Year B; 3 Epiphany; FB.1.24.2021
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
“Will you go where you DON’T KNOW and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown?
Will you let my Name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”
This beautiful, lilting, smooth and melodic hymn from the Iona Community seems to gently beckon us closer and closer to the gentleness of Jesus’ love. Our response seems like it could be an easy stroll along the shore with Jesus as we lay down what we were doing, our nets, our repairs, our lives, get up and take a walk toward the compelling voice that says, “Follow me.”
But we would be making a mistake if we thought this gentle moment in Mark’s gospel and created in this hymn was a choice to live the easy life. There is that one, little phrase that appears in all five verses of the hymn that is persistent and true. It expands on the two words, “Follow me” by asking, “Will you go where don’t know and never be the same?” It might be a question coming from Jesus’ lips as he strolls along the shore and introduces a hint of sacrifice in his call to follow him.
“Will you venture into the unknown with me? Will you be ready to open yourself to accept the call and let it do a transforming number on your soul? “
I almost wish the call to follow Jesus was just “follow me” and nothing more. I don’t think I want to know that ominous forces are present: the tempter Satan lurking in the wilderness. The demonic tyrant Herod arresting the voice of integrity and truth, John the Baptist. That arrest couldn’t have been a good sign.
Temptation and arrest are the two stories that immediately precede Jesus’ recruitment of Peter, Andrew, James and John. He knew he was forming a new kind of community of God, and he needed that community to reach out to others with words of God’s love, not Satan’s cunning.
So, in a way, the next thing that Jesus does isn’t really a stroll along the shore casually calling some very nice fishermen who were making a good living in the family business to follow him. Jesus is “summoning” them urgently to his side. He knows first-hand of the demonic forces that threaten to “…corrupt and destroy the creatures of God…”
Not only is he calling for “back-up” to Peter, Andrew, James and John. He is offering them a community that is centered in the love of God on earth as it is in heaven. And he is offering them a new way of “becoming.” “Be a fisher of people, and we will create a community of heaven, run by God’s love here on earth.”
But there are risks. Demons lurk. Reading the next story after Peter, Andrew, James and John join him, they enter the synagogue where they encounter a man with a demon. That demon knew exactly who Jesus was, and in an accusing voice shouts, “Are you going to destroy me, Son of God?” But if we read closely, we can hear behind the shout, a voice that has desperation in it. “Help me.” Jesus casts out the demon and the man is healed.
Fundamental to a community that commits itself to following Jesus is not only a commitment to a life of love and trust that God will be with us when God calls us to “go where we don’t know.” The community also commits itself to forgive and be forgiven and to stand against injustices which are the demonic forces of our day.
St. Paul’s, Brunswick, Maine is such a community. I’ve witnessed how we have lived these values each day, and even more so, during the challenges of the pandemic, the horrors of systemic racism and the wide division of this country that revealed unbridled violence to perpetuate the election lie. We have lived apart to be safe from a deadly virus, but we’ve still loved each other and cared for the needy in all this year’s chaos.
I invite you to read the 2020 Annual Report to learn just how faithfully and lovingly we have carried out the Good News this year!
One of the places we go as a community to refresh our call to follow Jesus is our baptismal covenant. Just two weeks ago we renewed our vows. There is a word we use in that covenant that seems strong and maybe a little old-fashioned to our modern 21st century ears. That word is a verb, to “Renounce.” Jesus calls us to actively renounce injustices and evil forces. And, make no mistake, these forces are alive and well this very day!
I remember the instruction I was giving a young family and godparents before the baptism of their newborn, an adorable child of God if ever there was one. (They all are!!) I had opened the Book of Common Prayer to the vows of Baptism that they were to say on behalf of the infant.
I introduced Holy Baptism as a sacred, once-in-a-lifetime ritual with holy water that symbolizes God’s unbroken love for the newborn. I explained that after the godparents present the child for baptism, the first thing that happens are the three renunciations and three affirmations. I then gingerly introduced these ancient statements and said that they are passed down to us from the very earliest Christian forms of baptism.
Now, this was a very sophisticated New Jersey family. Highly educated and stylish. And shame on me that I underestimated their faith!!
I said, “You might think this is strange as we sit here in a twenty-first Century urban parish, but at the beginning of the ritual I will ask you to renounce three things, Satan, and the evil corrupting powers of the world, and sinful desires.” I said, “these are important things to renounce because every one of them takes us away from the goodness and love of God.”
I paused, kind of expecting them to do an eye-roll or a snicker. “Satan, really? Evil, Really??”
But there was silence. Finally, the young godmother said, “It’s such a relief to know that our faith stands so strongly against evil when we are always surrounded by it.”
As followers of Jesus, we stand together against these forces. And when those times of weakness and being weighed down by the forces tempt us away, or we are just plumb tired of being tired of it, our community stands in for us, and our God calls us back to repent and receive God’s love… again and again and again.
Dear friends in Christ. We will be marking another year together as we meet during the Annual Meeting at Noon on Zoom. Though our building and in-person worship have been closed, we have followed Jesus, thrived and have come out stronger, more loving and even joyful.
We are definitely not the same as when we started the year 2020. But we believe, just as those first disciples believed, that when Jesus calls us, our lives will never the same.
And so, I wonder, beloved disciples of Jesus, how has your life changed?