
In Matthew’s version we hear Jesus travelled to meet his first disciples where they lived to invite them to follow him, to listen to his voice and to be transformed to become fishers of men and certainly women, and children, too. A two-way dialogue begins just like the mother elephant seal and her baby Jesus, like the mother seal, initiates the connection he desires and the disciples, like the baby seal, respond immediately drawing the two into relationship. God’s beloved Son with his own beloved sons and soon to be beloved daughters drawing them in to follow Him.
Remarkably Simon and Andrew, and then James and John, ordinary Jewish fishermen each have an epiphany, a sudden insight, a holy moment perhaps from remembering Holy Scripture or hearing other’s testimony about Jesus or listening to Jesus preach and teach before an epiphany as to whom Jesus might be, the Son of God, the Great light and immediately they let of their livelihood and security as fishermen, resources in nets and boats and families which good Jewish men didn’t usually do to follow Christ, to be transformed.
This week I wondered. How can I, how can we be like the disciples, curious, willing to open our hearts and hands to follow Jesus, to listen to his voice, and enter a new chapter in our lives? God’s nature is to speak to us...God spoke the perfect creation into being and Christ’s first gift to us was the Holy Spirit when we were anointed at our baptism, to guide us to follow Christ obediently. But I pondered how do we, how do I differentiate God’s voice from other seductive worldly voices and especially the voice of the Great Deceiver, Satan? Perhaps we need to pay attention to both HOW we receive messages and WHAT messages we receive.
We receive God’s messages first and fore most when our receivers are turned on, our receivers are our five senses; sight sound smell touch and sensitivity to temperature. We need to pray for God to open our senses to be aware. Just like the FM radio tuner and portable clergy mics we use on Sundays we need to be awake to our world and expect that GOD is and will speak to us.
For we are God’s beloved and God, like the mother seal with her baby, wants to be in relationship, helping us to stretch and grow and being present with us in all times of life
Secondly just like radio and TVS of old, we have to dial and tune in and find the right frequency to hear God’s voice. Culturally, we are lured into believing that information should emerge at the flip of a switch, messages should have bigger and better special effects and therefore God is only going to speak to us in dramatic ways via angels, dreams, miracles.
While God does speak from time to time perhaps once in a lifetime in dramatic ways. Biblically, as we learned when Elijah heard God’s voice in the sheer silence at Mt. Horeb and Jesus himself went away by himself to pray that God more often has a still, small voice we can begin to learn and recognize as we might with a new friends’ voice in daily quiet prayer.
The daily practice of prayer guides us over time with God’s help to strengthen our focus on God’s voice, God’s signal by reducing the static of intrusive thoughts, the noise of emotional guilt and shame which keep us from believing we are worthy to relate to God, to be in a relationship with God whose goal for us is not only to stretch and grow, to be transformed
but also, to experience shalom, the peace of God which passes all understanding...
We are called to open our awareness and tune in to God’s voice in the daily practice of quiet prayer. Daily prayer According to Fr. James Martin, one of my favorite Jesuit teachers helps us to recognize the ‘inner witness” we receive from God for the Holy Spirit speaks directly to our own spirits through words, like from a verse from a song or poem, or images that enter our consciousness. Words as Fr. Martin has concluded from his spiritual direction practice that tend to be short get right to the point and maybe quite bold and surprising similar to what Jesus might have said to his own disciples, words that leave a mark on your soul striking you as you read, mark, study, pray, or even have conversation with friends, words you keep returning to.
Now as you and I know, the choice to follow Jesus is a choice we make each day, again and again and again. And not only do we need to know how to discern Jesus’ voice, we need to know what Jesus’s might be saying.
First and foremost, God’s words to us always align with the Bible while the words you hear may not be directly quoted from Holy Scripture, God’s words invite you to an abundant life, a life closer to God, a life in which you draw nearer to others and is filled with compassion for them.
Secondly often God’s words to us are echoed and repeated in the affirmations of others or of situations that tend to open new doors when we have the courage to let go and close others.
Just ask Deacon Rose or me about our discernment processes and if you feel you are hearing God’s voice about a major decision in your life seek confirmation and affirmation from trusted friends in Christ.
Thirdly God’s words invite us to have mercy on others, or even we ourselves who have wronged others or ourselves by what we have done or left undone and encourage us to let go and let God help us to be forgiving, loving and reconciling.
God’s words also invite us to embrace God’s grace, to embrace God’s free and unmerited favor to us as God opens doors and to take the opportunities to study Gods’ word, to love and serve God even if at times this might be inconvenient and require sacrifice of time and energy and our own agendas!
How often we find as God has eased our resistance that serving others becomes not just a blessing to them but blesses us richly.
Finally, as The Rev. Martin Smith writes in his book, A Season for the Spirit, we will know we are following God’s words by two measures. First of all, we will let go of our judgement of others, open our eyes and look upon others with compassion knowing that we never truly know what oppression a person has faced and is facing.
And we will feel nearer to God, and desire more fully to draw near to God to live out the Holy Scriptures by reading, reflecting, and discerning God’s voice. We will desire to live not for ourselves, for ME but desire to draw near to THEE, to God in all parts of our lives knowing our journey, like the baby seal and mother, depends upon the connection and relationship we have with God.
And so, this week I invite you to be aware, tune in and listen and expect to hear His voice, listen for his message of mercy and grace and his invitation to follow Him and be transformed.