The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r092.htm
s092e02 Lockleys Advent 1 year B 1/12/02
"called to be an apostle" 1 Cor 1.1
We too are "called", but I think that the primary metaphor here is not that we are called by a different name, as people in the Bible often were given different names. We are not here called "Christians" - different from all other people.
I think that we are here called to be "somewhere else" for this is the force of the word "apostle". An apostle is a messenger, and so we are called to be something for others. And so we are called out of ourselves and our own concerns, and are bidden to exist for others as well as ourselves.
And for me the word "call" has an extra connotation too, for the risen Christ, in calling us, is bidding us not to go but to follow. So the risen Christ never calls us to a place where he has not already visited. And so Christ calls us not to go to the unconverted heathen, somewhere where Christ would be too afraid or too sacred to go - we are called to follow and find the risen Christ already there before us. Christ doesn't expect us to finish what he set in train. The risen Christ was already at the Manhattan Youth Castle long before I ever went there.
One of the most lovely phrases in the Nicene Creed is that we believe in one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. So the whole Church properly is called out of itself - this people, bound together by the special call of God is called out of itself to find the risen Christ elsewhere than just within its own ranks. When the Church sees and finds the risen Christ in places other than it's own preserve, what can it do but embrace that which she already knows - the risen Christ - within its own existence? For this is what "Catholic" properly means - "embracing all".
I was thinking recently about Abraham, called to leave the home of his ancestors and to travel to an unknown promised land. And I was wondering what constituted the call of God to him, for God does not speak directly to me. We are not told. I wondered if it were perhaps an earthquake that made Abraham realise that his future was not where his parents lived. Perhaps he was fleeing an oncoming invading force, perhaps a threatening plague. Perhaps he was playing the prodigal son, fleeing the strictures of a society predetermined by others. God's call is often not the quiet whispering behind the ear that might be *comfortable*- in the words of Isaiah: "when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21).
I am beginning to see that often God's call comes in the hurley burley of conflict. As I look at the important things in my life, God's call is not something one can follow or not. We are left in no doubt, indeed we can have little option, for the price of staying where we are is even higher than that of following.
I have sometimes pondered that phrase in the wedding service: "God has called N and N to marriage." (APBA p 657) For, of course, it is usually sexual desire that brings most couples to the Altar, and so again we see God using very powerful methods to bring us out of ourselves and into relationship with others. We are given little choice :-) Come inside and let me show you my etchings? :-)
With the onset of the warmer weather I have taken up going for an early morning swim occasionally, and I was thinking about the phrase - the "leap of faith". There comes a moment when one is wading into the water, that the coldness of the water means one just has to dive in. One knows it will be lovely a few seconds after one has dived in, but one holds out as long as possible - knowing that the dive is the inevitable "pain before the gain". And faith is often seen like this too. One has to dive in, not entirely certain of the outcome and that uncertainty is the rub.
But before we go too far down the track of differentiating between those who have and those who have not taken this leap of faith; the reality is that the very fact that we can talk about faith in terms of an early morning swim, means that this is one of God's constants. In this sense, it doesn't matter what we do - where we dive - if we do we will find the blessing of God.
So if we immerse ourselves in our study, our work, our faith, our marriage, our sport or our hobby, we are rewarded. For rewards come when we relate to others. We do this when we study, for by doing this we are considering the wisdom of others. In our work we relate for a particular purpose. Our faith brings us into contact with others, as does marriage and sport. Hobbies are often shared. God calls us into community, and in this sense it doesn't matter really much what we do, what matters is how we do it. If we relate to others well as we play cricket, then our playing will be for the benefit of society. One has only to think of the sporting bans that contributed to the eventual breakdown of apartheid.
When I grew up, I was taught a number of things. A man didn't hit a female or a person with glasses - only a coward did that. A man didn't kick someone when they were down - again a coward did that. I find it interesting that one of the first curses in the Commination service, the precursor of our Ash Wednesday service, was a curse on someone who led the blind astray. Again, only a coward did that sort of thing. But I was also taught that if one enjoyed the company of someone else, one let the other person win occasionally. If you didn't - you lost a friend. Sometimes I worry how our Australian sporting teams play to win and I worry that our cricket commentators refer to England as "the old enemy" - even in jest.
I want to return to the theme that the calling of God is often in the midst of the hurley burley of real life, for of course it is in the hurley burley of real life that God wants to be found.
God's most precious presence or most distressing absence is, in fact, not found here in word or sacrament. Our perception or not of God's presence is most keenly felt when we fall sick or are going through some trial or other. Many people will testify that they have found God in the wilderness times of their lives, in the times of struggle and disappointment, in the times when God is not walking by our side but carrying us. Mother Teresa found the risen Christ in the lepers she cared for.
Some of us have the joy of being able to help others in their need - it might be as we take them "Meals on Wheels" or just a regular visit. As such we can often be Christ to those to whom we minister, even if we in fact are not taking them the sacrament of Holy Communion, like Fr. Douglas and I regularly do. But the neater trick is, in our turn, to see the risen Christ in others as they rejoice to be able to render some service to us. But again, it often takes some sickness or infirmity to teach us this. And for most of us the lesson will be learned or not, whether we like it or not. The only way we will escape this is if we are run over by the proverbial bus - and of course then it is those who are left who suffer.
If we are uncharitable, and I am not here thinking in a monetary sense, but as an extension of what I just have said, and don't allow others to have a dignity, whoever they are, then that too will have it's natural consequences. Again the lesson will not be comfortable, but it is God's lesson nevertheless, and we will learn it, or ignore it at our own peril.
The pain, the rejection and of course death, of the Cross, assures us that whatever fate befall us we will never be alone. Christ has gone before us and calls us into fellowship with him and with all people. We need have no fear.
For if truth be known, the most urgent fear that besets us all eventually, and I suspect I will be no different here than anyone else, and that is the fear of being dependent on someone else. Increasing infirmity, the loss of the driver's licence, the loss of familiar surroundings as a person or couple move to an aged care complex or nursing home. These are not easy fears to overcome - the imperative to be a useful contributing person in society and not be a 'bludger" have been thoroughly ingrained into our psyche since our youth.
Yet the promise is that we will find God in our infirmity and our dependence, even in the nursing home. Indeed it is far more likely that we will find God there precisely because there are people there to help us in our need.
As I say, few of us in Australia will escape this choice. The choice will be put before us - to embrace life, even with its restrictions, or spend our lives in bitterness that we can't retain our independence.
And it must be said that we are just so blessed here in Australia that we have cars to drive, cars to distribute "Meals on Wheels" even if we can no longer drive, and food that the "Meals on Wheels" people can prepare. We are so blessed to have aged care facilities and nursing homes to go to when we are older. Indeed we in Australia are blessed to have the old aged pension. There are so many other places in this world where the food, the accommodation and the social supports are so much less or entirely non-existent.
We have so many things for which to be thankful, and I suspect we do well to accept these things cheerfully and with recognition that they are "of God" and to embrace them and those people who bring them to us. Once you get in, the water is fine, etchings are often extremely interesting (though I suspect barcodes stretch this point :-) and God is indeed gracious.
So as we leave this service this morning, leave not thinking well it's time to return to the normal secular pursuits, devoid of God or meaning. Leave today, encouraged and expecting to find the risen Christ in our lives and in the lives of others we meet, for the risen Christ can be found in a multitude of places other than during this sacred hour. We are so called by Christ, and as we do we will indeed find we will not be disappointed.
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