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Posted on Jan 22, 2017

See me…sermon for 01.22.17 Epiphany 3

See me…


Photo Credit: id-iom Flickr via Compfight cc

January 22, Third Sunday after the Epiphany:

Psalm 27:1, 5-13 Isaiah 9:1-4 ; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.


This is not the way it usually happens.

A solitary figure walks alone by the shore. He is a stranger—an unfamiliar silhouette in a foreign landscape. He doesn’t appear to be looking for anything, he merely walks.  But suddenly he sees something. Two fishermen, working at their craft. Throwing nets, hauling them in. He sees…something. He calls out.

This is not the way it usually happens.

They are hard at work, practicing the craft their fathers taught them. The craft passed down from their fathers, and their fathers before them. Passed down through generations. They are going through the old, familiar motions, over and over again. Hauling, gathering, throwing over and over. So familiar are the movements that they could do it with their eyes closed, they move in sync, not a word needed between them. It’s a day like a thousand thousand other days before and since. Days when the routine of work goes on and on…but suddenly they hear a voice. They turn and look. They see…something.

This is not the way it usually happens.

The call of the master and the disciple usually works like this…the student goes in search of a master, and asks to be taken on…often with a series of tests…Luke seeking out Yoda is an archetypical example.

Last week we heard another archetypical narrative…one master pointing out another, and the disciples following. John the baptizer stands for several days saying “Look, here is the Lamb of God”…he’s the one I’ve been talking about.” And finally Andrew goes, and sees and then brings his brother Peter.

But this story—Matthew’s story—is out of frame. It breaks the expected pattern…it is not the students, it is the master who sees and calls. It’s the disciples who hear, and respond. It signals that something different is happening, it reveals a different way of seeing and being seen.

It’s not the way it usually happens, but then again it always happens this way…when God calls. When God sees that something…and calls…and we are interrupted in our routines…and turn aside and look. And see.

What was it that they saw in him? This stranger making mysterious promises of “fishing for people?” What was it that made them drop everything…leave everything and follow?

What did they see in him?

Even more perplexing: what was it that he saw in them?

I wonder about this. Because he must have seen many other fishermen, and other tradespeople as well. Capernaum in the first century had maybe 1,500 people living in it. He might have passed by hundreds before he saw Peter and Andrew, and maybe several hundred more before he saw James and John. What was it about them? What did he see in them?

What does he see in us?

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? Hard to imagine what God sees in these rough-hewn fishermen. Harder still, possibly, to imagine what God sees in us…who have been called in our time to do God’s work…to proclaim Good News. It’s hard, because we can’t see ourselves as God sees us…or, we rarely do…We tend to see ourselves as the world sees us. As our culture, and our society, and our families see us. As our insecurities and our need…the gremlins of our psyche…see us.

We see how well everyone else is doing, and wonder why we aren’t so lucky. Or we see that we’re really doing better than many others and feel bad about it. We see ourselves in completely skewed ways, as either utterly insignificant or the center of the universe…often both at the same time—little specks of dust that the world revolves around. And since we can’t exactly have the experience of seeing ourselves as God sees us, the closest we often get is the experience of seeing God see us. Really seeing us. Not seeing our awfulness or awesomeness but seeing all of us. The whole picture: what we have been, what we are, and what we will be…simultaneously…just as Jesus standing there sees Peter the fisherman, blundering, too eager, the one who will deny him and the rock upon whom the early church is built.

I think that’s what happened. I think Peter and Andrew, and John and James saw Jesus (God) see them, and that changed everything. Another word for this experience is “judgment.” When we know—when we see and understand—that God sees the totality of who and what we are…sees what we can and can’t be…and loves us…and calls us to “Come and see.” When that happens, we stand in judgement.

And something else happens. It’s not explicit in the text, but it must have happened, because it always happens like this. When he saw them; when he made a judgement about them, and called. They heard, and they turned.

Interrupted in their deeply familiar routines, they stopped. They looked up from their nets, and they turned around…which is the definition of his call to “repent!” Repent means, “Turn around!” The kingdom of God…the realm of God’s justice and peace is here. Now. Look. Come and see.

They turned and saw and nothing was ever the same.

We need to have those experiences of being interrupted, turning, and seeing. “You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek.” That’s a beautiful line…from today’s Psalm. This is what our journey is largely about…continually seeking God’s face, seeking the experience of seeing God see us…being seen and loved by God. And next week I’ll have more to say about how we can go about having those experiences. Seeking God’s face is largely what we’re about. But the lectionary cuts off what I think is an even more important line. 

It get’s translated various ways, but my favorite is this: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

The goodness of the Lord, even here…even today…amidst all the challenges we face. I am confident that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Maybe that’s what he saw in them…their faith. The faith to hold on to that knowledge that they would see the goodness of God—that they could see the goodness of God—not in some far distant time and place…not in some fantastic dreamscape…but here. Now. In this world. In this broken, hurting, glorious, desperately beautiful world. Here. Among them. Among us. Repent. For the realm of God is here.