- January 14, 2017
January 14/15, 2017, Second after Epiphany, A
Today is my brother’s birthday. Chris is 61, and for most of those years he’s been crazy about animals. He’s the one who used to have dogs “follow him home” and he’d say, “Can I keep it, Mom?”
Everyone thought that Chris would be a veterinarian, and he started college with that in mind, but his mind was changed.
One evening he went to the college theatre, and felt himself called to life as a set designer. He has taught in several colleges and worked in summer theatres and on movies.
This is quite a bit different from what he thought he wanted.
He still has a house full of critters, dogs, cats, a parrot. He might have made a decent veterinarian, but his creative nature found its home in designing for the theatre.
What Chris found that night in the theatre was his vocation.
Vocation means “calling.” It is how our true nature responds to our need to work and be part of the world.
This is also, of course, the birthday of Martin Luther King, jr. I don’t think that I need to introduce him to you as I did my brother.
When King talked about his vocation, he sometimes used the word “dream.”
Here is part of what he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (people) are created equal.’ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This dream is how King described and also lived out his vocation. His calling was to be a voice of God’s justice in a time when there was even more injustice than there is now.
King’s birthday is a holiday in most states. It is celebrated with prayer breakfasts and worship services, where that dream is lifted up and retold.
Like many other holidays (holy days) this day is kept by many as a day to shop and save. Not the dream King was calling us to have!
For many of us, vocation or calling is part of us all our lives. I was ten when I felt the call to be a priest.
Others have an “aha” moment, an epiphany, when they see or hear something that opens their hearts and ears in a new way. For my brother it was walking into that theatre, and feeling that he was home.
For some people, calling is discovered in a dream, or in words, in voices. John tells of hearing voices when he baptized Jesus. When St. Paul was on the way to Damascus he heard Jesus’ voice, and found his calling as a follower of Christ.
Many others we call saints have heard voices leading them to their true vocations.
These voices are helpful, but voices can be harmful and destructive, too. I have a young friend who has voices telling her that she is no good, that she is doomed. She cannot dismiss these voices without medical intervention. My prayer for her is that she can find the help she needs that will allow her to hear the positive and helpful voices that will lead her to being her true, healthy, self.
Henri Nouwen writes about voices. He says, “Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.” There also is a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.” But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, “You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.” That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen.
`That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us “my Beloved.”
I offered that voice to my friend yesterday. Said that she is God’s beloved. I hope she can hear it. I hope that you can hear it.
In our gospel for today some men who have been disciples of John want to know more about Jesus. They ask where he is staying. They don’t mean “are you at Motel 6 or the Holiday Inn?” They are asking about Jesus’ values, his calling. In modern vernacular they are saying, “Where are you coming from?”
They want to know what makes him tick. Why did John call Jesus the “lamb of God”? John was considered a prophet—how could Jesus be greater than he was? How could he be “the Son of God?”
All this was bound up in the question the two disciples ask, which is not about where Jesus is lodging but about who Jesus really is.
Jesus responds with that gentle and powerful invitation, “Come and see.” He says that to the disciples, and he says that to us, too.
He is inviting us to come and see the calling that each of us has from God. Jesus offers many ways for us to live out that calling, that vocation.
We can be healers, reconcilers, compassionate friends. We can pray. We can help feed and clothe. We can help the fearful find peace and hope and, perhaps, even joy.
There are a multitude of ways for us to do these things. Our callings are as individual and different as we are. As we heard in Paul’s letter today, each of us is called into fellowship with Jesus.
We don’t live out that fellowship alone. We are part of a larger fellowship, the church. As part of this fellowship, this Body of Christ, we are guided to hear the right voices and understand the dreams and “aha” moments that show us God.
We can find the calling of the church in The Catechism, or Outline of Faith (BCP, 845 if you want to take a look.)
We read, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Our calling, our vocation, as followers of Jesus is to be peace makers. We are to use the ways Jesus showed us to bring healing and hope to those who need it.
We start with prayer and use prayer to draw closer to that unity with God, and to gain understanding and strength to live that unity. One of my favorite things to say about this is “it’s so simple, but it’s not easy.”
That’s why it helps to come to worship and being steeped in the prayers and readings (and music) and sharing the peace. I couldn’t live out my calling without the grounding, the foundation, of our liturgy.
Rob Hirschfeld is Bishop of NH, and a good friend. Here’s what he wrote about the church’s calling: “The vision of a Great America is one that is rooted from the images of scripture where the poor are cared for, where all races, people, and nations stand reconciled before God’s heavenly throne, and where the lion and the lamb dwell together in peace.
“The Church is called to help God establish such a Beloved Community on earth. Until the coming of Christ’s Reign, the Church will often find itself in tension, if not outright conflict, with the powers and principalities of this world. As I study the over two hundred-year history of the Diocese of New Hampshire, I am constantly struck at how courageous and committed its leaders and people have been in confronting injustice, racism, poverty, homophobia, and any fear and hatred of the outsider.”
That vision, with God’s help, is lived out here, and many other places, as well as in NH.
I will be praying this vision—praying that my young friend will hear the right voices and be healed. I will be praying that each of us hears the voice of our true calling, which may be what we are doing now, or may be something else. I will be praying that God will give us the strength to live out our calling—for ourselves and for the Church.
At the core of our calling is the words Jesus heard at his baptism. The words Henri Nouwen gave us, the words Bishop Rob gave us—God’s beloved. The call is, “I am God’s beloved, God is well pleased with me.”
We are God’s beloved. God is well pleased with us.
Now, how are we going to live into that so it is our reality? Jesus would give us the same answer he gave in the gospel, “Come and see.”