Sunday, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany Year A

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany Year A January 22, 2017 There have been seasons in my life when I get a certain song stuck in my head so well and thoroughly-for days, weeks, (and one unfortunate time—even months on end)—that I have finally learned to pay attention. These songs can be, for me, a message from God, a message from my own soul. This week, I have been besieged by the song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I have listened to so many different singers’ versions of it—Tennessee Ernie Ford, EmmyLou Harris, Johnny Cash, Natalie Merchant, Ed Sheerhan—this week in an effort to loosen its hold on me, and still it goes around and around in my head until it sometimes can no longer be contained and I just start singing it (often startling my family, random strangers in the Madison Kroger, and our church office staff). I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world of woe Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger In that fair land to which I go I'm going there to see my father I'm going there no more to roam I am just going o'er Jordan I am just going o'er home It’s essentially a song about longing—longing for heaven, longing for family, longing for God, longing for home. In the gospel reading for today, we see Jesus crossing over the Jordan, but it seems to be the very opposite from which poor wayfaring stranger yearns. When Jesus crosses over the Jordan, he is leaving home, leaving family, leaving familiarity, and crossing to the other side of the river to make his home among strangers, the Gentiles. When he calls his first disciples, he is making new family out of strangers. And something in his call speaks to them—recognizing and knowing them and fulfilling for a moment that place of deep longing, deep homesickness within each of them. And they leave it all behind to follow him—livelihoods, parents, homes, families. They leave home in order to find and follow Jesus who is their true home. They leave home to join Jesus in the work of making strangers family. A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my seminary classmate and friend The Rev. Patrick Skutch. And we were talking about God’s call and the disruptions that often accompany God’s call, for individuals, even for churches. After the conversation, Patrick shared with me something he wrote for his parish at the time, and it struck me: “…In the Scriptures, disruption seems to be one of the symptoms of God's call. Think of Moses (who had made quite a comfortable life for himself), or any of the prophets, or of Andrew and John and Simon Peter. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed, was itself disruptive, disruptive of world views, religious assumptions, and the special interests of the ruling powers. The disruptions in our own life (some of them bewildering and incredibly painful) are not themselves necessarily God's doing (God does not, in my view, arrange suffering and pain for God's creatures), but they may be sign posts or the raw material through which God's call might emerge. Disruption does not necessarily mean calling, but call is almost always disruptive.” We see this disruption and division evidenced in the portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today. (And I think we see it in what is going on here currently, as well.) It is echoed in the words of our sequence hymn today, written by Mississippian William Alexander Percy; the third verse was read aloud to me by a wise priest before I went off to seminary: “The peace of God it is no peace,/ but strife closed in the sod./ yet let us pray for but one thing-/the marvelous peace of God.” When you get to the heart of it, we are all just poor wayfaring strangers. Some of us are so homesick that when we do find home, we make an idol of it. It is so tempting and easy to do. But the call of Jesus to discipleship is the call to cross over the Jordan—to see things from a different place, to make family out of strangers, and to heed the call to follow and find him as our one and only true home. The calling of Jesus to prepare for the Kingdom of God is essentially a call to opening our lives to disruption, so that we may encounter God, who is our true and only home. How might Jesus be calling you these days to cross over the Jordan, to leave comfort and security so that you might find your true home? How might Jesus be calling this church to cross over Jordan—to make family out of strangers and to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom? I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world of woe Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger In that fair land to which I go I'm going there to see my father I'm going there no more to roam I am just crossing o'er Jordan I am just going o'er home