How are We Called to Serve?

keys-to-the-kingdom_tKenora            Proper – Ordinary 21A            Pentecost + 12             Trinity + 11

23 August 2020

Exodus 1:8:2:10

Psalm 124

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20

 

Living God you accept our stumbling faith, our misplaced answers, our false horizons, and through them you build a way of peace. Empower and enable us to bind the wounds of the world and loose the bonds of oppression, so that all may confess the grace that is your work alone; through Jesus Christ, your anointed one. Amen.

 

There are two things I’d like to point out, in today’s gospel.

First, Jesus goes on holiday. He takes a weekend getaway. He goes on retreat, with his disciples.

Second, while on holiday, Jesus goes fishing. He asks the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13b)

And one they’ve answered about what all of the local scuttlebutt has to say: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”” (Mt 16:14) then he drops the other shoe, he adds the weights to his fishing line and he goes to the deep waters seeking the big fish “15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”” (Mt 16:15)

And he gets a bite, and he then lands the prize, trophy-worthy fish because Peter, prompted by the Holy Spirit speaks before considering what comes out of his mouth. “16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”” (Mt 16:16)

Jesus recognizes the Holy Spirit in the room. Jesus recognizes that Peter is open to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life and Jesus reveals the kind of role that Peter is going to play, after the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.

And isn’t this wonderful?

First of all, Jesus is uncertain about how people see him, and it all comes back to some of the most influential prophets in Israel’s history.

In the same way, the people think that John the Baptist is the Messiah, and so we/they fail to see the Messiah when he stands before us.

So, Jesus asks his closest followers, his friends, who they think he is, and through the Holy Spirit, we have the right answer, at the right time.

Jesus even points out, at the look of shocked confusion on Peters’ face, as well as the faces of those all around them, wondering how much wine Peter had at lunch to say such a thing. Jesus says “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (MT 16:17b)

And Jesus, then following where the Holy Spirit, where the will of God leads, declares what Peter, former fisherman, now fisher of people will do and does with the rest of his life.

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

Now, is this the idea of Peter? Definitely Not! Up until now, he probably hasn’t planned more than a season ahead. But today we see Peter, commissioned by the Holy Spirit. We see him realize he’s called by God to serve, as we’re all called to serve God by serving each other.

And, not only is this rather heady news, to Peter, but this also comes with great responsibility.

Now, such a call to serve is called a ‘vocation’, and God still calls us each to serve in our own way.

Maybe we’re called to bring music, maybe wisdom, maybe compassion to this world?

Perhaps you’re called to read the lessons, or to ‘serve at the altar,’ either behind the scenes as part of Altar Guild, or in front of the scenes as a Lay Reader, a Deacon, or even as a Priest?

God continues to call us all in ways we may find unexpected, but when we follow where God leads it’s a life filled with joy and with promise.

So, Jesus is on holiday.

He took a few days away to rest, to rejuvenate, to regroup and to listen to the way God the Father has planned for the next phase of Jesus ministry. After all, before Peter’s declaration, for all Jesus knew, all of this could die out when he is crucified, or even worse, when he ascends.

But that’s not God’s plan. Rather Jesus sees what the next steps are in his ministry, and probably answer the question of what will happen when the redemption of Israel, the redemption of all who believe takes place in the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

And in this series of questions Jesus gets the answers he’s looking for. He learns the will of God for the continued sharing of the blessings of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of God, for all of humanity, even to and through today.

We see Peter’s declaration, heck we can even see his shocked expression, as he wonders where on earth those words came from, and really how drunk is he, at whatever time of the day it is?

But Jesus isn’t laughing. Or if he is, it’s with a sense of relief that someone felt the movement of the Holy Spirit, the call of God to serve God, and to serve God’s people, no matter where they’re found.

An old phrase says someone is so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. This means that someone spends more time figuring out the will of God than living that will to and in the world. And in practice such a person was often a daydreamer, someone who’s just not paying attention to the world around them.

But, in reality, it’s the opposite that’s true when we focus on the wants and desires of the world, often excluding anything divine from the equation. And in such circumstances, looking for any influence from the divine would be considered shocking.

Now, having said, that, I do have to point out that following Christ, where Christ leads, isn’t easy, even still and especially today.

Its not as simple as just focusing on the divine, on heaven. Rather the world around us needs to see us at God’s work in the world, so that they’re able to follow our examples, to live a life balanced between the concerns of the world and the urging of the Holy Spirit.

And this is where we live, still, today.

During his life, Jesus ministered to those on the fringes of society, those shoved to the sidelines of life by gender, disease, or career choice.

Today, with much of the world declaring itself to be not church oriented, but spiritual, perhaps this is the church being shoved to the sidelines where we continue to minister to those who in a world focused on worldly things to show how heavenly things also still have a place.

But here we are, with Jesus as he takes his holiday from the humdrum of teaching, and preaching, and healing. Yet we still see God at work, not just in Jesus, not just through Jesus and in the disciples, but in each of our lives as well?

How are we called to serve, today?

After all, each one of us is called, each according to our gifts, our strengths our growing edges.

I never considered myself a particularly outgoing person. I’m not one to pray spontaneously for just about anything at the drop of a hint. On one episode of “Midsomer Murders,” our favourite detective Barnaby is looking for something in the grocery store, and the self-appointed prayer advocate and local priest, prays fervently that he finds the sauce for which he is searching, and this is how his wife finds him a minute or so later.

But in my preaching, I’ve been told I have a “quiet enthusiasm.” I’ve been told my presence brings peace, and calm to tense situations. I’ve been told I have an expressive face.

My call to ordained leadership, wasn’t an earth-shattering event, like Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, rather it was a still small voice reminding me of something I’d discarded over a decade before. Yet there it was, still bright and shining in the gloom of self-discernment and self doubt. And in the end, the minister helping me in that discernment process agreed the call, the vocation of priestly ministry was there.

Sometimes it takes a lot of little steps to realize that we’re on the path that God has placed us on and for what purpose only God knows in the end. I’ve had good experiences in ministry, and I’ve had bad experiences. And when we look at the rest of the gospels, so does Peter.

I’ve had times when I felt that absolutely everything was going against me, yet in the end, those were the most profound growing experiences I’ve encountered.

And I have to admit, there was nothing at seminary to prepare one to be clergy and a leader of a spiritual community during a time of pandemic, yet here we are, still relying on God to lead the way. Still leaning on the teachings of Jesus, and the urging of the Holy Spirit every day as we move through this time together.

So, my question to you, is how is God guiding and leading each of you to consider your vocation? How are you answering God’s call to serve? Or are we waiting for the Holy Spirit to intervene, as happened to Peter, when Jesus takes a few days holiday?

Where do your strengths, and growing edges lie? And how is God leading you to grow into that with confidence and reliance upon God to walk with us, and to give us the words to say when its time to say them?

God is still active, and is still calling. How do we answer the question “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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