In every circumstance, we Christians are meant to be listening for and discerning God’s call to us. Like any relationship, genuinely listening to your partner is important. When your partner is God, what they have to say comes with rather a lot of weight attached. Careful listening is important, no matter how patient and willing to wait God might be.
Sometimes God calls us directly to action. As we heard in today’s gospel passage, Jesus approached Andrew and Simon, calling them to leave their nets and follow him. Later, the same way with James and John. Leave your nets and follow me; I will make you fishers of people. If only God’s call were as clear and concise as that every time. I have said many times in many contexts—not just a moment ago—that it is important to always be listening and discerning God’s call to us. Prayer should be to the Christian like breathing and, of course, prayer is as much listening as it is talking. We are likely, for all sorts of good reasons, to assume that we are the main character in any story in which we find ourselves. If God is calling to me it must be because I matter most in this equation. Unfortunately for our egos, this is seldom the case. For one Jesus there are twelve apostles and scores of disciples.
Someone needs to be the Roman centurion with the sick slave or the man who provides the colt that Jesus needs. There are certainly times when we are, indeed, the main character in the moment. And the Body of Christ which we, collectively are is God’s great love and concern. But frequently, when God calls to us, it is more like the call to the magi: a call to be watchful and to respond to what God is doing around us.
Faithful response to God’s work around us is an easy calling to miss. We see the disciples and other onlookers of Jesus’s ministry do it time and again in scripture. Jesus heals on the sabbath and, rather than responding to a life-giving miracle from God, he is criticized for breaking a rule. Jesus, while waiting for his friends to return, has a conversation with an outcast woman at a well and, rather than recognizing the miracle of hospitality and friendship he has extended, his friends criticize him for transgressing cultural boundaries. Jesus attends the home of his friend Lazarus, recently dead, and weeps for him; rather than seeing the approach of Jesus as the coming of life and healing and praying “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; speak the word only and my soul shall be healed,” instead Martha says “Where were you? If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died!” So often God calls us to respond to what God is doing around us and, so often, we miss the call because we see only what God is doing to us.
So often we expect God to send us signs and callings in the ways that we hope they will appear. Angels in the sky or someone wearing a nametag that clearly identifies them as a prophet. Unfortunately for us, God seldom works this way. God calls the people and the voices at the times and places and that they are needed. God calls according to God’s wisdom and this does not always—perhaps very seldom—aligns with our idea of what God needs. I can promise that Andrew, Simon, James, and John did not expect a passing rabbi to stop and call them from their lives into the whirlwind of ministry, mystery, divine revelation, and martyrdom that their lives would become. And I am certain that if someone had ask a first-century Judean what sort of people the Messiah should recruit to the cause, they would not have identified fishermen, tax collectors, and Roman persecutors as likely candidates. But God calls those who God desires and our role is not to judge God’s choices, but to respond in faith.
There has been much conversation this past week about the Church of England and the information about the agenda for its General Synod coming up this year. It had been widely rumoured and hoped by many that on the agenda would be a discussion about marriage, specifically the marriage of same-gendered couples. It came out this week that there will be no such discussion. There are a few proposed blessings for same-gender civil unions on the table which read as rather back-handed concessions, spending more time on a clear articulation of what they are and are not blessing rather than any actual imparting of goodwill, peace, or, as one might have hoped, blessing. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, released a statement when this information came out, trying to address the backlash from the public who saw it as regressive, hateful, and short-sighted. Especially after similar bait-and-switch at the Lambeth Conference this past summer. Unfortunately, Welby’s comments in no way addressed the people harmed by these actions, instead making clear that he was opposed even to these provisions and sounding several dog whistles to those members of the Communion adamantly opposed to the inclusion of 2SLGBTQIA+ persons, letting them know that he is firmly in their camp.
In this news we see another retelling of a sad trope in the life of the Church: that of exclusion of those called by God to be part of the Body of Christ. In this telling of the story, it is 2SLGBTQIA+ people who are the woman at the well and the man healed on the sabbath. Those who God speaks to and are derided, ignored, or exiled by those who encounter them. But we have heard this a thousand times. In other executions of this trope it has been women, black, Indigenous, and people of colour, the divorced, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the enslaved, the list goes on and on and on. Time and again when God calls people to the Body of Christ because they are people with whom God is well pleased and who the Body of Christ needs, the Church turns them away. This is not the Good News of Christ.
May we, the Body of Christ in this place, always have the courage to welcome each and every person that God sends as though they were Christ at our door. May we have the faith to believe that God calls people to the Body both because they need Christ but also because we, who live in Christ, need them. May we be the city Isaiah speaks of, whose doors are always open, whose walls are Salvation and whose gates are Praise. May we dare to not only hear but live the Gospel.
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith on thenounproject.com