The Way of Love: Turn
The Way of Love: Turn
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on January 13, 2019
You know that you’ve been in that space where your mind is in high gear, thinking of all that you have to do, maybe you’re running behind and thinking about how you’re going to catch up. Or you’re right on time (amazing!) thinking about how you can stay that way. You’re dealing with the plague of “busy,” maybe even in a busy location like the grocery store or your workplace or even your home. And in the midst of that million-miles-an-hour moment, you hear it.
Maybe it booms at you. Maybe it’s gentle. Maybe it’s right next to you or it’s far away. But you hear it. And it rattles you out of thinking about what’s next and into the present moment, to turn your attention to where you are being called. It’s easier, of course, if the person steps right in front of you and says, “Hello there!” But that’s not usually how it happens, nor is it the point.
The point is that we have to focus our attention in the direction we are being called and sort out how it is that we respond. Whether it is an old friend who sees you across a crowded street or a neighbor at the other end of the grocery store aisle or a child or grandchild in another part of the house, we are suddenly faced with a choice or two when our name is heard. Do we ignore it and continue on or do we pause, listen, and turn to where the voice is calling? And how is it different when it is God who seeks our attention?
Today we being a series of sermons on The Way of Love, practices for a Jesus-Centered Life. This was introduced by our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, during General Convention this past summer. It is a movement that has been building through the Episcopal Church since July. It is even getting some good attention from other branches of the Jesus Movement, too. The Way of Love has brought together Christian Formation specialists and experts from across the church, both lay and ordained, providing resources equipping Episcopalians to keep our focus on Jesus and his example and teachings in ways that as a church we, honestly, haven’t been great at over the years. Our sermons over the next seven weeks will look at a different practice of the Way of Love and it that in with our Scripture of the day.
Epiphany is a prime time to look at all the practices of the Way of Love because it is a season that reminds us Jesus is found in some of the places and people we might least expect. In fact, those are the very places that Jesus should most clearly shine, and yet we so often fail to see him. My hope is that this Epiphany season we will all be able to see Jesus more clearly both in our own lives and in the the lives of all those whom we encounter.
Today’s word and practice is TURN, the practice of pausing, listening, and choosing to follow Jesus.
I started with the image of hearing your name in a busy place and a busy time. It is most often those moments when we need the distraction and the reorientation to focus ourselves on what may be more important than what we are currently doing. But we still have a choice to make about whether or not we will pause and turn to listen for where that voice came from. No matter who it was, it’s going to disrupt what we were doing. Even if we make the choice to ignore it, we have been disrupted.
John the Baptizer was also a disrupter. I’m not totally sure he set out to do that, but the result is somewhat inevitable if your calling is to prepare the way for one greater than you. His message of a Baptism of Repentance disrupted plenty of people; so many, in fact, that people came out in droves to be Baptized by him. The idea of a ritual bath or cleansing had deep roots in Jewish tradition, so in that regard, John wasn’t doing anything new. He was just not letting people off the hook, thinking it was a “get out of jail free” card, that forgiveness called for a change, a turn of your whole heart and mind and life.
Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism is the shortest on details compared to the other Gospels. And there is always debate among theologians about WHY Jesus was Baptized and WHAT it meant. The most important meaning for us as we read it on this Sunday is that it marked a turning point in Jesus’ own life and the beginning of his earthly ministry. There is an 18-year skip between when Jesus is in the temple as a child and now. The very next verse after today’s reading says, “Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his work” (Luke 3:23).
From that time on, people began to turn and follow Jesus, maybe for a long while. Maybe a short while. But there is something about him, about what he’s teaching and the example he’s giving of the ways in which God’s love is seen in the words of Scripture and in the way he treats those on the margins of society, which is the way God demands all of us to treat those on the margins. There is something so incredibly attractive that people want to see what this is all about. So they pause what they are doing, the same way we pause when we hear our name in a crowd, and they listen to what Jesus had to say. What Jesus offered was different, and way, way better, than what the world had to offer. There were people for whom the message of Jesus was just too much to bear and they walked away. But for others, it was so compelling that they made a choice to follow Jesus. Not just to admire him, but to follow. Not just to think he was the latest and greatest, but to follow him and to model their lives after him, to not just ask “What would Jesus do” but to actually do it.
Those who followed Jesus then, those who followed Jesus in the early days after his Resurrection, like we hear about in our Acts reading today, and those who follow Jesus in the 21st Century have something very much in common: It is an active choice. There can be no passive “if I have time,” ”if it’s what my friends are doing,” “if it fits my life” followers of Jesus. That’s the “turn” part of this Way of Love. That we move and orient our lives to follow Jesus.
Just as John called people to an authentic repentance, Jesus calls us to an intentional way of living that seeks the welfare of all as the highest priority; an intentional way that reminds us we cannot love our neighbor if we don't love God and we cannot love God if we don’t love our neighbor. Part of being a follower of Jesus means that we make the choice on a daily and weekly basis to keep on following and that we live our lives in a way that people will know who we are and whose we are and want to follow with us.
There is plenty of noise in the world and more than enough to keep us from having our eyes and ears and hearts on Jesus. May we hear the call of our name so that every day, we can pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus, and may our lives invite others to do the same.