Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2017
Matthew 4: 12-23
Pr. Craig Mueller
Where Does That Leave Me?
I’m not one to binge watch. Some Netflix hits inspire such habits. Maybe you’ve binge-watched House of Cards or Breaking Bad. Now The Crown is getting everyone’s attention. It received the Golden Globe award for best television drama. And we love it! If you can’t have more Downton Abbey and you want a diversion from politics, watch it!
The Crown isn’t about an inauguration, but a coronation. The Crown chronicles the early years of Queen Elizabeth II as she begins her reign at age 25. There are so many things I’ve learned about her, her father and mother, her uncle who abdicated the throne, and of course, Winston Churchill.
In one episode, London is covered in fog for days and shuts down the city. Some on the wireless call it an act of God. Elizabeth goes to confer with Queen Mary, her elderly grandmother about her role. Mary says that “monarchy is a calling from God. That’s why you are anointed, not appointed. That’s why the archbishop puts the crown on your head. You are answerable to God in your duty, not the public.”
Elizabeth retorts: “I’m not sure my husband would agree with that. He would argue that church and state should be separated. . . He would say that he saw his own family destroyed because they embodied indefensible and unreasonable ideals.”
After the fog has lifted, Elizabeth returns to her grandmother. She had taken no public role or position in the crisis that had unfolded. “What if the fog hadn’t lifted and the government had faltered,” she asks.
The queen mother, who had had her own time in the public eye, says: “To do nothing is the hardest of all. People will want you to smile, or frown and the minute you do, you will have declared a position. That is the one thing as sovereign you are not entitled to do. The less you do or say or smile, the better.” What a different world and time that was!
Elizabeth thinks for a minute and then says: “That’s fine for the sovereign, but where does that leave me?”
Where does that leave me? Strange words for us in a time of self-promotion. Strange words in a day when presidents go on late night television or put out impulsive tweets. When narcissism rather than humility carry the day.
Where does that leave me? Where does that leave us? What is our calling and vocation? Leave your nets behind and follow, Jesus told the fisherman. What does it mean for us to follow? Do we leave behind our individuality? And what does it mean to fish for people? In the past this has meant to make people Christian. To bring them to Jesus or to eternal life or to the one true church. Is that our calling? To go fishing in the seas of secularism and religious ambivalence?
Some would say that our calling is to become more like Jesus. Franciscan writer Richard Rohr remembers telling a spiritual director when he was younger that all he wanted to do in life was to become like Saint Francis. One day, his mentor said, “Hey Richard, you’re not and you’re never going to be, Francis of Assisi. You’re not even close, all right? You’re unfortunately Richard Rohr from Kansas.”
Richard said to himself: “Where does that leave me? This doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic or exciting.” Until he realized: “all God wants is Richard from Kansas.”
Isn’t that our truest calling? To be who we are? Who we were created to be? To use our gifts and passions, our quirks and all, for something beyond ourselves? Maybe when we do that, we are in the flow of divine life. What some would call the will of God.
Now that’s not always easy. The current issue of Christian Century—a nerdy journal for pastors that I read—is filled with articles about ministry with transgender people. The journal believes part of its calling is to give voice to those whose voices aren’t always heard or are easily ignored.
Listen to these words from a trans theologian and priest in the Apostolic Church in America: “I transitioned to male because it was survival: in order to have any semblance of quality of life, I needed to be myself. I transitioned knowing that it might cost me my family, my chance at ordination, and more. What I didn’t expect is that it would strengthen my faith in incredible ways.”
Where does that leave me? In baptism we are caught in the net of God’s mercy and unconditional acceptance. It is a net of hope when all seems dark and dreary. It is a net that is large enough to hold a great diversity of fish--people of every color, creed, race, political stripe, sexual orientation, gender identity. A net large enough for immigrants, and refugees, those that are homeless and mentally ill.
Could fishing for people mean not making them like us, but helping them flourish? After Jesus called the fishermen to put down their nets and follow, what was his first stop? To places of need. To people down and out. There Jesus proclaimed good news. There Jesus healed every sickness and disease.
In the 1920s, black composer Jimmy Cox wrote a blues
standard. It tells of a millionaire who reflects on the fleeting nature of
wealth and the friendships that come and go with it.
Nobody knows you
When you’re down and out . . .
But as soon as you get on your feet again
Ev’ry body wants to be your long lost friend.
It’s might strange, without a doubt,
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.
So who should come first? When we follow, it’s no longer, “where does that leave me,” but “but where does that leave us.” We strive to put aside division and be united in the same mind and same purpose, as Paul exhorts.
Sometimes we will sit with someone whose heart is broken or who feels down and out. Sometimes we will march as many of us did this weekend, or become part of movements for justice. Sometimes we will help others find health, security, sanity, or safety. Sometimes it’s simply noticing—seeing those who are different, or who are down and out.
So where does that leave you today? Can you take the risk to follow? Be who you were created to be? Be a part of something bigger than yourself? And if it’s not a net you leave behind, what could you let go of that might bring new joy, new passion, and new purpose to your life and thus, to all the world?