1/23/2011 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- Third Sunday after Epiphany

posted Jan 23, 2011, 3:29 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 23, 2011, 3:31 PM by Terry Brady ]

Following God’s call in the institution of the church

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23

Every now and again someone asks the question of what it would be like if one famous person from one era met up with another.  For example, what would President Obama say to President Lincoln? What would a conversation between T.S Elliot and Shakespeare be about? This week, I thought about a pairing that might be a bit of a stretch, but let’s see where it goes.   What would happen if Oprah were to meet up with Peter – yes I mean Peter the apostle.  If this were to happen, I believe Oprah would be interviewing Peter.   

 Why did I come up with this you may wonder?   Well in our readings, we have a rather unusual opportunity – we have Peter at the beginning of his life with Jesus when he is called with his brother on the shore away from their work as fishermen to follow Jesus.    And then in our epistle, the reading from the New Testament, we hear about what evolved from that call, the community of the first Christians, the Early Church who already find that there are divisions among themselves.  Some declare that they belong to Paul and some to Peter and some to Apollo and some to Christ.  How this all happened I think would make a very interesting story – one that if it were happening today, Oprah might well want to hear.  

 I can see Oprah sitting down with Peter and saying - So tell me what happened? You were on the beach with your brother on the Sea of Galilee casting your nets and this guy just walks up to you and starts talking?    I imagine Peter might say- Well yes, we had heard there was a preacher proclaiming a message of repentance and that people were starting to follow him, but we didn’t think he come walking down our beach. And then Oprah might ask –What made you go with him?   I understand you left everything behind, your fishing for that day, the equipment, your business, your lives – everything?   How was that possible?  And this is the answer I would love to hear because I suspect that might have been a hard question to answer.    Maybe Peter said – well it’s hard to explain.   There was something compelling about this man, Jesus.   He looked at me like he knew me inside and out and that if I didn’t go with him, I would never find what I’d been longing for.  I’d never make my life amount to anything.  I’d just keep on living life under Roman rule day after day. 

And then Oprah asks Peter, “After all that has happened, the three years of being with Jesus, preaching and teaching all over the country, the questions and threats from the authorities, his crucifixion, the reports that he has risen from the dead and with now this new community that is growing and continuing the work of Jesus, how do you feel about it all especially in light of the fighting and divisions that seem to be happening in these fledgling communities.  Peter would probably say that it has been quite the journey – very different than he ever imagined – completely life-changing in so many ways and that yes he is worried about where the churches are going.  He is not sure how they got there but seems that they are forgetting what Jesus was about – not about who belonged where or to whom, but about spreading the good news that we are loved and that every one of us is a beloved child of God.  He might have said he wasn’t sure what the future would bring.  The apostle, Paul, had been writing letters, but he didn’t know if that was going to help.    Oprah would then sum up – We’ve been talking with Peter, leader of a new movement who are followers of Jesus.  Their future is unknown, but time will tell.   

It is an interesting juxtaposition that we have in the readings – a call to follow Jesus and walk a new way and then the results of doing just that, the first Christians who continued the work that Jesus began, and a community that is marked by humanness – our need to create barriers, to say who’s in and who’s out and to be in control.  Two thousand years later, that community of Christians still exists and the divisions have continued long after the time of Peter and Paul.  We have gone way beyond some belonging to Paul and some belonging to Peter and some to Apollo and some to Christ.   We are Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Greek Orthodox, and Episcopalians. The list of Christian communities goes on and on.  And yet even with all this division, this call we have to be communities of faith who follow Christ has continued.  Perhaps this call is why the Christian church didn’t disappear along the way in spite of all the divisions and fighting, but has persisted and grown from a small band of disciples to a faith that is practiced all over the world. 

How do we as modern Christians follow the call of Christ and be part of a church – a church that continues to have serious divisions?   How do we practice our faith in an institution that continues to be very human?  How do we respond to that stirring within our heart within this institution called the church? 

Peter Steinke[1] in his book about the present and future of the church, ‘A Door set open’ writes “Strangely interest in spiritual things is high, but people are not necessarily seeking them in churches.”  That tells me that call of God, the Divine, is out there and that people are experiencing it.   We long to connect with something more in our lives, to experience the sacred, and to nurture our spiritual side.  Perhaps the division that we have in churches now and in the past is part of why churches are no longer the first choice for many people to explore their spiritual longing. 

And yet I have hope for the church and its ability to help people respond to that call of God.  Because even though the church at times gets it very wrong, I think we also get some of it right.   Where else are people asked and reminded to live with the love of God in our hearts and seek and serve Christ in all persons?  Where else can you be a part of a community that calls forth our best selves in an intentional way?  Where else are we taught to give of our treasure and talent?  Where else are we challenged to love the ones we disagree with and stay in relationship with them?  Where else we can bring both our sufferings and our joys?  Where else do we gather around a common table for a sacred meal and for that moment are the image of what is to come – one Body in Christ? 

I believe the church despite all its faults has much to give especially in this world where we seem to be more and more disconnected from one another, where “us and them” is the norm, and where violence is often the first response to a problem. And while life as church is hard work and we don’t get it right, I do trust in the power of God’s call, that call that made Peter leave his nets on the beach, and that still persists today    As Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth, what is important is that we are called to proclaim the gospel, the love of God, and the forgiveness of our sins.   If we as the people of this faith community called St. Margaret’s can live with this love of God in our hearts, and support each other in following the way of Christ then we will be the people of God who go out into the world, and love God’s people in the world. In doing so, others may see that the church can be a place where they can hear and explore the call of Christ that continues to be present in our world. 

[1] Peter Steinke, A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope, August 23, 2010, Alban Institute.