Sermon by Clare Heard, Sunday 22 January 2017, United Benefice of Holland Park

Sermon by Clare Heard, Sunday 22 January 2017, United Benefice of Holland Park

Epiphany 3 2017 – Calling

Do you feel called? What do you think I even mean by that question?

Calling is something that we often connect with traditional vocations – called to be a priest, called to be a doctor….and so on. So in that sense, maybe not many of us do feel called.

The gospel passage today has a lot about calling in it, most obviously the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John, who became disciples of Jesus, but that’s not where the passage starts so let’s look at it from the beginning.

The first thing that happens is that John is imprisoned. This has got to be a difficult time for Jesus. John was his cousin and had paved the way for Jesus ministry, going before him in all he did. Perhaps John’s arrest gave Jesus a glimpse of his own future, perhaps Jesus was afraid or apprehensive.

And this is something that everyone can relate to. When we look at the world today, there is a lot we can be afraid of, or apprehensive about. The future of Britain in light of Brexit, the future of Christians in many parts of the world given the increasing persecution and massacre in places like Iraq and Syria, the future of the world with Trump as American president. And that’s not to mention the challenges and issues closer to home that we may be faced with. We potentially have a lot to be worried about.

So let’s go back to the gospel and see what Jesus does….he goes to Capernaum, and Matthew interprets this as fulfilment of a prophesy, quoting Isaiah 9, that we also heard today. So what’s this prophesy about?

Zebulun and Naphtali were names of Canaanite lands that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These covenant-evoking names frame the land as divine gift yet both in Isaiah and in the gospel this land is now occupied by imperial power, Assyria and Rome.

This Isaiah text quoted in the gospel works on two levels, first reminding people of Isaiah’s  writing about Assyria’s occupation but also, for the gospel hearers, as an analogy for Rome’s empire. “Galilee owned by the Gentiles” now ruled by another Gentile empire.

Written after the destruction of Jerusalem, this gospel describes Roman rule as darkness and death. It positions Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, as the light or saving presence that shines in the darkness of Rome’s imperial domination. Jesus asserts God’s light or saving rule in Roman Galilee.

And so today, as we live in a world of super-powers, of increasingly extreme right wing and divisive politics and increasingly fundamentalist religion, it may seem like we are also in a time of darkness and death. And today’s readings remind us, as they reminded the 1st century hearers of Matthew’s gospel, that there is a light shining in the darkness, a hope in times of trouble.

Jesus’s move to Galilee, could also be seen as his continued acceptance and affirmation of his calling from God – his calling to be the light that shines, in the midst of the darkness. He gets there and starts to call for repentance and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. His response to the difficult times, is to live out his calling.

And this is good news for us. In spite of all the evil in the world, in spite of all our concerns, fears and pain, there is a light shining in the darkness. Isaiah 9, that we heard today started by saying “there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish” – this is the hope we hold onto. The hope that Jesus is the light of the world, and will eventually put everything right.

However, whilst we might hope and even believe this, it doesn’t always help deal with the darkness we face here and now.

Last week, James reflected on the fact that we can experience the profound absence of God. He referred to the film Silence, where the Jesuit priests felt the absence of God in the midst of the horror of the massacre of Christians in 17th C Japan. It can be very difficult to hold onto your faith when facing times of extreme darkness and suffering.

So how do we deal with times when the world appears dark to us, for whatever reason? What can we do to hold onto our faith, to not lose hope?

Again, we can look to Jesus as our guide. Jesus’s focus is on living out his calling to bring people to repentance, proclaim the kingdom of God and provide a light to those who are in darkness. He doesn’t start trying to drive out the Roman rulers, or create political uprisings. He just gets on with proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom, gathering friends to journey with, and performing small acts of kindness and healing.

So I would suggest that when faced with hard times, we need to centre ourselves on our calling from God, like Jesus did. So again I ask, what is your calling?

Many years ago, I preached a sermon about working out what we are called to, what our vocation is – it focused on asking people to identify what it was they loved, and how they could use it. I quoted Frederick Buechner who said: [Our calling, or] “vocation is where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need”….where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.

I.e. You are called to do what you love in a way that meets a need in the world.

And I still think this is true….but as the vicar of the time rightly pointed out to me, we have a primary calling before that. Before we identify what we are called to do, how we are called to use our time and talents, we need to start by recognising our calling first and foremost as children of God, heirs in Christ. Our primary calling is about being, not doing. It’s about our identity, who we really are.

Now this can be difficult. People may think they have nothing to offer, why would God call them, what good could they do?

Many people don’t feel called to anything particularly, and perhaps it is because we so often associate calling with action rather than identity.

I would suggest that in order to both recognize and live out our calling, we need to start with our identity. We are all called to be God’s children, whom he loves before anything else.

I believe all of us have something of value to offer God, all of us are worthy of love, but I also believe that this is so, because of the way God works in our lives.

Can you believe this? Do you consider yourselves loveable? Do you believe you have something of value and worth to offer to God?

The only way to really respond with a yes to these questions is to open ourselves up to God’s loving presence. To spend time with him, however you best experience God, wherever you find it easiest to catch glimpses of his Spirit. Listen to beautiful music, pray, walk up mountains, come to church. Do what you need to give yourself spiritual nourishment, to open up your heart and mind to your loving Father.

Now if we can do this, if we can centre ourselves on our identity as beloved children, then perhaps action will follow. Perhaps it will become clear what God has for us to do, and it might not be anything big.

That great theologian Gandalf, in Lord of the Rings says:
“Saurum believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay”

This is a hope I hold onto. When I look at the world’s problems, they seem too daunting I don’t know where to start, but this quote reminds me that I can start small.

I can start by being kind to those I meet, by not entering into gossip, by not allowing hatred to enter into my heart, I can make good choices when faced with moral dilemmas – do what is right rather than taking the easy option, and I can try to bring light whenever I am confronted with darkness.

And this isn’t just for us as individuals, it’s for us as a church too. As one pastor writes:

“God is calling our congregations to be the gathering of God’s beloved children. God is calling our congregations to be places of welcome and acceptance. God is calling our congregations to be sanctuaries where God’s word is taught, the good news of the kingdom is proclaimed, and all find healing.”

We live in turbulent times in our country and world. There are so many in need, in physical need, in emotional need. If you are like me, you will feel you are letting God down by not doing more, you may feel paralyzed by the magnitude of need. But perhaps, as David Lose says, “if we can first focus on being – just being – God’s beloved children, and let that grace-filled identify seep into the deepest parts of ourselves, [then] I have little doubt that those things we are called to do will become clear in time.”

When Jesus calls the disciples in the gospel, the first thing they do is follow him. They don’t know where they will end up, or what work they will do, but they take the first steps, they leave their nets, and follow Jesus, and as they spend time with him they learn, and they grow and they become fishers of people, who bring God’s light and love to others.

And so today, in this season of Epiphany, we look to Christ, the light of the world to shine into the darkness we see, we remember that our primary calling is as children of a loving Father, co-heirs with Christ. And as we let this truth fill our being, as we receive the love God has for us, we are able to start on our secondary calling, to share with Christ in bringing God’s light to the world, in our own unique and precious way.


Isaiah 9.1-4
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 
2 The people who walked in darkness  have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
 on them light has shined. 
3 You have multiplied the nation,
   you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
   as with joy at the harvest,
   as people exult when dividing plunder. 
4 For the yoke of their burden,
   and the bar across their shoulders,
   the rod of their oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Matthew 4.12-23
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 
16 the people who sat in darkness
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
   light has dawned.’ 
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

1 Corinthians 1.10-18

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Holland Park Benefice