Archive for January, 2020

“Here you are,” (Sermon, January 26th 2020)

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.’

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.

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.

Matthew 4: 12-23

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

This live version of the hymn was recorded at Lummi Island in 2018.

This was just one of the songs I spent last weekend recording with American sacred songwriter Rachael Weasley and others at First Congregational Church of Bellingham in Washington state. The song was written with help from the church’s youth group, who had been discussing the challenge of finding imagery for God that resonated with them. In their annoyance, confusion, and deep longing for the divine, their new prayer arose in a rather amazing statement of near theological perfection:

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

I say perfect because of its spaciousness, Scriptural integrity, deeply mature humility, and lack of ostentation. It’s also an excellent creedal statement of the Incarnation: despite all of your vast un-name-ability, here you are.

Leave it to a group of frustrated teenagers to come up with a solid candidate for this millennium’s version of “Jesus is Lord.”

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

All of the songs we sang that weekend have been bouncing around in my head for days, but this one in particular echoed through my reading of this week’s Gospel passage.

Jesus withdraws to Capernaum and begins the holy work. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus, Matthew writes, is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that things will change for the oppressed. The land of death no longer has dominion. Dawn has come. We were sitting here lost in the dark, and suddenly we’re confronted with a vision of something utterly new, a vision before which wise ones kept reverent silence, a vision of eternity clothed in something as ordinary as the flesh of a man.

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

What other explanation could there be for what happens next? Jesus walks along the shore, casting his own line, baited with little more than a cryptic promise: “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” What? Put yourself there – how would you respond? “Okay…” But Matthew insists that this was not the response. The response, instead, was immediate and wordless. They leave right in the middle of the work and follow. We don’t even hear what Jesus says to the sons of Zebedee. “And he called them.” That’s it? “Heeey!” Did he know their names? They just leave their father behind and follow. This is utter nonsense. It’s weird enough hearing it with our ears, but those listening to this story when it was first being told would have been even more scandalized. You do not leave your father and your family business behind. You do not leave your family behind. Your family is your touchstone, your reason for existing, your source of identity. Your family is everything.

But they did leave.

Jesus is utterly irresistible.

Why? Matthew is coy about that. Note that he doesn’t describe Jesus physically, so we can reasonably assume that he was probably an ordinary-looking dude. And as we just established, Jesus doesn’t win them over with promises of wealth or breathtaking theological discourse. They aren’t even invited to be baptized. They aren’t instructed to give professions of faith.

Just, “Follow me.”

Like Heidi noted last week, the only way they could even explain it to one another was just to say, “Come and see.”

How mesmerizing this person must have been.

Next thing we know, Jesus is moving all through Galilee and Syria, teaching in synagogues but also healing and giving instruction among Gentiles. He’s so captivating that huge crowds start to follow him around without even needing to be invited. His response, in the next chapter, is to sit on a mountain and teach the Beatitudes – good news indeed. He gives them precious truths to hold onto, he tells them they are loved and valued by God, and all this is what we expect from our teacher.

But this all happens later. This is all testament to his presence.

Have you ever known someone like this? I know people who come close to it, people who I could listen to for hours, people whose presence makes time feel meaningless, people who I would help in exciting and maybe risky endeavours just because of how enthralling they were.

But someone for whom I would drop everything and follow before even knowing their name, just because of a glance and a weird line? I’ve never met someone like that.

Maybe it’s been different for you, maybe not. I think all of us can agree that whether we’ve experienced it or not, it’s rare.

What a lightning bolt moment for these disciples, then. And indeed, a crossroads moment for the scope of human history. Funny how those things seem to happen so capriciously.

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

What we have to admit to ourselves, though, whether we respond to this with skepticism or a sense of familiarity, is that we left our nets and came here this morning. It may not feel that way now or ever, but it’s true. I know this community well enough to know that it would be disingenuous to refer to your presence here as a “habit.” It’s not like biting your nails or smoking or eating the last potato chip, where you might look down and suddenly discover, “Uh-oh, I went on autopilot again!” Even the least discerning incidentally Christian person makes a conscious decision to get up, get dressed, and embark on their commute to church. And indeed, perhaps this perfect, beautiful creed is for them and their uncertainty just as much as for any of us.

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”

Perhaps on some days we are sustained in this place just as much by our uncertainty as our certainty, just as much by our spontaneity as by our routine, just as much by our foolishness as by our intelligence, just as much by our doubt as by our faith. We might think of this place as an anchor that grounds us in time and gives us stability in stormy and calm seas – but maybe just as we are anchored, we too are a type of anchor, not just for one another and those who are seeking, but even for the incomprehensible Holy One, whose shadow we can barely see riding the glowing surface far above our heads, tethered to us by a beautiful if rusty chain of mortality and myth.

We don’t know what’s up there, but we can see it’s something, and it’s utterly captivating, and we want to know more about it. We want to climb up that chain hand over hand, pulling our own weight behind us, up into light and all of the exquisite risk that comes alongside it. We want to even though we know that it will completely change us and we won’t be able to dictate how.

In the smouldering dawn of this deeply seductive presence, logic centres go offline, and wonder is ignited.

Sounds terrifying.

And it probably was to those first disciples too. But unlike most risks, this one comes with a promise: abiding presence that never lets us go.

“I don’t know what to call you, but here you are. I don’t know what to call you, but here you are.”