February 10, 2019

Cropped HippieJesus

5th Sunday after Epiphany - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

We are going to start with an early morning interactive sermon. Turn to someone you are not related to and answer the question:

 

What do you love to do that gives
you pleasure disproportionate to
everything else?

 

  • Exclude spending time with your family or friends because I want to know what is unique to you that you a deeply passionate about.
  • Share that with someone you are not related to.
  • What are some of your responses?

At Clergy Conference this past week, our speaker, Rob Voyle, began his first session with this very same activity. After we shared our passions with those around us, he went on to encourage us to draw out the timeless quality of what you love to do. That requires considerably more time to ponder for most of us, but we know that there is a timeless quality – a transcendent quality – a spiritual quality in that about which we are passionate. Your emotions that surround your passion will vary from person-to-person. I want to suggest that a strong emotional response is not more valid than a gentle emotional response when you are engaging in your passion; the response is more about personality and temperament than it is about your devotion to your passion.

 

Remember: this passion of yours is disproportionate to all other activities in your life. And I’m going to switch vocabulary here. I asked you what your passion is because we kind of understand that. But the root of the word is in “suffering”, which is not necessarily where you might be in relation to this activity. The term “hobby” is probably far to weak for most of you. I’ll use the term “pleasure” because it’s definition, from as early as the 16C, is “sensual enjoyment as the chief object of life.” The 3 aspects of “sense”, “joy” and “life” better capture what we are talking about. So, keep your Pleasure in mind, and at some point, contemplate the transcendence and the spiritual nature of your Pleasure.


To understand the transcendence and spiritual nature of your Pleasure is to understand Discipleship. All three of today’s readings are about Discipleship – following the call of God to spread the news of the Kingdom of God to God’s people. What does Discipleship have to do with your Pleasure? So – at Clergy Conference, those who enjoyed fishing were asked the following question, but I want you each to consider:

 

If Jesus came to you and said,
“You can follow me, or you can
continue your Pleasure. Which is
it?”, what would you do?

 

That’s what happened in today’s Gospel Reading. It’s what happened in today Old Testament Reading, and it is what Paul is remembering in today’s New Testament Reading. In each of today’s Readings, God is forcing a choice between the person’s earthly life and a life with God to become a Disciple.

 

From what we read in the Bible, this is what Discipleship meant:

  • An unstable and peripatetic life
  • Teaching about the Kingdom of God and not about the self
  • Obedience to and placing loyalty to Jesus above every other human relationship

That may not suit many, and it may not suit you. One question is: Did Peter, James and John know what following Jesus would involve when they dropped their nets? Maybe. Maybe not. What we know is what we read, and the story concludes with Peter, James, John and 10 others becoming Jesus’ Disciples to their deaths. Jesus had many other followers who lived their faith with challenges similar to those of the qualities of the life of the Disciples as we garner from the Bible. We are also called to Discipleship. Teaching about the Kingdom of God seems OK; obedience and loyalty to Jesus is OK, but with qualifications; but an unstable and peripatetic life isn’t really a 21C Western value.

 

Here is what else the Bible tells about Discipleship. The Disciples in all of today’s readings are:

  • Unfit and unworthy to serve God
  • Sinful
  • Are purified by the Lord
  • Are to walk into the midst of trouble

Considering our own Discipleship may dredge up our unworthiness and need for purification. And, of course, we say our confession weekly and renew our Baptismal Vows a couple of times a year. We need that reminder that, despite our failings, we are forgiven and washed clean through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are reminded in our scriptures that God’s Disciples were also unfit and in need of purification

 

So…the Disciples were not ready-made, off-the-shelf Champions of God! They were Disciples, which translates as “Learners”. With all of these Biblical Learners, God:

  • Calls
  • Commissions
  • Utilizes them

None of them began proclaiming the Kingdom of God without some instruction, both initially and along the way. God doesn’t Call and then walk away to leave them to sort it out for themselves; God – whether YHWH or Jesus – issued clear Commissions and utilized the skills of the Holy Spirit which each had within them. And this is the point at which your Pleasure relates to your Discipleship.

 

“You can follow Jesus, or you can continue your Pleasure. Which would you do?” is not the right question. And it’s not what happened in any of the 3 Readings today in which Disciples were made. What Jesus does is Calls you into relationship with Him, and Commissions you as a Disciple to use the gift of your Pleasure to proclaim the Kingdom. Although it’s clearer in other writings of Paul, in 1 Corinthians, Paul illustrates how Jesus utilized Paul’s zealousness for the Law and commissioned Paul to be zealous for the Gospel.

 

Even more clearly to Rob Voyle’s point that to choose between what you love and following Jesus is the wrong question is today’s Gospel. Jesus never instructs Peter, James and John to stop fishing and follow Him. In fact, Jesus tells them to resume fishing, and through their fishing they see the power of Jesus. They weren’t catching anything, and this man (about whom they had probably heard) came and illustrated His own power within their Pleasure, with their skills, their vocation. And then Luke put the Call from Jesus and the Commission together into one: “from now on you will be catching people.”

 

Jesus assured Peter, James and
John that they would not have to
deny that activity which gives
them joy disproportionately to
everything else in order to follow
Him; instead Jesus re-deployed
that very Pleasure for a different purpose.

 

The way Rob Voyle put it was that Jesus embedded their future in the timeless quality of what those men loved to do – or what they knew how to do.

 

So, what does Discipleship look like in the 21C? What does Discipleship look like for you?

 

  • The unstable and peripatetic life doesn’t have to be scary. For us, it is to be unsettled from our immense material coziness and to go beyond the comfort zone of our personal faith into the arena of sharing our faith with others.
  • Teaching about the Kingdom of God and not about the self is knowing that sharing our faith and our passion should always point to God. And as St Francis of Assisi said, “Preach Jesus, and if necessary, use words.” Teaching about the Kingdom of God doesn’t always have to be didactic. Find your way of sharing the Gospel with others.
  • Obedience to and placing loyalty to Jesus above every other human relationship was a scary thing for the first Disciples. They did leave everything and everyone. It would be irresponsible of me to tell you to do that. So, bring them with you. Bring your family into this relationship with Jesus. That stereotype that we see on TV and the movies in which someone forces their faith onto their family is not necessary. The Baptismal Covenant, in its brevity, gives each person the opportunity to shape how they can bring his/her family and community into this relationship with Jesus when we respond to:
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  • And we respond: I will, with God's help.

 

As for the qualities of the 21C Disciple, we are no more unfit and unworthy to serve God, no more sinful, no less in need of purification by the Lord, and no less capable of walking into the midst of trouble than Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John.

 

And what we need to learn from these examples is that God used their Pleasure and their Vocation in their Discipleship. And Jesus will do the same for us.

 

When you articulate to yourself
the timeless, transcendent,
spiritual nature of your Pleasure,
return to this subject of
Discipleship and know that Jesus
will infuse and saturate your
Discipleship in the spiritual
nature of what you love to do.

THAT is what will make you a good Disciple.

 

So, to simplify what we are reading in the Bible and how we are to become Disciples, we shall not ask the question: “What would you rather do, follow Jesus or do the thing you love?” The questions are:

  • How can you utilize the thing you love to do as a Disciple of Jesus?
  • How is Jesus calling you to be a Disciple utilizing your Pleasure or Vocation?
  • How is the Spirit moving within you to do what you love for the love of Jesus?

Rob Voyle is right when he says that it’s much easier for you to invite someone to join you in pursuing your Pleasure than it is for you to invite someone to join you at church. But, imagine illustrating the Love of God in the sharing in what you love to do.

 

Discipleship means entering into a lifelong relationship with Jesus in order to further the Kingdom of God. But we cannot forget that the word “Disciple” means “Learner”. Let us each learn how to utilize our Pleasure to heed the Call and Commission of Jesus to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The fishermen Peter, James and John became fishers of people. May you:

  • bake the Love of God into the hearts of many;
  • grow a garden of the Love of God in which people can dwell;
  • paint the Love of God for all the world to see;
  • sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord;
  • weave people into God’s love.

Let us learn to be Disciples, and use our Pleasures and Vocations to draw others from the bondage of sin, and give them the liberty of that abundant life which God has made known to us in our Savior Jesus Christ.

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