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Recent Sermons

Called Together

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
January 22, 2017

The lectionary followed by most Catholic and Protestant churches takes us from the baptism of Jesus last Sunday to the calling of the first disciples today. But that’s not how the story really goes! Jesus is led almost immediately after his baptism into the wilderness for 40 days and nights of temptation and hunger. He had to face his own shadow (and the brighter the light the darker the shadow) before he was ready to call friends to share the work with him. We save that story for the beginning of Lent when we are asked to face our own temptations that would lead us to avoid the greatest challenge of our faith: to take up our cross and follow him!

But today we walk down by the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful clear lake where men make a simple living as fishermen. On a sunny day the water can be crystal clear and smooth. The work they do takes energy but has a rhythm to it and feeds the family and the community.

Jesus has moved to Capernaum by the sea and now begins his ministry in earnest. He proclaims ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We talked last week about the word repent, meaning “to turn around, change direction, look clearly at where we are and where we need to go. This is exactly what John the Baptist taught. But Jesus adds what may seem an outrageous statement to what John taught. Jesus claims that “the kingdom (or reign) of heaven is at hand,” or “come near,” or as Luke will say in his gospel, “is within you!”

When was the last time you realized that the reign of heaven was right here, right now, within you, around you, your very being?

Perhaps Peter and Andrew and James and John experienced Jesus as a shining light of the great kingdom’s presence in their midst. Perhaps it was such a glorious and beautiful day that they knew their fathers could handle the boats without them and they were ready to make this amazing change, to begin this new adventure. But more likely they were aware of how critical this time was for their nation. As Rome was coming down hard on the people of Israel. Temple leadership was in the pocket of the government.

In this dark and raining season with so many reasons to feel worried about the future of our nation, and our planet, how can we imagine following Jesus if he calls. And he does call. Right now. This is the time.

Yesterday I was invited to speak at the Redwood City Rally in support of the Women’s March on Washington. It was an amazing day, with wonderful music and powerful speakers. We reminded each other that together we can stand for justice, practice love and learn from one another what we need to do to heal our wounded world. We reminded each other that we do not do it alone, we do not stand alone.

Jesus called disciples, students, friends, to work with him. He did not try to do it alone. He called them together so that together they could support one another, inspire one another, and work together to change the world.

On Monday many of us participated in the Martin Luther King Day of Service. Over 24 faith houses were represented. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Mormons all working side by side. They were teaching children to read, making crafts for children, making soup for the poor. repairing low-income schools and singing together and bringing flowers to seniors. In so many ways we worked to make this world a better place in honor of the teachings of Martin Luther King.

But one day a year just won’t do. We are called to follow Jesus into the challenges that are ahead in whatever ways we feel we can everyday. We need to repent, look around, see what needs doing and ask ourselves if we are willing to say yes. And we need to recognize that the spirit of heaven, the God who is in us and with us will provide the strength we need to answer that call. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! It is here right now.

Richard Rohr in his powerful book called “What the Mystics Know” tells us Jesus built circles, not pyramids!
         “Pyramids are always pyramids of sacrifice. Whether it is the            hundreds of thousands of slaves creating monuments to                                 Egyptian kings, the sacrificial victims offering their hearts to                       Aztec gods, or the underpaid maids and janitors in the tourist                            hotels of the world, someone always has to give his life or her                    life so that someone else can be ‘special.’…
         “Jesus struck at the nerve center of all these when he                                empowered honest human relationships instead of degrees of                          religious worthiness. Jesus built circles instead of pyramids.”

This community of faith is designed to be a circle of care and service. We are asked to offer our gifts into the work of the church, whether financial or creative,(and preferably both!), every offering of ourselves to others, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, allows us to be part of God’s work in our wounded world.
        
We are asked to be intentional, as Jesus and his disciples were intentional to find small circles of support that will encourage us to discover and use our gifts more effectively. to inspire us to do all that we can for our world.

That is what we do with our children as we courage them to discover their gifts and share them in our midst and grow in their faith. We need to be doing the same. Sunday morning services may feed your soul (I hope). But do they challenge you to do more? Are you discovering ways you can grow and serve?

Boards of Deacons, and Christian Education and Trustees and Social Action all need your creative energy and input. Are you doing all you can?

Bible Study and Book Studies allow us to stretch and question and grow in our faith. Do they call you to join?

Are there community projects and programs that might   inspire you to live out your faith more fully? I’ve joined a letter writing group. The League of Women Voters is open to all women and men who care about the values our democracy demands. What else?

We are not alone. We are never alone. God is always with us and within us. But when we aren’t feeling it, we can still reach out to others to kindred spirits who will remind us and encourage us, but we need to ask.

On Monday, one of the songs we sang for seniors was “You’ve        Got a Friend.” And these words touched me deeply:
         “If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
         and that old north wind should begin to blow,
         Keep your head together and call my name out loud.
         Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
         You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
         I'll come running to see you again.
         Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
         All you’ve got to do is call
         And I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
         You've got a friend.”
May we know we have a friend in Jesus and in one another. May we know we are called together to serve. Can I get an Amen?!