Note: This is an actual transcript from the audio recording (errors and all). I’ve attached a pdf of the written sermon, which is slightly different from this text.
Today we pray for grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ, to proclaim to all people the good news of his salvation. This continues in the prayer from last week, when we prayed that we would be illumined by your words and sacraments, and may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. Even as we meditate upon the rising sun of Jesus Christ and his unveiling to the nations, we realize that we have been swept up in this unveiling.
Christ himself is revealing his kingdom and his glory to all creation through us. We are witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel readings for both weeks are about the call of the disciples. The story of the disciples becoming witnesses. Last week we reflected upon the call to stay, for they stayed with Jesus the whole day. That language stay is used again and again. It’s often used in the word abide or remain. “Abide in me, and I in you.” “Remain in me, and I in you.” That language, again and again, is used, particularly throughout the gospel of John.
He spoke of … a Celtic phrase, “The place you are standing is holy.” Part of the way Christ transforms and turns his disciples into witnesses is just simply the rhythm of living day-by-day in communion. They live with him for three years, and they are simply changed day-by-day, being in his presence. We ourselves are being changed by his spirit in the daily rhythms of prayer and family. Just the daily rhythms of eating together, of work, and worship. He is at work in these repeated rhythms. In fact, that’s what liturgy is deeply about. We won’t explore it today, but liturgy is really about how rhythms work within the culture, and within the church. We live in a culture surrounded by all sorts of rhythms, and part of what liturgy does is reorient the rhythms toward Jesus Christ.
This week, the spirit particularly focuses upon Jesus as he sees the disciples fishing, and he says, “Follow me.” This is the way of pilgrimage, or as the Celts said, the [inaudible 00:02:25]. They would speak of searching for the place of your resurrection. We have the call to stay, and the call to go, and both of them are actually part of the life of discipleship.
In the story this week, Jesus calls out to Peter and Andrew, and he says, “Follow me,” and immediately they left their boats and followed him. If you’ll remember the gospel reading from last week, Andrew is with Jesus while with John the Baptist, and he follows Jesus, and then he goes and gets his brother Peter, so it almost seems like there might be a discrepancy between the stories, because in one story, Andrew has been with John the Baptist, and he follows Jesus, and in the other story, they’re out fishing, and Jesus calls them. Actually, I think what we’re seeing is multiple contacts. That Jesus has multiple contacts with a group of people.
In fact, we know that they continue to fish. They’re even fishing after the resurrection, when Jesus comes and calls them yet again. Part of the life of transformation is often a repeated call, a repeated contact. The Holy Spirit comes and encounters people again and again as he draws us, as he calls us, as he leads us into this pilgrimage.
In today’s story, Jesus begins by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent is the turning back to God. In some sense, it is the turning of all creation back to God. That’s what Jesus has come to do, is return all things to God. This is Romans 8. Romans 8, that all creation is glorying for the sons and daughters of God to be fully unveiled, so that all things might return to Christ; might turn, and return to Christ, and might face the glory of God.
It is both a hope and a promise that as he draws us to himself, he is, in fact, doing something bigger than what we could imagine, and turning the world. In fact, the word that we use for repent is metanoia, but there’s another word we also use in scripture, conversion. I’ll just briefly mention this, but it always captures my imagination. The word conversion has to do with the movement of the planets. It has to do with the Earth turning on its axis. It has to do with seedtime and harvest. It’s actually a word about the seed dropping in the ground, and the world turning, and then the harvest. You can see how conversion is much deeper than a prayer. It is the transformation of creation, of the people of God into glory. Conversio, the turning to God, and becoming glorified.
Another thing we were reflecting on today in the call for fall, in the call for pilgrimage, is the turning. Pilgrimage can look like a group of monks getting in a boat. For the love of God, traveling off to who knows where. It could look like losing a job, and looking for another one. Often pilgrimage comes in many different forms. It is the call to leave the place I’m at, enter a new place. There are all sorts of things that can precipitate pilgrimage. In fact, in one sense, every day is a pilgrimage, because each day I wake up and I’ve let go of the day behind me, and I’m journeying through the day. To the end of the day. There is a daily sense of pilgrimage, and each day brings surprises.
In fact, a single moment in the day can change the course of my life. In any given day I might be called to something new; something different, where God is changing my life. At the end of the day, the people of God look to him, offer the day back to him, and it ends just the way it began, in prayer and praise, a life marked by the love of God.
If we think back over the stories and scripture, we see all sorts of kinds of pilgrimages. I just thought of one. Joseph doesn’t plan to go on a pilgrimage. He’s sent on some small pilgrimage by his father, some kind of administrative duty to go see his brothers and he will never return home. He thinks he’s just gone for a short journey, and he will never go back home. His brothers will strip him, sell him as a slave. Of course, he will eventually end up in prison, but then he will be exalted and glorified, and become this leader of Egypt. In the end, he will become the means of salvation for his whole family.
We can never see where this surprise call to follow might lead, because sometimes, not always, but sometimes, it certainly starts out in less than positive ways. Sometimes it’s a sense of excitement. In fact, some people are ready to follow long before Christ is ready for them to go. He tells them to stay. If you remember, the Gadarene demoniac, when Jesus frees him he’s ready to follow, and Jesus says, “Stay here. It’s not time to go yet. When I’m ready, I will call you.” Often people go, wanting to go on pilgrimage at the wrong time. There’s this tension of staying and going.
What does transformation look like in the going? I was reflecting on it … and this is in no way a conclusive list, but I thought of a few things that we see in the story of the disciples. These don’t even sound like, for the most part, don’t sound like tools of spiritual discipline. Yet, they do seem to be present all through the gospels. One, we will see challenges. Misunderstanding. Constantly. We will see conflicts. Eventually, we’ll see the spirit [inaudible 00:08:38] in and through their memories. Then finally, we’ll see the disciples being shaped into a communion. Into a community. Into a family.
Just think about those four, challenges, conflicts, memory, communion. Challenges. Christ calls the disciples, and almost immediately they misunderstand. In fact, it’s so evident in the Gospel of John. Every single time Jesus does a miracle, you’ll see that it says the people believe, but they misunderstand. They don’t get it. Jesus tells the disciples, after they’ve been following him, right after Peter says, “You are the Christ.” Jesus says, “I’m going to be crucified.” Peter’s like, “No, no, no, you’re not!” He totally misunderstands. To the point where Jesus says a get behind me saying. They misunderstand the circumstances around them. Like when the children come to Jesus, and they’re trying to prevent him. He says, “No. Let the children come to me.” They misunderstand the parables.
Jesus, at one point, says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.” they say, “Oh no, somebody forgot the bread!” Again and again, it could be a comical … one could tell the gospel stories in a comical way, because they’re constantly misunderstanding. Part of it is because Jesus is inviting them into a way that is beyond what they know. He’s expanding them. Like in the call of Paul, he’s expanding everything Paul could have imagined about Torah. He’s pressing them, and so it’s beyond what they know, so it’s natural that there would be a misunderstanding.
You think of Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt. They go out of Egypt, and then they are led across the wilderness. In one sense, the wilderness is the place where their imaginative world is expanded through patterns, prayer. This life that’s handed down at Mount Sinai. It will be a long process. In fact, it will be the second generation that will be ready to enter the promised land. Even then, we know they’re not fully ready. Yet, what God has done is the pilgrimage, because it’s bigger than what they could imagine, what he’s called them to be will take years, and years, and years of expanding, challenging, provoking. There will be lots of failure.
When I was in college I served in the Baptist Church, and I assumed I would always be in the Baptist Church. I had no idea the journey that God had for me that would often involve a calling that would … sometimes it was pleasant, and sometimes it was less than pleasant. That would lead me, many times, to serve in places that I didn’t even think were Christian at first. The first church I served in, right after the Baptist Church, was in the Charismatic world. Growing up in churches that … I thought Charismatic was close to being, somehow demonic or something. I was completely opposed to it, and then the next thing you know, I’m serving in a Pentecostal church.
While I was in the Pentecostal church, I had a negative view of the Roman Catholic Church. I didn’t know anything about them. But I saw no value in it. The Pentecostal church I worked at suddenly came to an end, in ’91, and the only door that opened for me was to serve in a Roman Catholic ministry. I was fundamentally challenged by the woman who mentored me. She lived in Nashville, and I managed the house in Maryville. Some of you are familiar with the Dismas house that used to be here. I was exposed to her profound and deep faith in Jesus Christ, and so once again I was challenged.
I went back to school in ’92, and my advisor was a Quaker. He was like, “I think you should serve in our Quaker church for a season.” Once again, a community I had no idea about and they were Evangelical Quakers, but again and again. The funny thing is, while I’m serving in the Quaker church, I ended up going through a Roman Catholic catechism because I wanted to learn more about the Roman Catholics. Then when I got out, I almost became Eastern Orthodox.
Again and again, the Lord was challenging me, calling me out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t usually because I had just read a book and felt excited. It was often through a point of crisis. Then, because of the crisis, I ended up somewhere I hadn’t expected. He does that with all of us. Think in your own life. The challenges, the calls to follow him that are not always pleasant. Sometimes it has been through physical trauma or physical sickness. In my own life, and I know in many people’s life, that he calls us to follow him in a deeper, more profound way. In the midst of it, we encounter his love in a way that we didn’t even know was possible.
The disciples also experienced conflict. In this particular case, when I say conflict, I mean conflict between the disciples. They argue and try to compete to see who’s the greatest. Who is Jesus’s favored one? Who will get to sit at his right hand? This is carried over in the reading for today, in 1 Corinthians, because Paul plants a church in Corinth. It’s clear, even from the reading today and last week, and if we read the letter of Corinthians, there’s conflict. People are competing as to who’s the most spiritual. Who has the best teacher? Who has the highest status?
Part of that is a reflection of the issues that are going on in the city of Corinth, because there’s all sorts of races, and status, and there’s a great, dramatic shift in economic futures. Some people are rapidly becoming wealthy in Corinth, and so they sort of embody the rhythms of their culture, and they brought all that into the church. Of course, that still happens. They’re fighting with one another. The beauty of the letter of Corinthians is that it’s really a letter about love. It’s not a letter about denying their particularities; it’s about, somehow, the beauty of all their distinctions will come together and make something quite marvelous.
Conflict, in a strange way, can being a movement toward love. The film Silence, which some of you may have seen, that just came out. It’s based on the book by Shusaku Endo. It’s a wonderful book, although the book, for me, was more disturbing than the movie. Very violent. The main character always identifies himself with Jesus. He’s always envisioning him suffering like Christ. He has this Judas character that follows him around, and it’s clear, particularly in one scene, he can barely forgive him or bless him, because the guy is constantly betraying. By the end, he will realize he, himself, is a Judas. In the midst, there are some touching, yet subtle moments where it’s clear he has begun to identify with the man he despised, and there is a gentle love that happens between them.
Often conflict is a way that God leads us to the way of the cross. We see that all through Paul’s letters, particularly Philippians 2. Leads us to a way of submission, where I prefer my brother over myself. I learn the act of submission, and yielding, and I learn how to love, and let the love of Christ be shaped in me.
Another thing Christ will be doing is working in the memories of the disciples, particularly as we get to the resurrection. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them in John, and then we see in Acts, also, this pouring out of the Spirit. We hear this phrase that will echo through the Gospels, “and the Holy Spirit brought into their remembrance.” The Holy Spirit comes as a gift through Jesus Christ, who teaches his people, who actually works in our memories, who takes Scripture and brings it alive so that we suddenly see the hand of God, who comes to comfort us, comes with power and conviction, that leads us into all truth.
Richard Hooker, the great Anglican writer and priest, said that the when church is struggling with an issue, there is a way we can explore it together through Scripture, reason, and tradition. He uses the metaphor of a ladder, although nowadays it’s used as a stool, but he said, “There are three rungs of a ladder, and the first one is Scripture because “Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.” We ask God, “What are you speaking to us in Scripture?” Then we use the reason that has been redeemed and healed by the Spirit. The Spirit is working in our imagination. Then we listen to the voice of the fathers, those who have gone before us. We need to hear all these voices. The Spirit is at work, often, in the midst of difficult, challenging questions.
We see that all through Acts. The disciples will have challenging questions, either when the apostles are working too much, and they eventually decide to appoint some disciples as a result of prayer. When the church of Antioch at prayer, they decide to send Paul and Barnabas out on mission. Again and again, the people of God will come together, and in the fellowship with one another, they will get an answer. Often in our own lives, the spirit is at work, bringing all things to our remembrance; reminding us that God is absolutely faithful, absolutely trustworthy, and as he does this, he’s not only leading us into the communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit, where we’re learning to rest in God’s faithful love, but he’s leading us into the communion of the body of Christ.
it is in this great communion that we are being changed, so fundamental, all through the New Testament, to be in the communion, to be in fellowship with one another, to be changed. Because particularly Ephesians, we see a body made up of Jews and Gentiles that God has exalted as his masterpiece. That he’s revealing his rule, his wisdom, his praise, his glory, ultimately his love. It’s transforming these people even as they are transforming the whole cosmos. So, Ephesians, wonderful vision. The people of God being transformed, even as the world is being transformed.
The people of God is actually the very place we bring our struggles, questions, conflicts. In some of the darkest periods of my own life, it has been through soul friends, just people that I’ve been able to share stories with. As we talk and pray, often just the sharing. I’m changed, I’m healed, I rediscover the grace of God, the mercy of God. We need the great communion.
These are just simple things, but they are things we see all through the story of the disciples. How Christ is transforming us on the pilgrimage by challenging us, by causing us to realize how little we know. He is transforming us by leading us into relationships where, often, there is conflict. Where I will learn the opportunity to serve those who maybe I thought should be serving me. I will have a deeper encounter with his Holy Spirit, who will begin to teach me how to remember his faithfulness, as I remember the story of the people of God. even as Ryan sang the songs and reminded us that we are on the same pilgrimage, the people of God throughout the ages and finally, he will lead us into this great communion. That we ourselves are being transformed by the communion that is present, and ultimately, by the communion that we don’t see. That’s beyond us in space and time. That we are part of a great communion. A great cloud of witnesses. We, ourselves, are becoming part of that cloud.
We are being made into witnesses so that he might be magnified in us. We are becoming a people who learn how to rest in him, and also follow him. A people who, wherever we go, are revealing his light. The light of Christ is illuminating through us, the world, and we become light in the darkness. To become light in the darkness means that he will send us into dark places at times. We may be the only light there. The place where we can love, and encourage, and bless, and continue to be witnesses of Christ.
Thank you Lord all for your mercy and grace. Thank you for this journey that you’ve called us to. Thank you that you are transforming us, both at times of rest, and in times of pilgrimage. May we bring honor and glory to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.