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Homily by the Rev. Paul Hocking, January 19, 2020

Year A, Second Sunday after Epiphany

From the moment of creation we are called—called by God—both to be, and to do!

The “being” part is called “life.” The “to do” part, a vocation. It can be the tricky part for most, if not all of us; Yes? Who am I really? What is God calling me to be and to do in life?

Fittingly, the Prophet Isaiah (in our first reading) lays out this confused plot for us:

The Lord called me (even) before I was born .... He made my mouth like a sharp sword—(then) in the shadow of his hand he hid me! ... He made me a polished arrow—(then) in his quiver he hid me away! ...

He said to me, “You are my servant ... in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain...!”

God replied: “(Maybe the task I gave you) is too light a thing ... (here’s a greater task:) I will give you as a light to (all) the nations ... It is the Holy one of Israel, who has chosen you!”

Poor stumbling Isaiah; indeed, poor any of us—hearing and heeding God's call!

I am minded of Psalm 139, the words:

Where can I go from your spirit? ... or where can I flee from you presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there ... If I make my bed in Sheol you are there (also). ... If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day.

When it comes to vocation—to a calling from God—I am also minded of the Francis Thompson poem, “The Hound of Heaven;” his opening words:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him …

Isn’t life fun? Or should I say, challenging?

The calling of St. Andrew and St. John, by James Tissot (1836-1892). Brooklyn Museum

In our second reading, this morning, from his first letter to the church at Corinth, Saint Paul casts a different light on this equation of being and doing.

The Corinthians are not yet aware that God’s personal practices are strange, and that knowing your weakness is often the qualification that God chiefly looks for in his followers. But Paul is going to do his best to tell them and to show them.

He starts out cautiously, with well-judged praise, almost flattery. But even that is laced through with phrases that should make the Corinthians pause.

Paul tells them that they are called to be saints, but so are thousands of others who call on the name of Jesus, even today.

The Corinthians might have thought they were special in this, but they are not. Anyone who calls on Jesus is their equal in many ways.

He acknowledges that they are, indeed, a very impressive bunch; acknowledges they are doing brilliantly in their public witness, at least when it involves exciting speeches.

But then he overlays his praise with a new fact: that their lives are perhaps not quite so highly thought of at all; that they are inclined to put their trust in themselves, rather than in the loving power of God; even in each other as called together, in Christ, to be his “body”—to be his witnesses.

Paul will “drop (his) second shoe” on them—so to speak—next week. Stay tuned!

One of the big differences between the prophet who speaks in Isaiah, and the Corinthian Christians, is the number of people who share in God’s calling.

The prophet experiences loneliness and misunderstanding, and his task seems often a solitary one. But Christians are called to be witnesses together, and to learn from each other as well as from God.

At the center of all this is Jesus—the Christ—“the heart of the matter,” as detailed in this morning’s Gospel reading. We will come to this shortly; but the beginning of that understanding starts with each of us as individuals.

“Being” and “doing” as God has called us—yes, a sometimes tricky and confusing matter! We do all have a story to tell, and I firmly believe we should share it. But—please note—it isn't, for the most part, about ordained ministry in the Church! Where does one begin?

For several years of my wayward youth (“wayward”, my words, note) we lived on lower Columbus Avenue, in New Haven. It was at the bottom of the road below Liberty Street, at the corner of Lafayette; a neighborhood that—alas—no longer exists.

You know the sort, though—typical of its time: grocery stores, restaurants, and other shops, at the ground level and usually two floors of apartments above them.

It was like this all the way up the road, on both sides. In effect, we faced each other across a canyon filled with fast moving traffic—a “no go” area when it came to “playing out” (in the days when being able to play out was the norm)!

This “playing out,” however, meant either a long trek up to the neighborhood playground; which seemed—back then—to be miles away, or just going around the corner to the next road to one of your mates. That “road” was one level lower than our road, with no shops whatsoever.

If you were brave ... or foolish ... or crafty ... or all three, as I thought I was then, you learned the shortcuts. You simply dashed through one of those archways between the shops to their backs. There, you soon learned, that ground level on our road was the garage-roof level of the road behind.

And, if you were as tall and skinny as I was then—no exaggeration—you simply “hang-dropped” into the backyard of your mate’s house below. Magic!

Doing this in reverse, of course, was not so easy; it was downright dangerous and stupid ... but not too dangerous for the likes of me when being chased, even in fun ... that is, until I realized—from our back windows upstairs—that Mom could see me doing it! Oh dear!

How did I come to this realization? With those ill-fated words, shouted from on high from our kitchen window: “You get home this instant!” (That’s the polite version).

Well, I ask you, what imaginative kid is going to let his mother get the best of him—especially when, not only you, but every other kid in the neighborhood knew she had “bested” you? ... Not me!

I conspired ... I wrangled every mate I had to conspire with me. I waited until she was off somewhere and then placed myself in the aforesaid window. I spent hours—or so it seemed—moving my mates around the back neighborhood like chess pieces (shouting to them mom-fashion, of course) until we found all the places that could not be seen from that window!

Did I win? No way! What I hadn’t counted on was her own brand of “craftiness.” She, too, had conspired; this, with about every other mom in the neighborhood. So what I now heard shouted at me, from on high, was “Get home! Your mother wants you r-i-g-h-t now!” and “right now” meant “this instant!