Sunday, June 09, 2013

Pentecost 3C St Mark's, Northern Albury


Next Wednesday marks six months since I had right shoulder total replacement surgery. I was in the hospital for two nights, the surgeon gave me a three month sick leave, and the bishop told me it would take six month before I finally felt like myself again. The operation was  easier than expected but the recovery was more difficult;  I had to learn to lean and depend on people in a new way, it changed the way I got out of bed or a chair; changed my moods, my dreams, my prayers. I had to learn new ways of moving, living, being and I learned something more about vocation; about being in, living out of, the place where God calls us. I would bet that everyone here has had, gone through, those trying times, sometimes crises of health or wealth, sometimes when life and God taps us on the shoulder, hand us someone or something new, and say, "Now, learn to live with this." I think that is what vocation is all about. 
People in each of our three lessons respond to call, honour vocation, sometimes in solitude and sometimes when vocation comes creating community, connections; when strangers look at one another and realise their lives will be changed forever: when something old has gone out of sight, and something new has come into view; when life and faith turn us round and stretch us out and nothing will ever be the same again. So let’s look at the lessons, beginning with Paul. 
Remember he starts out as Saul of Tarsus and while in todays epistle he writes: “God had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, pleased to reveal his Son to me... so that I might proclaim him.” we know this didn’t come easy. Saul had decided he already had a vocation; to search out and persecute a heretical sect called the people of the way, Christian. He had approved of the death of the deacon Stephen, he had uttered threats and furiously set out to Damascus full of righteous anger; and then a call came and Saul stopped short, struck blind by the light of Christ so that he might become enlightened, cast down to be raised up in a new calling of grace and peace. For Paul, and sometimes for each of us, vocation comes as a kind of dying and rising to new life. 
A poem by T.S. Eliot, quoting St John of the Cross, fits here:
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not. 
Saul has to cross this wilderness, to learn to see himself, his God and his neighbour anew, with a new purpose, a new freedom, the costly gift of a free grace that requires a new faith, a new vision, a new community, a new name and a new life. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
Then the word of the Lord comes to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  Two commands, callings, there. But let’s look at the widow. 
Now maybe she liked to cook, loved to share meals in better times, that might have been part of her vocation, for as Frederick Buechner writes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 
But they are a strange pair, the prophet on the run and the poor starving widow with a young son who’s asked to take on another mouth to feed. And when Elijah asks for "a morsel of bread,” she says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 
Sometime, maybe even often, vocation comes when there’s nothing left to lose. when you thought it was all over then God calls you to begin again, take up hope, make space, knead and bake bread for the surprising stranger, and this can come at inconvenient times.
In the 1960‘s, when I was a teenager, my parents lived on my uncle’s sheep ranch midway between Sacramento and San Francisco, and a good number of family and friends used to arrive on Friday night for a few days in the country. One day my father put a plaque on the kitchen wall which read, “Weekend guests: we’re glad you’re here and hope you enjoy your time, but if we start to drink on Sunday afternoon and ask you to stay over until Tuesday, please remember, we don’t mean it.”
For it is when the weekend guest stays, when a casual conversation starts including personal information, when we witness and share weakness and hope and intimate revelation, when the gift and necessity of love brings us together to share life, it is often when we're honestly learning to live together, that a vocation to care can make itself know, and this can stretch us painfully.
And Elijah says to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake... For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail.”  And it was so. And even when her son appears to die, Elijah calls to the Lord saying, “let this child’s life come into him again.” and gives  the living child once again to his mother; who says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” 
So maybe it’s only then that her the understanding of vocation comes clear: to feed the man whose mouth spoke the word of The Lord; to knead and bake for the one who gave her endless, miraculous bread; to give life to the one who would bring her son to life. Sometimes God calls us to take our part in that complex dance of love. 
And Jesus gives the son of the widow of Nain a new life. As he and the crowd following him pass by a funeral procession, he has compassion on this women who has lost her hope, her life in her son (and I wonder if his own mother was in the crowd, I wondered if they looked at one another, if they saw each other on this road), and Jesus touches the bier and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The son rises and Jesus give him to his mother. 
Vocation can get you in deep trouble, Jesus had  people in his old home town telling him who to heal, where to cure and what to do. And Jesus knows a vocation can stretch you out: he told the people in Capernaum, “there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah... yet he was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.” Not to an insider, but to the surprising stranger! And that call  can be dangerous news for Jesus and for us.
In the Narnia books, Edward asks, “This Aslan, is he safe?” The answer comes immediately, “Of course he’s not safe, but he’s good!” Three things here: the good news is that a vocation can give you a new life: the bad news is that it just might kill you, or bring you close to death, first. And the best news is that you will live through it; 
That’s why we’re here, joining in this feast, because by eating this living bread, incorporating this dying-rising life that Jesus shares with us, we shall live forever; embracing our changing and growing vocations to be the body of Christ by serving and loving our neighbour, the needy, the newcomer, the stranger that life puts in front of us. Like the widows son, we wake to new life, to meet those that God calls us to know in love: up to and including to that very odd person who peers back from the bathroom mirror every morning when we brush our teeth! 
Even there and then. here and now, God call us to the gift of life, as the place where our vocation can live. So may we today, may everyone, everyday, embrace our calling to live in, live out, share in, the love, the life, that we are given from God. 
In the name of Christ, Amen, 

1 comment:

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