25th Jan, 2004

Epiphany 3

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Lections:
Psalm 113
Nehemiah 8:2-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Luke 4:14-21

“God Calls Each and Every One of Us”

The fact is as undeniable as it is awesome: God seeks, God calls to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

Some of you had the great joy of being part of my ordination to the Diaconate here of few weeks ago. Well, I have to tell you – we are the talk of the diocese! The choir, the clergy, the liturgy, the participants, the guests, the congregation, all who participated were magnificent and joined in an event that became transformational – not only for me – but for many. You cannot begin to imagine…

Earlier this week my partner, Lo, was in ICU at Cedars with a dear friend who was in desperate need of a life-saving surgery. He took her hand and said to her not: “what’s going to happen to me?” but rather “I am so grateful I got to experience Gwynne’s ordination.”

So touched was he by the ordination that that’s what he chose to speak of as he lay in the surreal space between Life and Death. The wonderful, amazing, awesome service that so many of you gave your hearts to touched many people – far more even than those who were gathered here. A colleague who heard about it phoned me from New York to say that whenever an ordination is done well, every single person there is ordained. Every person there has his or her own call to God acknowledged, reaffirmed and strengthened.

God proclaimed long ago and over and over to this day that God seeks us out – each one of us.

No one is ever too poor, too rich, too burdened, too unimportant to be valued by God. That’s what the readings for today are about: this wonderful, difficult, undeniable yearning on God’s part for us. None of us is worthy and yet we each still matter to God.

God not only seeks a relationship with each of us; God seeks for that relationship to be present in how we treat ourselves and each other.

Psalm 113 tells us that God is not content to sit on a throne high above the heavens but rather is deeply invested in interacting with people. God reaches down to the weak and the poor and sets them with princes, the princes of his people. What’s fascinating about this verse is that it tells us that God places us in situations – rich and poor, needy and blessed, coupled or single – where we impact each other. God places the weak and the poor in a dynamic relationship with his own princes. There is a reason. They each have something important to teach, to give to each other through their individual enactment of their faithfulness to God. Each is a child of God’s.

God places us in different circumstances so that we can strengthen each other through our faithfulness. God uses us to help each other, to recognize God within ourselves and the other.

We, Episcopalians, we Anglicans, express one aspect of our understanding of this when we come together to join in common worship. Each of us strengthens the faith of others through our own faithfulness. We are not unlike the assembly of faithful Jewish people gathered in the courtyard of the great temple of Jerusalem thousands of years ago. They were called there by Nehemiah and Ezra to hear the Word of Moses. These people, whose names have been so carefully recorded in this, the last of the historical books of the First Testament, had returned from the exile in Babylon and struggled against poverty, corruption, invasion and all sorts of danger to rebuild the walls of the holy city and to restore their relationship to God as it had been once before centered within and around the Temple . The city finally having been secured, this was the moment when it was time to re-call their relationship to God and to renew their covenant. This moment of recommitting to a specific covenant with God.

We can scarcely appreciate the severity and complexity of the covenant that these people were accepting as God’s collective call to them as a people. The Law of Moses contains literally hundreds of specific laws that governed everything from what they touched and looked at to whom they saw and spoke with to how and when they cooked and ate. It defined how they brought their relationship with God into every aspect of their thoughts, deeds and lives. Throughout the lengthy reading in the square it is clear that it was vitally important for the people to understand the meaning of all they were hearing. They were not asked to obey something that they did not understand. The consequence of breaking their covenant with God was often death or banishment. They understood with the reading of the Law that God wanted them to be in a relationship that was faithful and obedient to God’s love for them. They wept and grieved because they also understood that they had failed. They were not worthy. None of us is.

The fact that God loves us and yearns for us is staggering. For those of us who are Christians that fact is made even more explicit, it is made manifest in the life of Jesus Christ and Christ’s Death on the Cross that provides the forgiveness for our sins which we each need and can never prove worthy of.

The society into which Jesus was born was filled with strict rituals and rules that people followed in order to stay within the covenant. While remaining steadfastly obedient to his relationship with God, Jesus disrupted the rules and the rituals by placing a higher order on them. The immediacy of God’s love with each individual took precedence over doing it according to the Law. Each situation had to be weighed against God’s love and desire for good. Jesus, Himself came with the authority of God, the Father, to proclaim this shift. No wonder the people of his hometown were terrified and enraged and tried to throw him off a cliff in response to such blasphemy!

In no place was that fragmentation more apparent than in the Church in Corinth. While the Corinthians were caught up in playing “I’m better than you”, they missed the miracle of their baptism – the miracle that united them into more than the family of Jesus – but rather into the very personhood, the body of Christ. Paul speaks of the mystery here that we are each of us different and yet each essential in our own special way.

God values and deliberately created our different-ness and it is through finding our union with God and relationship with one another that we honor God. We who are many are one because we share one bread and one cup.

Let me put that a little differently: I believe God rejoices in diversity. After all, why else would SHE have created snowflakes. Now we who live in Los Angeles only know them as a rumor but they do actually exist – those tiny frozen crystal miracles that fall from the sky and are gone or blurred in the blinking of an eye. There are billions of them that join together to cover much the earth each winter – and yet – no two are ever alike. We know this because of a young boy named Willie Bentley who believed that snowflakes were miracles. Born on a dairy farm in Vermont in 1865, Willie had a passion for capturing the beauty of these amazing creations. As a child he carefully placed hundreds of snowflakes one-at-a-time under a microscope his mother gave him and hurriedly tried to draw them before they melted away. When he was a teenager his parents, who were simple hard-working farmers, made the immense decision to spend their entire life savings to buy Willie a camera which had its own microscope attached. The camera they sacrificed so to buy him changed everything but not over-night. It took him two years to get one good picture. People ridiculed his efforts. But he kept going. In faithfulness and joy he continued photographing snowflakes for the rest of his life. At the age of sixty, Snowflake Bentley’s book of photographs was finally published. It was his gift to people so they could see for themselves the beauty that they would otherwise never have known. Universities all over the world used his research and carry it forward today. It is because of the Snowflake Man that we can say for certain that no two snowflakes are alike.

If God takes that much care with a snowflake, then what of each of us?..The Creator made us human beings – each and every single one of us unique from the tip of our fingers to the core of our cellular DNA. God created us – each – as a special unique individual. The Creator did it deliberately. SHE knew exactly what SHE was doing – because as different as we are, as alone and lonely, we are each of us united as a child of God’s with the same “God stuff” filling us.

We each have a role to play, a job to do, a calling…

God calls to each of us

It is in being faithful to that call, faithful to the reality of our relationship with God and each other that we become one as God intended us to be.

God calls to each of us.

Rev. Dr. Gwynne M. Guibord
St. Thomas the Apostle of Hollywood Episcopal Church
25 January 2004

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