Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
One can find out how to do almost anything on the internet. There is actually a site called exactly that. It offers information amongst other things on how to teach an old dog new tricks, how to service your car, how to cook, how to run a garage sale, how to write a will or get a divorce, and even should you ever need to know, how to raise mealy worms. Now I have not checked out the information, but there are, of course no guarantees that what you might discover on such a website actually works.
The readings this week, on the other hand, present us with many useful ‘how to’s’ tried and trusted over many centuries. The psalm suggests how to find inner strength, how to tap into our hidden gifts and resources. It is a psalm that praises God for deliverance from a tumultuous experience of desolation. In it, despair turns to praise as the psalmist remembers how trustworthy God is. Even in the midst of his troubles he remembers the times that God has been faithful. He opens his heart in praise.
Paul writes a letter to a Christian community not noted for its harmony. It is a fractured and divided community. They are richly endowed with spiritual gifts, but love often seems to be lacking. Paul knows that God has chosen them. God only knows why. Paul’s actions give us a good model for ministry. He continues to pray for them, to give thanks for their gifts, and to understand that part of his call is to bring back those who are struggling with the faith. He affirms the work they are doing. He affirms their gifts. Somehow or other God does get it right. Everything comes together.
In the Gospel there is a very simple ‘how to’ about evangelism that gives a demonstration of what God calls us to do. Two of John’s disciples overhear a conversation in which John the Baptist proclaims, “Look! The Lamb of God!” It is enough to pique their curiosity. They follow Jesus. Jesus engages them in conversation and finally invites them to see where he is staying. It is an invitation they immediately accept. But it does not stop there. Andrew, one of the two disciples heads off to find his brother. He can hardly wait to share his experience. When he finds his brother he says to him, “We have found the Messiah.”
What can we learn from these simple ‘how tos’? Many people are calling for a return to faith in God. People are searching because they are reeling from the brokenness of the world in which we live. The drug culture, the violence of our modern society, the breakdown of family values, the failure of marriages, terrible events like 9-11 and the Tucson rampage of last week, the murder of a police officer on the streets of Toronto, the impact of the natural disasters which seem to be happening in every corner of the globe! People are more and more aware of the uncertainty of time. That is when people begin to ask deep faith questions about life and about life to come. That is when they look for fulfillment in their lives.
That makes it a fruitful time for the Christian church, a time of opportunity, a time in which we should have increasing relevance. And yet often we don’t. We remain stuck in old ways of doing things. We should be reaching out to the seekers and the unchurched in our society. We should be finding ways to meet the spiritual needs of the community. In this season of Epiphany during which we celebrate the many ways that God is revealed to us, we have an opportunity to reflect, not only on our baptismal call, but also on our responsibility to do exactly that, to reach out to those who are seeking.
The gospel does not simply tell us that we are called to discipleship. It demonstrates it for us. It gives us a wonderful model to follow. The first thing, the very first thing that Andrew does when he is introduced to Jesus is to take his brother to see him. He does not worry about his lack of qualifications. He does not consider what his brother might think of his actions. He does not wait for someone else to do it for him. He acts. We think that it is such a big deal to share our faith. It is so 'unanglican'. It was natural for the disciples. How do we make it natural to share our faith in our workplace and in our community? How do we begin to share our religious experiences?
It surely begins by considering our own call. Why do you go to church? Seriously, why? Why are you called? What difference does being a Christian make in your life? If you don't know the answer to that question, you are not ready to share the gospel.
What really counts is that Jesus Christ calls us to this tradition. We are still reading the same Scriptures that were read two thousand years ago. We are breaking the same bread and sharing the same cup that have been broken and shared for two thousand years. Our baptism calls us to share in a tradition that goes back two thousand years. Either we are in a terrible rut, or God is calling us to do something about it. What does God want from us? How do we live that out in a changing society?
We are called to discipleship, to share our faith, to have an impact on society. Most of us just say that it is an impossible task. We become so immobilized by anger or fear or insecurity that we cannot do anything to bring about change. But surely if we are creative, we can do something to improve conditions. We can feed hungry people. We can lobby the government for adequate housing. Think of the wonderful outreach our parish accomplished during the last year. We gave money to FaithWorks that funds community ministries like the Dam and Anglican Houses. We provided services at Credit Valley Hospital, Erin Meadows, Edenwood and Heritage Glen. Our ACW raised funds for many wonderful projects. We provided families with Christmas hampers. We made over twenty gift boxes for Samaritan's Purse. We provided hundreds of dollars in food vouchers for needy people in our community. The list can go on and on.
But there is more to discipleship, isn't there? We need to show people what God is like. And truly it may not happen as it has in the past. People who have no memory of church or what impact faith can have in one’s life will look for fulfillment in other ways. We may need to explore new ways of being church. We may need to find what are being called “Fresh Expressions” of church. We may even discover that we already have some fresh expressions of church happening here.
The question still remains, how do we get across to people what God means in our lives? John knew Jesus because the Spirit remained on him. And that same spirit is given to us. It remains with us, strengthening, guiding and leading us on to experience more and more of God. We in turn share it with others.
About your own call, you wouldn't be a part of the church if you weren't called. So know that you can make a difference and do something about it. Share with others what God is like, what God has done in your life. Live out your calling. And do not worry about how to do it. God will provide the words. God will provide the way. Amen.
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