St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

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The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

February 10th Epiphany 5, 2019     John Marsh


Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 6:1-8, 9-13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11



Those who have listened to me over the last few years may have noticed the prevalence of the word call, calls luring, interrupting, calls but barely heard…


This prevalence is a hope, possibly a delusion, that something is astir within life, something laying itself upon us, upon hearts, minds, something often named as god, at times love, justice, hospitality, freedom…


If call is astir, a question comes to mind - is hearing a call the same as receiving a call?


Perhaps backing into the question, the call of Isaiah in the Hebrew bible passage, as written stands as an evocative, perhaps troublesome, expression of an intensely personal experience, the initiation of the prophet Isaiah’s work…


Yet, while Isaiah’s call may stir something within us, the manner in which this passage is appropriated, the way its lines are hijacked, if I’m not making too fine a point, being too cranky, is appalling for any gifted, perhaps cursed, with an ability to detect BS…


Truthfully, if I have received one ordination invitation with the line, “Whom shall I send?" "Here am I; send me!" (see Isaiah 6:8b) I’ve received far too many and, when received, my gag reflex kicks in and creative utterance breaks forth…1


Thankfully, the overwhelming piety, pomposity, of the invitations is undercut by the context of the passage…


The substance of Isaiah’s call, Isaiah’s commission – truthfully, who wants it? – is to tell people that they don’t get it, they don’t want to get it, that their stopped-up ears, their blinded eyes, their confused minds will lead to their destruction, their desolation…


(Do I hear ordination candidates rushing for the doors?)


If you think about it, Isaiah’s call isn’t necessarily ‘good news’, so be careful what you pray for, you may get it!

~

In I Corinthian’s 15 Paul makes an argument regarding resurrection…


Stirring within, within the example of his call, is Paul’s ‘resurrection’ - I pray you listen…


As ‘one untimely born’, one as good as dead, one least, unfit, a call is heard, changing, disturbing, one murderous in their persecution, calling Paul into an unknown of new sight, new mind…²


Paul, in pointing to his ‘call’, at least stirring within the call, says, if one so oppositional, so impossible in persecutorial zeal, can respond to call, a call overwhelming yet barely understood, changing his life so unexpectedly, so completely, that within call, ‘resurrection’, new life is astir, is not new life possible for all? If in response, Paul is born over from above, born again - I pray you listen – is he not implicitly saying, if I may paraphrase, god’s call comes to all, even those, perhaps especially those, whose previous experience, personal qualities, character traits, abilities, inabilities, would seem to render them incompatible, beyond the pale, ruled out…


Perhaps it is true – ordinands, those righteous, beware - that god’s thoughts are not our thoughts…


Implicit, even in Paul’s story (see Acts 9), is a certain unknowing about the calls which trouble us, intrude upon us, stirring heart, mind and soul, a certain walking into an unknown future, calls rarely having the specificity of Isaiah’s call, Isaiah’s call which, if it needs to be said, is not beyond exegetical comment, a certain deconstructive hermeneutic…


Call, truth to tell, is so uncertain in its hearing, so confused, confusing – is it otherwise? – that it suggests, perhaps, that the more certain the call, the more certain the overlay getting in the way, an overlay, personal, corporate, ecclesial, obscuring, obfuscating, still small voices…

~

Admittedly, this gospel story evokes images, memories of many a stained-glass window, themes within evoking expectations of abundance, lines within evoking assumptions of success…


Within the call of Simon Peter, James and John, Andrew is unnamed yet appearing in other versions of the story, is a call to do what Jesus says, or, if I may be so wild, a missional call to respond to the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’…


While this question brings to mind bracelet’s made popular by the religious right – my god I found those bracelets and those who wore them, annoying – within is a distant echo of the social justice context of the original 1896 book by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, this book speaking a justice call, evoking the madness of the kingdom of god, the madness of justice for, of hospitality extended, of reconciliation with, those other…


Stirring within is the question, ‘What Jesus do we hear?’


Do we hear the Jesus of cultural conformity, the god of confessional purity?


Do we hear a dusty, muted, prophetic voice of one often talked about yet little understood, one whose voice is but other’s memories, other’s voices, one, who if you listen carefully, perhaps speaks within words, stirring new hearts and new minds, stirring surprising acts of compassion, justice, hospitality?


Do we hear, stirring within, a call to us, ‘What do we, will we, do?’…


Do we risk response, risking more than we can ask or imagine?


Do we risk transformative moments, change taking us where ‘no one has gone before’?


Do we risk hearing that which we have not heard, risk doing that which we have not done, risking the loss of certainty, risking the advent of complexity, risking spirit movements?


Time, as always, will tell…

~

In the end, how do we answer the question earlier posed, ‘Is hearing a call the same as receiving a call?


Truth to tell, perhaps answers are unknowable or knowable only in the response, in the living….


In the end, hearing a call, perhaps better, sensing a call, are we willing to speak of it, to listen to others, risking a call within a call?


Sensing a call, are we willing to risk response, perhaps a response greater than we can ask or imagine?


As I said, time, as always, will tell…


PS

A quote from John Caputo:


In the opening chapter of ‘In His Steps’ by Charles Sheldon a homeless man, in his early thirties, disturbs the decorum of the Sunday morning services of the First Church of Raymond, the most proper and prosperous church in town. The choir had given a particularly excellent rendition of “Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee”. The pastor, Rev. Henry Maxwell, had just concluded a stirring sermon on 1 Peter 2:21: “For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye shall follow in his steps”. Then, at just the precise moment, the bedraggled young man comes forward and addresses a startled congregation:


 “I’m not an ordinary tramp, though I don’t know of any teaching of Jesus that makes one kind of a tramp less worthy of saving than another. Do you?” He put the question as naturally as if the whole congregation had been a small Bible class. He paused just a moment and coughed painfully. Then he went on. (In His Steps,8)


He recounts a Dickenseque story of misfortune. He lost his job as a typesetter, his wife died in a desperate New York City tenement (owned by Christians), and he can no longer care for his daughter, who now lives with a friend. After reporting his futile attempts to find help in their community despite three days of trying, he concludes:


 It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? (In His Steps, 10)


The he gives a ‘queer lurch’ and falls in a heap on the church floor. A doctor rushes to his side and reports,”


He seems to have a heart problem.”3


A heart problem, really?


I wonder who has the heart problem?


1 In my experience this is one of the most frequently (mis)quoted biblical passages used in ordination invitations, revealing a certain presumptive arrogance which distorts everything it touches. Of course, being free of such, I see clearly… (Hopefully, among those reading, are those able to detect BS.)

² One untimely born’ translates a Greek word referring to premature birth, which in the ancient world meant, quite literally, ‘as good as dead’.

3 From What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John Caputo, p. 20-21.