Year A Epiphany 3; 1.26.2020, Annual Meeting
“Tu has venido a la orilla” “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore.”
This was the very favorite hymn of the Spanish speaking Saturday night congregation at Grace Church, Plainfield, New Jersey. They loved to sing it and sang it every week to the music of a young Guatemalan man on the guitar. They felt an intimacy in Christ’s presence and the joy that a common worker, a fisherman could have been called by Christ to follow him.
Randy selected this song for us to sing this morning based on the wonderful story of call we just heard in Matthew’s gospel. The words tell the story of the calling of the four fisher folk to a life of godliness and friendship. Jesus said, “Come. Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John left their nets and went with Jesus for the promise of godly friendships and a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
This Spanish hymn we will sing during communion expands the gospel story to help us grasp the nature of the calling. Here is the English translation of the first verse and refrain of this call to discipleship:
“Lord, you have come to the lakeshore
Looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
You only asked me to follow you humbly.”
It is in the refrain that we experience the elements of Jesus’ call so compelling that these four fisher folk abandon what they are doing and follow him.
“O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing…”
Kindly smiling you have spoken my name:
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me:
By your side I will seek other seas.”
A Spanish Roman Catholic priest wrote this hymn from his personal prayer life and calling in the 1960s in answer the Vatican Council’s Liturgical Renewal Movement. In singing the hymn, Jesus comes close to us, our eyes gently meet, he smiles kindly and then calls us the sweetest thing ever – he calls us by name.
I’ve always wondered what kind of connection Jesus needed to make for me to drop everything and follow him. This refrain instructs me and helps me reflect on some of the best interactions I’ve had in my life. Take a moment to think about the most meaningful interactions you’ve ever had in your life. They are the ones in which afterward we say, “I felt great chemistry!” “Gosh, she gets me!” “It felt like we’ve known each other for years.” “I instantly trusted him.” “We truly are kindred spirits.”
Let’s look at the refrain in English more closely to discover what things we imagine Jesus did to compel Peter and Andrew and James and John to make a reversal of their lives.
“O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing”
That’s the first thing: EYE CONTACT.
Sometimes I’ll ask the children and teens at 9:30 Eucharist to pause during the Peace and the shaking of my hand to look me in the eyes. They are a little shy to do it. But when they do, it feels like a little barrier is broken through.
“O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing, kindly smiling…”
So, eye contact and a gentle smile. What a beautiful, human combination: eye contact and a smile! I wonder if it’s possible to muster a smile to someone, even if we don’t feel like it. What tiny impact might that have in building a friendship?
“O Lord, in my eyes you were gazing, kindly smiling, my name you were saying.”
So, eye contact, a gentle smile and the thing every single human being loves to hear, their own name being said. It acknowledges our existential being on earth and validates each of us in the eyes of the person who is calling us by name.
The refrain to the hymn expands Matthew’s gospel story to show us that Jesus is saying, “I’m inviting you to look beyond your work and to all the possibilities God has for a new life; to make new friends and to share in the love of a godly life with others.”
I have an activity for us to try. You might think it’s a little hokey. I’m going to try it because we are here in the Great Hall where in these seats and not pews we have greater proximity to each other. We aren’t bound by the pews in the Nave and we have a naturally more relaxed “vibe” in here.
So, here is our assignment for the activity: Turn to your neighbor sitting next to you and whether or not you know them, share your name and ask for theirs. Look them in the eye and smile. Gently gaze at each other to establish a connection. Some therapists have couples do this in couples counseling! It can feel a little uncomfortable, even with someone you know! That’s ok. You don’t have to stay with the gaze too long. It’s not meant to be “creepy!” So now, give your partner a smile.
Before you break your gaze and your smile, say to your partner, “NN, God invites you to share in his love.” Let’s try it just sitting here. “NN, God invites you to share in his love.”
One of the gifts we know God has given St. Paul’s is the gift of welcome and hospitality. Last year the Vestry discerned that we could build on this gift and we have organized through a great network of ministries the offering of fellowship after each worship service on Sundays. Thanks to Nancy Whitehouse and Caroline Russell, who designed it, one of the gifts of hospitality we now have is a well-functioning, birthday-based volunteer sign-up for coffee hour after each service.
And to point ourselves outward to be an inviting presence in our neighborhood, the St. Paul’s sabbatical grant writing committee wrote in the budget the purchase of a picnic table. We now have the Lily Foundation grant to buy a picnic table and offer “Coffee on the Corner” this summer to the many people walking along Pleasant and Union Streets. Probably, we won’t try it now in the snow!
Imagine the possibilities for eye contact, for smiling and for sharing our names with our neighbors! Just for a brief moment, the invitation to listen, to share our name with a stranger connects us with the compelling love that Jesus had when he called the fishermen to follow him.
As divisions grow deeper and deeper in this country, what if Jesus is calling us to bridge the divisions in our neighborhood by practicing the way Jesus connected with his neighbors? Eye contact, a gentle smile, an exchange of names.