Click video below to view the full service video for Sunday, January 26, 2019, posted on our YouTube Channel
Jesus is walking down your street and looks you square in the eye, revealing, of course, that he actually sees you. Sees beneath the layers of accumulated responsibility, regret, success, all of it. He sees YOU- child of the divine. Then he says, “Follow me.” What next?
Reflection by Rev. Will Sparks
I have a troubled relationship in my life- my relationship with my cell phone. Actually that may just be a symptom of a more widespread troubled relationship I have with technology in general, but it’s the phone that gets me most often.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. It’s s great little gadget that can do all kinds of things- a truly magical gadget. The brain in this phone is tiny, about the size of your thumbnail. The heart is a little bigger, the size of a packet of matches. And with these tiny little organs this thing can remember the names of people whose names I have forgotten, it can call them up with the push of one button, actually it is not even a button but a screen sensitive to the touch of a finger. I can go online with this phone and find out scores on the last Canucks game, read any number of international papers, I can play chess with a friend in Belfast, it is my date-book, camera, I can record a voice-message and send it to my brother in Montreal, and I don’t know half of what it does. Most of all it keeps me connected to my family, makes me available for emergencies. It is intended and has the capacity to facilitate closeness with the people I care about, good communication…and it drives me crazy.
There is a dark side to this little gadget, a demonic underbelly to all this connectivity.
Take for example the phenomenon of “call waiting.” Call waiting means that when I am talking with someone and another call comes in, I can see who it is, put my present call on hold while I answer the other call and then go back to the previous conversation. You’d think that would be handy, and it is. But what actually happens is that I’m on the phone with my daughter and another call comes in. I look at the phone, making it hard to hear my daughter properly, and then I have to decide. Do I interrupt our call mid-sentence, in order to take the other call? What message does that send? Or I could simply ignore the other call, but what message does that send? Call waiting makes you have to choose between the one you are talking to and the one you could be talking to. On top of all that, call waiting carries with it the illusion of availability. Even if I am talking to someone else, I am still available.
Then there are struggles I have with the mobile connection. I have developed the habit of calling my Dad while I am on the road, and I really like it. I am able to stay much more in touch with him… I think. As long as, mysteriously in the middle of a most important sentence, the call doesn’t just end, and as long as my Dad’s voices doesn’t suddenly sound like R2D2.
And call display- that presents us with a whole plethora of moral dilemmas. When do you look at the phone, see who is calling, and choose not to answer it. On what basis is that ok. It used to be that the phone would ring and you would decide, I am not going to answer that because I am too busy, I am in the middle of something. But now it has become personal. The phone rings, you look at it, see who is calling, and then decide whether or not you are going to talk to the person. It is like every phone call is a popularity contest in which the contestant is unaware that they are being either selected or rejected and on what basis.
And then there is the assumption of availability. I say to Carol as I leave the office, I’ve got my phone with me… which means, I am available. Just because I am leaving doesn’t mean I am off. But even as I was writing this sermon at my local coffee shop, I left my phone in the car. And even then, there was this niggling in my brain, “You left your phone in the car. Shouldn’t you go out and get it. You told Carol you had it with you.” It was nice to write without fear of interruption, but… I promised. It used to be that there were some circumstances in which you just couldn’t get in touch with people. Now, there is not only the possibility but the expectations of near constant contact, anywhere in the world. And one traveler commented, “I miss missing people.” There is a preciousness to a little distance, an intimacy connected with longing for someone, a sweetness in community when it is punctuated by solitude. We have managed some of the magic and mystery right out of our connections with each other.
All this is to say that we manage our calls. We have ways of trying to control our own availability to receive a call and what kind of messages and from whom we will receive calls. We manage the quality of connection we have with the outside world, and we manage our own awareness of people calling. We turn it off, or we leave it in the car, or we have it with us incessantly, but we manage. And managing our calls is very much a function of managing our relationships and managing our place in the world- a recent technological expression of what has gone on forever.
Jesus is somewhere in Judea, and John the Baptist is arrested. And he hears that. The great prophet of change is thrown in jail. That feels important to Jesus. He can’t just watch that happen and do nothing. Everything else goes on hold, because that is big- compelling. The question is, what to do. How to manage the call. He flees to Galilee and he starts gathering people who are ready for a big change. Andrew and Simon are working with their Dad, and Jesus comes along, calling them. As the story goes, they lay down their nets and pick up the cause. I have a million questions. So many details missing: Did they know him? Surely they must have. What about their Dad? How did he manage without them? Did that matter? Did he cheer them on? What about their families? No consultation there? Or were they expecting this? Had they talked about it? Was it one of those situations in which you say to your family, “one of these days we are going to get a chance to change things in a big way, and when that time comes, I’m going to go.” And where did a sense of God, or destiny, or Spirit fit into this for them? And where does it come into it for us?
We make decisions all the time: small ones. Big ones. Ones that seem minor at the time, and ones that can change the whole trajectory of our life. How often would we frame these decisions as following a call, responding to the call of the divine? The great American writer Frederick Buechner years ago very wisely and helpfully defined call, that is divine call, you know, the kind that we need to be dialed into by saying that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Now that is helpful, when we are trying to figure out what to do, trying to manage our life, trying to decide what is important, what can wait. Tuning into God means tuning into our deep gladness. It is not just what is fun, although it might be. It is not just what is going to be successful, although it might be. It is not even about what will work, although it might. But tuning into God’s call means knowing what makes us glad, truly and deeply satisfied. It means sorting through all the inner voices, some of which sound, for better or worse, like my mother, or my grade 5 teacher, or my ego. Tuning into God means I really need to know myself, what I really want out of life, what makes me truly glad. The authenticity of a call rests in part in knowing ourselves. That is the inner work of managing our calls.
But that’s not all. Tuning into God means tuning into the needs of the world. It is not just what do I need to do, but what does the world, need from me? What does my family need from me, my friends, the earth, the political realm? Sorting out the somewhat overwhelming messages coming at us all the time is the outer work of managing our calls.
And where those two things meet, that is where God is calling us.
We manage our calls all the time- not just the ones on our phones, but the deeper ones, bigger ones, divine ones. We put things on hold, notice the call coming in and ignore it for a while, choose between messages we will hear and others we will ignore, prioritize. That’s just human. Nothing new there. Jesus did that. The disciples did that. But the challenge is to be awake to it, to be tuned in, ready and willing.
I know God is calling. All the time. The spiritual realm is alive and compelling. You are called, and so am I. We are called together as a community. I wish the process of discerning God’s call was as simple as a burning bush icon on the call display but it’s not. It is a process of tuning our hearts to our deepest gladness and opening our hearts to the amazing, beautiful, hurting world. If we go there, God will shape us, guide us, mold us, use us in beautiful, mundane, practical, decisive ways.
Here I am Lord. It is I Lord, the one with my particular deep gladness. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people, with their particular compelling needs in my hand. Amen
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