Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sunday June 8, 2008 Proper 5 A
Preacher: Christopher McLaren
Occasion: Commissioning of New Deacons, Judith Jenkins and Daniel Gutierrez
Text: Matthew 9: 9-26
Theme: Calling and a Day in the life of a Messiah
The passage from Matthew today is a slice of life or one might say a-day-in-the-life-of-a-messiah piece. Jesus is described as calling one of his disciples, Matthew, from among the ranks of the scum-bag tax-collectors, eating dinner with not only Matthew but other disreputable folks while being seemingly indifferent about protecting his delicate reputation. Jesus deals with a rather pesky religious sort who wants him to explain himself and the company he keeps. Dinner is interrupted by a synagogue leader who is desperate for Jesus to do the impossible in raising his daughter to life again. As if all that weren’t enough for one day in the life of a Messiah, Jesus finds himself healing a woman who had suffered for 12 years and who had effectively been cut off from the community through her ailment. One has to say that Jesus is on his game today, he is able to affirm the faith of this desperate but faith-filled woman, restoring her to the relational context of her life, and he raises the girl from what others thought was sure death bringing her back to health and life. With days like this it is little wonder that his fame spread throughout the countryside.
Today is a special day at St. Michael’s as we celebrate the recent ordinations of both Daniel and Judith. It is a proud and giddy day for us here at St. Michael’s as it has been quite a spell since our life in the diocese has included such blessings.
As we celebrate the ordinations of Daniel and Judith, I wonder what it is we might be looking for in their example and lives. We are not, I’m sure, looking for them to be messianic in our lives. That job is already taken. We are, I think, looking for them to point us toward the healing presence of Christ in our lives, to encourage us to reach out to God in our need, sure of God’s loving care. I believe we want them to challenge us to accept those different from us by looking deeply into the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was willing to lose his respectability for the sake of others, and our lives, if dedicated to following Christ, will also offer that opportunity. We are hoping that in their humanness Daniel and Judith will help us to see that we are God’s beloved, flaws and all, and that we too are worthy to be healed and touched and called into service by Jesus, just as they have been called into service through their ordination vows.
Daniel and Judith were not ordained because they are so very different from all the rest of us, they were ordained because they are just like us, they are called to do the work God has given them to do and in doing so to tease out of the rest of us our respective callings. We are all called by God. We all have a vocation to fulfill in Christ, and today Judith and Daniel remind us of it. It is not meant to be a high and lofty and unapproachable thing, this calling business. No, it is quite simply listening for the voice of God saying, “Get up and follow me, come with me and do this.” It is Matthew leaving his money table behind, it is Peter dropping his nets, it is you showing up at the food pantry week after week because it gives you joy, it is you taking that difficult case because you know it is right, it is you working at patience with your children, it is you renewing your relationship because you know it is in that direction that your growth lies, it is passing by the promotion because your life is full of grace right where you are, or perhaps it is taking that promotion because you know that it is what you were meant to do and where you can do the most good.
Today as we celebrate Daniel’s and Judith’s call to ordained ministry we are asked to look more deeply into our own vocation as people of God. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work one is called to by God. There are all kinds of different voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to discern which of the voices is God calling you and not Society, or Self-interest, or Ego. There is a good rule to figuring this out. The kind of work that God usually calls you to is the kind of work that (a) you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs done. As Frederick Buechner says,
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is that place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
We celebrate today because we believe that both Daniel and Judith have found a place of calling that will bring out their great gladness while at the same time doing something to meet a hunger in this world that is real.
This day is about calling for us. And in the gospel passage Matthew, the scum-bag tax collector is our example. There he is minding his own seedy business and Jesus has the nerve to call him to follow. It is a rather amazing story really -- a stranger walks by, says “Follow me,” and Matthew gets up and does just that. If you are like me it raises all sorts of questions. Could I do that? What kind of a disciple would I have made? What if a clear call came to me? Would I be willing to leave my keys dangling in the ignition, to walk down the street with a strange but confident rabbi?
However, what I don’t want you to do is to get to hung up on the idea that this is all about your choice. We Americans are really into choices. In fact sometimes I think we are paralyzed by the number of choices we have. I call it death by options. Now don’t get me wrong, the choices we make are important, about what we believe, how we will act or live, where we will live, what we will study, who we will love, what we will spend our energy doing. But not all of life is simply about our choices. For instance, take the story of Matthew, the tax collector. This is not a story about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow. This is a story about the power of God to walk right up to a tax collector, the scum of the earth, and work a miracle of creating faith where there was no faith, creating a disciple where there was none just a moment before.
This is not a story about us. This is a story about God. And about God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as a people who are able to follow – able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us, because God in Christ interests us more than anything else in our lives, because he seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be food. What I’m trying to say is that there is a dimension to the spiritual life that is more than the sum of our choices. There is the possibility that being called is less like us making a decision and more like something happening to us, something strangely beyond our control. Something we sense is right without a great deal of analysis and deliberation.
Just to ease your anxiety a bit, I am not sure that following Jesus is always a matter of leaving everything behind. That may have been what it meant for Matthew the tax collector or Andrew and Simon the fishermen. That may have been what it meant for their particular lives. But if the story is about being swept into the flow of God’s will and giving ourselves over to it, then it seems to me that it will be different for every one of us in our particular lives.
Sometimes it will mean staying home. Sometimes it will mean setting off on the adventure of a lifetime to an unknown place. Sometimes it will mean doing the hard work of repairing a relationship. Sometimes it will mean quitting that miserable job that gives you no joy at all and finally doing something you can love and really give yourself to. Sometimes it will mean becoming truly generous with the resources you’ve had and trusted in all your life so that you can begin to depend upon God again and not on your portfolio. Sometimes it will mean getting off the treadmill and sitting quietly listening for the still small voice of God that you’ve never really heard or forgotten what it sounds like. It may simply mean that you need to do less every day so God can be more for you.
It may mean recognizing that your growth, the growth God wants you to have, is right in front of you by learning to cope with the losses you’ve suffered, or caring for that aging parent or spouse, or choosing to love that child you’ve almost given up on. Calling can mean so many different things, but the one thing it isn’t is you deciding, it is you listening for the voice of God in Christ, saying this way to the kingdom. It is finding the flow of God’s will, allowing yourself to trust in God’s power to save, letting yourself fall in love again with the one who made and loves you and is “for you” in the truest and deepest sense of the word.
So that is what deacons are here to remind us of. That we are all called, we all need to be slapped upside the head, to have God get our attention, or to have our heart shattered by the beautiful and terrible love of God, that will draw us into the flow the kingdom, into that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep need match up and make life a joy and not a chore.