Year C, Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Now in the world of epiphanies, the voice of God booming down from heaven is the gold standard. This even tops the star the magi followed. That could have been misinterpreted, but a voice, that voice, following on the heels of the holy spirit’s dove-like bodily descent, that is burning bush and Ten Commandments clear. That is what we are all looking for from God, right? Such clarity, such undeniablity. That’s what I look for, hope for, pray for. We’d all know what God thought of us and what God expected of us if God just told us, right?
Truly, it has been my experience that God does in fact call to us, constantly, repeatedly, relentlessly, even. Not in these forms, voices from on high or stone tablets, if God communicates to you in that way you get in books like the Bible. But in the course of our everyday lives, our everyday relationships, our everyday prayer, God does call us as clearly, if not as loudly as God called the prophets of old, or even his only son, the beloved, with whom he is well pleased.
How does that happen? How is God’s will revealed to us? Sometime it is a feeling, an intuition. “I am supposed to engage this person some how.” “I need to take this class.” “I am should check out this church, read this book, take this trip, take that path, work with these children.” And these intuitions are often rewarded with feelings of consolation, of, “That felt right. I am supposed to be here.”
Sometimes God’s call comes in what we gravitate towards, what we enjoy, find attractive, areas in which we find ourselves talented. Some of us are called by God in the desire for challenges, for greater responsibility, for answering heretofore unanswered questions. Some of us are called by God through the beauty of music and art, gardens and growing things. God calls us, sometimes, through our desires. Our desire to write, teach, build, learn, cook, serve. And there are other forms of desire God uses. The call to the vocation of parent is at least reinforced by sexual attraction to our partner in baby making. Have no doubt that that desire, the desire to embrace your love, whether it is to join in creating new life or deepening that ongoing relationship, have no doubt that this desire is rooted directly in God. We are sometimes called in our desires.
Sometimes it is not so much an attractive option laid before us, an open door, beckoning, but sometimes it is all the other paths being blocked. My call to ministry was of this sort. The Marine Corps life wasn’t it, nor corporate management or technical sales, I just barely dodged the law school bullet… the clarity of my call to ministry was assisted in that other possibilities were falling by the wayside. Sometimes God calls us by closing other doors.
Sometimes God calls us very directly through the mouths of others. There was a great skit I saw about discerning a call to priesthood. The scene is a young man is at coffee hour and someone asks, “Have you ever considered the priesthood?” And he responds, “no, I haven’t heard the call.” The action stops and someone holds up a sign, “This is God calling you.” The scene changes, and another person says, “You’d make a great priest.” “No, I haven’t been called.” The action stops, the sign is help up, “This is God calling you.” Others call us on God’s behalf.
One way or another, the call of God, God’s will for us in the world some how manifests as how things are supposed to be. What you are supposed to be doing, where are you supposed to be going, dedicating your life, or maybe just your afternoon to? God’s will is how things are supposed to be, and our discernment of that will is to learn our part in it all. But that is the easy part, the discernment. Recognizing where we are being led to or driven from, recognizing that it is from God; those things are teachable, we can learn, we can cultivate faith and understanding, enabling us to recognize God’s will for us and the world. But saying yes to God, gaining the courage to say yes, or at least to stop saying no, now that is a lot more complicated.
You see, following the will of God is serious business. It can be minor, like whether to walk up the three flights of stairs at the medical office building or take the elevator. (God prefers walking in nearly every case.) Or the case of a personal sense of vocation, I mean my vocation matters nearly desperately to me, but in the big scheme of things…not so much. But for some, following the will of God can lead to a different world. Mary. Paul. Dietrich Bonheoffer. Archbishop Tutu. Albert Einstein. What if he had given up on math, abandoned his vocation and stayed at the patent office? Or of Martin Luther King had taken a faculty position at his alma mater Morehouse instead of a church in Atlanta? Or if Gandhi, after his first beating at the hands of the police, went back to his law practice in South Africa and never looked up again? Or what if your parents had stopped at two kids? The world would be different.
If the voice of God boomed out of the heavens on the heels of the Holy Spirit like during the Baptism, or if you were struck down blind with the words of Christ, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me,” in your ears, following the will of God doesn’t even seem to be a choice. Even Mary’s proclamation, “Be it unto me according to thy word” in response to the angelic visitor might be a conceivable response to us run of the mill mortals. But we can’t expect angles. We can’t expect a spectacle.
It is risky, saying yes to God, because each of us here, really in the end, we, each an every one of us, we are no different than Dietrich Bonheoffer or Mohandas Gandhi, we are the same, even as Mary and Paul. They were just people, ordinary people who made the extraordinary commitment to saying yes to God; fully yes to God and they kept saying yes to God with everything they had ‘til what, they were martyred? Their firstborn was crucified? In the end, that is what we are talking about. Leaning fully into God, living as God calls us to live really, really, really can mean giving up everything. It will absolutely mean that things will be different, and how and what will be different, that is not up to us. And most importantly, we all have it in us. That is the miracle of faith, faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
We all say yes to God in little and less little ways. That little niggling feeling we get that edges us to better choices, “buy the local eggs”; “walk, don’t drive.” Or bigger ways, dedicating your life to serving others, not just making money for stock holders; sacrificing materially so that one of you can stay home full time with the kids. But once we start saying yes to God, it is a rabbit hole. As we grow in our faith we can lean over the edge knowing that God is calling us and knowing that God alone knows where it leads. Paul stood on that precipice. So did Mary, Bonhoeffer, King, and a man named Terry I met at Occupy. All of them said yes, fully yes and everything changed.
This man Terry went down to the Occupy camp when it opened in late 2011 and he was transformed. He was housed, works, went to school, is a veteran, and seeing the plight of people on the streets of our fair city, he was changed. He found suffering in the faces of people he shared his life with. He told the people he met, “I am not leaving the streets until you all have a place to go.” They still don’t and he still hasn’t. That is jumping into that rabbit hole headfirst. And will his effort change the world? Without a doubt, it already has as it always does when the call of God is recognized and followed.
We all have that in us. I don’t care how old you are, how young you are, how set in your ways, how little or how much you know, each of us is capable of embracing the will of God and changing the course of history. What makes a saint is the willingness to follow God’s will wherever it calls.
How do we do this? Is a candidacy for sainthood in your future? We’re going to stretch this series out another over another week of the Epiphany season. How do we say yes to God? How do we stop saying no? In God’s time all will be revealed. AMEN