The Third Sunday After the Epiphany
January 21, 2018
Trinity Episcopal Church
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”
The other day I saw a funny cartoon on Facebook. It depicted a conversation between Mr. & Mrs. Jonah. In the word bubble over her head were these remarks, “You are gone for three days. Then you come home smelling like fish, and tell me some crazy tale about a whale. What am I supposed to think?” As anyone who has a fisher in the family knows, fishers are not the most reliable of persons when it comes to telling the truth about really happens during a fishing trip!
When one reads the Gospel of Mark, there can be the sense that one is on what the French call a “TGV” or a “Train à Grande Vitesse.” On these high-speed trains, it certainly feels as if though things are progressing very quickly. I once road one from Paris to Bordeaux. It was an amazing experience—and it was very fast!
The feeling of high-speed that one finds in Mark can be a good thing. Above all else, it reminds us that the Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark can be read quickly. In fact, when I was in Seminary, one of the assignments which we were given was to sit down and to read this Gospel from beginning to end in one session. I assure you that it is possible to do this—and, in fact, encourage you to give it a try. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . . .”
It seems that it was just yesterday that we heard the account of the Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan—which for Mark shows as the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Then too, we are still in the “Sundays after the Epiphany.” So the account of the Adoration of the Magi at Bethlehem (from the Infancy Narrative of Matthew) still rings in our ears. We might well be tempted to take a few minutes to reflect on what those intriguing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh have to tell us about the ways in which this “Public Ministry” of our Lord will unfold.
Scripture Scholars and theologians like to speak of the “Three-fold ministry” of Jesus. In this view, he is depicted as “Priest” (represented by the gift of frankincense—because, for the People of Israel, a priest offered sacrifice to God); “Prophet,” (represented by the gift of myrrh—because, sadly, prophets were often killed for speaking God’s truth and myrrh was used to anoint the body at the time of burial); and “King,” (represented by the gift of gold—the crown was often made of gold. Remember too that lovely line from Psalm 45:9 “at your right-hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.”).
The Christian Church, in reflecting on the mission of Our Lord, concluded that Jesus was a Priest who inaugurated the life of Grace which is found in the Sacraments. He is also seen as both “Priest and Victim” through his passion, death and resurrection. He is viewed as the Prophet who announces God’s vision that each person is created in God’s own image and so is worthy of Love. Dignity, and Respect. He is seen as the Servant-King who lovingly inaugurates God’s kingdom. A kingdom which is already present, but not yet complete. A kingdom which will come to its fulfillment through his ministry—and the ministry of those who labor with him.
The account of the call of those first Disciples—and Apostles makes clear an essential point. From the very beginning, the ministry of Jesus was one which takes place in the context of Community. In fact, we are told, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the choice of the person who was to replace Judas Iscariot would be determined by one important fact–that he had been present from the very beginning of the ministry of the Lord.
Over the centuries, a great deal of thought has been given to the “Call to Discipleship of the Twelve.” There is even a special word used to describe this—derived from the Latin root for “Call” or “Calling.” That word is “Vocation.” It is a very good thing to reflect on the accounts of the Calling of the Twelve and on the role which they came to play in guiding our Community of Faith. If we only think of them, though, we miss out on something even more important—we miss out on our own vocation, we fail to hear and respond to our own calling!
Years ago, the understanding of “vocation” was a narrow one. It was one which appeared to be given to only a few. In those days, men—and only men—were believed to be called to the Vocation of the Ordained Ministry—to Serve the People of God as Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. And while both women and men might be called to a vowed life as Religious Sisters and Brothers, it meant that they were automatically called to a life of chastity and of celibacy. Sadly, most lay people thought that the only vocation to which they might be called was to matrimony. I do not in any way wish to lessen the beauty, importance, and significance of Holy Matrimony! But, I do think it sad that many were led to believe that choosing to love and to share their life with another person meant that they would automatically be excluded from any other role in the life of the Church.
Here I choose to hold my tongue regarding other associated issues: the gift of sexual expression, gender, gender-identity, and LGBT identity. I will also refrain from comments about the sad ways in which race was used to determine who might and could not have a vocation.
While the Protestant Reformation opened the door to the possibility of understanding “vocation” in a more holistic, inclusive, and realistic way, it took many centuries to understand two important realities: every vocation is primarily rooted in the Sacrament of Baptism, and every vocation is rooted in Community.
From my own perspective, the single greatest contribution which the Anglican-Episcopal Tradition has produced is our understanding that in Baptism each and every person is called to share in the three-fold ministry of Christ. Every single person who is baptized is “Priest, Prophet and Ruler.” Just the other day, I commented that the single most important line that I saw in a parish bulletin said—oddly enough, after a list of all the clergy— “Ministers: All the Baptized.” Now I really like that it did not say, “All Baptized Members of this Congregation,” or “All Baptized Episcopalians.” It did not even say, “All Baptized Adults!” Wow, every baptized person of any age has a vocation!
For me, what all this means is spelled out—at least in the essentials—in our Baptismal Covenant. Some other time I hope to have the opportunity to further explore with you the implications of those words.
For now, though, I want to focus on one primary observation. It is my own understanding that the Sacramental Life and the ordained Ministry in the Church are primarily designed to empower the laity to exercise their own Ministry in the World.
After all, the laity live, work and minister every day to people who may never meet a Religious, a Deacon, a Priest, or a Bishop. And many of them will never enter the doors of a Church Building. It is the baptized “alter-Christus” or “Other Christ” who will preach the Gospel through their Words and Deeds. And it is this Baptized person, “Sealed as God’s Own Forever,” who will invite others to come and follow the Lord in the Community of Faith. For my money, that is an exceedingly valuable calling and vocation.
From that number, of course, some will receive additional and subsequent callings. Thankfully, we live in a blessed moment in which race, gender, sexual orientation and marital status are no longer viewed as impediments or roadblocks to answering these calls.
Our prayer to “welcome the newly baptized” is one that we might choose to pray—for ourselves and others–each day, as we each seek to say “Yes,” to God’s call:
“Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”