Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 21, 2018
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Leap of Faith

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today we continue on our fast-paced journey, breathlessly running to catch up with Mark’s Jesus, as we witness the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the calling of his first disciples.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, an Italian film director, made a film called The Gospel according to St. Matthew. In an early scene of the movie, Jesus walks at a brisk pace - almost a jog down a road. Some farmers traveling in the opposite direction stop to look at him, and as he passes by, he says almost over his shoulder “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand” and just keeps going. Jesus is on a mission, and he’s not slowing down.

In our passage from Mark, Jesus passes by two sets of brothers and calls them to be fishers of men. They leave their boats and their nets. No discussion or explanation, no agonizing over a pro and cons list, no negotiation, no packing, no contingency plans, no good-byes to family and friends. One commentator says: “One pictures Zebedee [the father of James and John] standing in his boat with his mouth open in surprise as his sons leave.”

At the end of this week, I co-led a retreat for Episcopal Church Women from the Diocese of Michigan and the Eastern Diocese of Michigan. Our retreat was called: “Wonder Woman: How God sees us and how we see ourselves”.

In this retreat, we explored the hero’s journey, which describes the underlying plot of a broad range of stories from a variety of traditions about heroes, that was popularized by comparative mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell.

We used an adapted version of the journey, which consisted of three phases. The 3 phases of the hero’s journey are: Awareness, Change and Renewal. The Awareness phase of the journey describes how the hero comes into contact with some new insight or information and has choices about whether to embark on that call to adventure or to stay in the status quo.

The last step of the phase of Awareness, is the leap of faith. The hero takes a leap of faith, not knowing what lies on the other side. They jump from the ordinary world into unexplored, new territory. The leap of faith is a choice that the hero makes, a choice that affirms their commitment to following a call despite the uncertainty of what that future holds.

Mark makes it seem as though James, John, Andrew and Peter took a leap of faith in response to Jesus’ call, without skipping a beat. They did not balk at the chasm that lay before them - the chasm separating the known from the unknown. Although we know that later on, the disciples will experience doubt and confusion about Jesus’ identity, mission and ministry, and therefore their own identities, mission and ministries.

Joseph Campbell also makes a distinction between adventures that we choose and adventures that choose us.

We might choose the adventure of marriage, or the adventure of discerning a vocation. But we might also be chosen for the adventures of caregiving for a loved one, or changes in employment beyond our control or challenges to our health.

What all these adventures have in common is their invitation to us. They invite us to make choices about what kind of spirit we bring to meet these adventures.

At the retreat this weekend, I heard many stories of pain and disappointment, and many stories about resilience and faith.

One participant said that she began running later in life, and had set herself the goal of running a certain number of marathons by the time she reached her 60th birthday. One of the marathons she ran was the Boston marathon. She was about half a mile away from the finish line when the bomb went off in 2013, preventing her from finishing the race. Shortly after that traumatic experience she was diagnosed with cancer and began chemo.

The organizers of the Boston Marathon invited starters in the 2013 Boston Marathon who were past the half-marathon mark but were unable to cross the finish line because the race was stopped early, back to the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Throughout that year she trained, even through the sickness and discomfort of chemo. She took an hour longer than her usual time. But she finished the race. When those two adventures chose her, she encountered them with a spirit of discipline, resilience and determination.

Another retreatant told us that she had received an unpromising cancer diagnosis in her 70s. The prognosis was uncertain. She decided to undergo surgery, accepting that she might not make it, feeling at peace with her life and the possibility of death. She recovered and was grateful that she did, but she brought a spirit of peace and acceptance to that adventure in her life that chose her.

I have to admit, I find these stories so poignant and inspiring because I know that I am not always good at encountering adventures and forks in the road on my journey with these positive qualities.

Sometimes I fight against the circumstances, I complain, I ask why and analyse things over and over even when often there’s  nothing that reason can do to change the reality of these adventures. Especially the ones that choose me.

And I think I’m in good company. Look at Jonah! Our Old Testament reading today starts off with: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…”

Let’s review what happened when the word of the Lord came to Jonah the first time. When God invites Jonah on his first adventure to Nineveh, Jonah runs in exactly the opposite direction, hides in the hold of a ship, hoping God wouldn’t notice and ends up being thrown overboard by the sailors. He gets swallowed by a big fish, and is thrown up back on the shore.

Our Old Testament reading today is God’s second invitation to Jonah. This time he does the bare minimum to fulfill God’s request. He ventures one third of the way into the city and preaches the shortest sermon ever: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”. Ok God - did what you told me to - I’m done! See ya!

Much to his annoyance, his sermon is incredibly effective - the people of Nineveh repent and God changes God’s mind about punishing them. Jonah storms off and sulks at God, resentful that God’s mercy extends to an Assyrian city, part of that brutal empire.

He struggles with the adventures that choose him, and brings his stubbornness, his lack of desire to respond to God, and questions about God’s purposes to his journey. Nevertheless, God doesn’t give up and chooses to continue to work with Jonah.

This weekend marks the conclusion of the 11.15am service, and next weekend will mark the conclusion of the 5.30pm service. Depending on how you interpret these changes, you may feel like these adventures have been chosen by us as a community, or you may feel like this is an adventure that has chosen this community, or perhaps a mix of both.

Either way, there may be sadness, anger, confusion and all the feelings that come with change.

Either way, we as a community have choices about the spirit that we bring to this adventure.

Either way, we are all part of the body of Christ, a community knit together by the gift of God’s love and the promise to share that love with ourselves, one another and the world.

Sometimes we might be Andrew, Peter, James and John - dropping everything to follow Jesus’ call - completely trusting that God will lead us where we need to go, that God will provide the grace sufficient for today, and that that grace is indeed sufficient. Other times, we might follow in Jonah’s footsteps, struggling and getting angry with God, or convincing God to consider better alternatives to the adventure presented to us.

The beautiful thing about the spiritual community - is that when we are Jonahs, there will be Andrews, Peters, Jameses and Johns to inspire us with courage and trust so that we can follow where Jesus leads.

And we can trust that where Jesus leads, there will be a deepening of our purpose and expansion of our hearts, leading us to love, peace and wholeness.

May God kindle the courage in our hearts to follow where Jesus leads, and to take the leap of faith, when we are called to do so, relying on God’s grace to carry us through. Amen.