s035g02 20/1/2001 Sunday 2
"You shall be called Cephas" John 1:42
This is a bit of a rambling sermon ...
As I thought about these words, I wondered what I'd like Jesus to re-name me. In the past I would have hoped something like "peace-maker" but perhaps now something more like "faithful". Perhaps you might care to think about what you'd like Jesus to call you.
It is the experience of many celebrities that the time when they choose a "stage" name, their life completely changes. From being someone who is struggling and unrecognised, suddenly everything falls into place and success finally comes. In "show-biz" the choosing of the name is pretty important - it needs to "click" with people.
The taking of a new name can also be a way of breaking with the past. Old issues, past transgressions are put behind one. One can suddenly live for the present and for the future in a way that seemed impossible before.
But the consistent theme is not that the person who has taken the stage name has changed, it is that suddenly there is a whole new audience.
Perhaps Jesus perceived that Peter needed a break from the past. Perhaps there were old habits that needed to be discarded. I find it hard to imagine that Jesus knew Simon well enough, having only just met him, and my impression of Jesus was that he was not someone who worried about a person's past very much at all. It is clear that meeting Jesus meant a whole new life was beginning for Simon. The giving of the name meant, I am sure, that Peter felt "special", that he had a task and a ministry É And likewise, it is not that Peter had become different, but that the "sphere of influence" he had the opportunity to contribute to had become vastly wider.
And God seeks for us all to realise that we too are special; we too have a task and a ministry. The task and ministry will probably not be earth &endash; shattering. God will not call us to walk across water or change the world. But God does say to each and every one of us that our spheres of influence are vastly wider than we imagine - and so the broadness of our love is important. Our sphere of influence is to be as broad as the world.
The broadness of our love is important, for the whole world. The world will be a different place if the world can love beyond the boundaries, and so we are called as individuals to love beyond people who are simply replicas of ourselves and our own perceptions. But we too will be different people if we love beyond our boundaries, for people who are not just replicas of ourselves and our perceptions will inevitably contribute to our own lives in a way that those who do agree with us will never do.
As I was thinking about these words, as I walked from Henley Beach to Grange Jetty and back, I began to think about birth. I had been reading the passage from John 3 about Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night and talked about re-birth. And thinking about being born - I suppose from the outside looking in, birth is a wonderful miracle. We "see" for the first time this baby, previously hidden in the womb of the mother. We can see for the first time, the facial features, that he or she is a real individual and not just a cause for morning sickness and in the later trimester, kicks and U-turns sending the mother reeling. In the birth we "see" for the first time this individual, with all his or her potential. But for the baby, birth means little. The baby was as alive in the womb just prior to birth as it is outside the womb afterwards. My point is that what has changed is not the individual but the surroundings. What was sheltered and protected in a womb is now just open to the world, with a multitude of possibilities for love and joy - as well as misadventure -previously beyond him or her.
And if birth is like this, new birth, the new creation is also like this. It is not that individuals have changed, but the arena of influence is far, far wider.
In our family, one of our offspring occasionally asks awkward questions like why is a person who works in wood called a "carpenter". I have no idea, and I suspect I will never know. However, and returning to my theme about being called a new name by God, I thought about the word ecclesiastic, which is a word I do know from whence it comes. Ek is the root of where we get exit, and Kalew is to be called. So the ecclesiastic is someone whom God calls out.
Now the traditional interpretation of this word, is that we are called out from the world, into some form of "holy huddle" - the bigger the "holy huddle" the better. However in the light of what I have been saying, we are actually called out of our "holy huddle" into a far wider community. So the important thing in the "dismissal" at the end of the "mass", is not that we are allowed to leave after "doing our duty". No, at the end of Mass we are called out into the world, where God already is, calling us - to follow.
I am reminded of the parable of the hundred sheep, one of which is lost. Of course, the good shepherd goes out to find the one that is lost. Again, traditionally, we think of ourselves in the church as one of the 99, and those who don't come to Church as one of the one. But immediately I say this, it is obvious that the mathematics aren't right. Jesus quarrel was ever with the religious authorities who thought in precisely the same way as the "holy huddle". They considered themselves one of the 99, and they were peeved that Jesus spent his time searching for the one that was lost. Better he defer to the 99.
But I wonder if Jesus parable is not considerably sharper than this? The 99 are the world who are not lost at all. The one who was lost was the one who deliberately separated him or herself from the rest of the mass of humanity - was the person who considered him or herself a religious authority - above the rest of humanity?
The mathematics tell us that if we look at who are most likely to represent the 99 and who represent the 1, it is the "world" who is numerically likely to be the 99, not the church.
Where do we find the "holy" - not just in bible, sacrament or temple. We find the really holy, so holy that Jesus was prepared to die for, in ordinary people, people just like you and I, who so often fail to "measure up" to our own expectations, let alone the expectations of others.
So we are being called by a new name, we are being called: "out".
I was grateful to have been told after one of my recent sermons that the person was grateful for me for putting in my own perceptions into the sermon, and that set me thinking ... Actually it provided me with another step in my thinking, that I can hide behind my orthodoxy, when God calls me as a human being to relate to myself and others kindly and charitably. I joke about my white dresses, but the joke has a serious side to it. The really important ministry we have is not here in Church, it is when we relate to other people as the human beings we all are, as we relate to all people as the holy objects of Jesus' self sacrifice.
I was interested as I looked back at the passage for the Old Testament reading where God says to the prophet that he knew the prophet in the womb. If this is the case it is clear that God called the prophet to be born. And it was too light a thing that he proclaim the word to the chosen people; again Isaiah was to be a light to the gentiles.
God is a God who calls us out of ourselves. We are called beyond the boundaries, to see good, indeed the holy, beyond the boundaries. We are ever called out - to rejoin the other 99 people outside the Church walls, people so holy that Jesus died and rose again for them, as well as for us.
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