"Immediately” – Rev. Tony Romaine
One anniversary, my wife and I were out to dinner at a fancy restaurant on their busiest night and our waiter, understanding it was our anniversary, offered us a European style experience. Neither of us knew exactly what he was offering, but in the spirit of adventure, we agreed because he was the expert after all. For the next 2-3 hours, we experienced what has, in my memory, gone down as one of our favorite anniversary dinners. Our waiter was attentive, never in a hurry. Bringing out the appetizer and each subsequent course not a moment too soon; allowing us to have a slow paced dinner, wonderful conversation, enjoying every moment of our dish or drink before us without being in a hurry so the restaurant could flip our table or we could hurry back to whatever was awaiting us outside those walls. And as we slowed down and spent that time with one another, our waiter immediately gave us an anniversary gift of presence, purpose, and love. See, in an interesting way, by slowing down we were able to enjoy that gift, that moment, that love immediately!
We are a people who want things immediately aren’t we? We want the internet to work lighting fast so we can download and do the things we are accustomed to doing. We want the light to change so we can get on our way throughout town. We want others to apologize when we feel harmed or hurt in anyway. Shoot, we even want our food to come immediately; hence the term “fast food!” And if we are honest, we want God to hear our prayers and immediately respond. Yet, the thing we fail to remember is that if this is how we long for others to respond to us, why are we surprised when they have the same expectations?! If this is how we want God to respond, then why are we surprised when God longs for us to respond in the same way?!
We hear in our Gospel passage today how Simon and Andrew were casting their nets and Jesus spoke to them calling them to be His disciples and they responded immediately. We hear of James and John sons of Zebedee, who are apparently so excited at the call of Jesus that they leap out of the boat and leave their father there with the hired men. And yet when we hear the call of God in our lives, are we this quick to action? Do we leap up and respond immediately?
The difficult truth for us in examining our relationship with God is that we ask much and often do not offer much in return. We ask God for the call in our lives, we ask Jesus to be present and help us, we ask for the will and the way; and yet, when we receive the answer we sometimes balk and pray that there has to be another way. We ask God for countless blessings and yet forget to thank God for what we have. We pray for God to act immediately in our lives and when God does by presenting us with opportunities for action, we pray for God’s will to look different, be different, or be more aligned with what we want.
This is why Jonah is one of my favorite books of the Bible; because we are all so much like Jonah. I don’t need to give the entire backstory of Jonah, as we did a wonderful four week journey with him last year. But just as a reminder, Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance so that the people and city would be saved. But Jonah did not want those people to be saved, so he tried to run away and when we catch up with him in our passage today it is the moment when God calls him yet again to go to Nineveh and save the people through prophecy. And even after self-acknowledgement that this call is true and this way is right, Jonah still fights God’s will and becomes a reluctant prophet.
Think about that, Jonah knows that what God is calling him to do is the right thing, Jonah knows that God will save the people of Nineveh, Jonah knows that the reason for the storm on the oat is because God was calling him elsewhere. Just like so many of us have done; knowing what we must do, who we must save, where we must be, and yet longing for it to be another way.
We have all prayed for God’s will and work in our lives and then when God sends us the people to care for, or tells us where we must go; we run away or tell God, as if we were wiser than the Almighty, that those people do not deserve our prayer, our prophecy, our love. Even more specifically for us who call ourselves Christian, is that we hear the words of Jesus, we know that we are called to be His disciples, and we know that Jesus and the Good News we are called to share, is all about loving one another and loving ourselves. And yet, when presented with those in our lives who we deem unlovable (sometimes looking in the mirror when we make this austere judgment) we tell God that there has to be another way and this cannot possibly be the “immediately” we are being called to!
Which is why I do not think the passage we have today from Psalms is a prayer in resilience, but rather a prayer of reminder that the Psalmist is almost telling himself as he was writing it, like a mantra for all to remember: “For God alone my soul waits, for my hope is in God.” “Trust in God at all times.” “The riches of this world are just that, riches of this world and no matter the estate of a person, God is with them.” “Power belongs to God; steadfast love belongs to the Lord.”
See, as much as we pray for our God to be immediate, we must also trust in the timing and the call. And in this there is not desolation or demise, but hope and love. Because, God does not give up on the Jonah’s of the world. God does not stop calling us, God does not stop loving us, and God does not stop presenting us with opportunities to match our calls for immediacy with moments and people of action. For God knows that the difference between a Jonah and a James, between a person who is running away and someone who will immediately run towards, is a divide that God’s love bridges.
As you are all well aware of, my own life bears this out as a witness to how we are Jonah and how we are James. For God called me at a young age through a prophetess called my Grandma Ruby to enter into a life of ministry and I ignored the call. In fact, one could even argue that I ran away from the call trying and seeking and attempting all kinds of other dreams and wants in my life. And in those moments, God did not abandon me, God did not let me go and forget me. No, in fact, in many of those moments, God held me even closer and loved me more than I could ever imagine; otherwise, I never would have made it through. But finally, when the storms of life had cast me upon the shore and I was there bereft and broken, thinking that my God had left me to just drift listlessly through life, God spoke the call again and my immediately began; and I have been stumbling towards ever since…note I said stumbling, for we are not perfect, and sometimes jumping out of the boat means we fall face first into the water!
But this is why we have both the Jonah stories and the Good News. We experience both in our lives and are complex creatures that God knows are complex creatures. We are both the ones who run away from where we are being called and also the ones who run into the places where God needs us the most. We are both the person who slams on the horn and yells profanity at the person who cuts them off in traffic and also the person who waits patiently for someone to cross in the crosswalk. We are both the person who has devoted our lives to following and having faith in God, and the person who when God calls us to action takes a back seat and does nothing.
Through it all, God is with us. Through it all God is calling us to share our lives with one another and connect with that which connects us all; God’s love. Through it all, god is calling us to be so present with one another, and with God, that when we are presented with the very opportunities we asked for, we could respond immediately.
I wish I could say that my wife and I have been able to replicate that dinner from so long ago over and over. Unfortunately, hurriedness seems to be more of a norm that slowing down and being present. But that is why we have memories, that is why the Psalmist asks for hope in waiting, that is why we gather on Sundays…for God to remind us of life’s true pace, God’s true call, and the moments when we are so present that we can feel God’s love; to be reminded that we are sent to Nineveh to share the Good News, we are sent to the world to be God’s love, and to be reminded that Jesus is calling us presently, lovingly, immediately, Amen
"Why?” – Rev. Tony Romaine
Perihelion—The point at which a star, planet, or other cosmic entity comes closest to the sun in its orbit.
Earth just had this happen yesterday! And while this happens every year around this same date, it seems appropriate to highlight it this New Year, as we move from 2020 into 2021. The time when we need our Son to be closest to us is, fittingly, at the change of the year; a time when we as a church celebrate the light of the world entering our lives. And as we have been journeying through the Christmas season, we have explored all the basic questions that we as humans seem to come innately equipped with; what, when, who, how, where…and today we come to perhaps the greatest of them all; why.
Like all of the questions we have, even the question itself can be deciphered into myriad realms of possibilities. But for our purposes today, we specifically ask the “why” of God entering our world as the Incarnate Christ. The first answer to this specific question is the one we are all taught throughout Sunday school, through Confirmation, and into our adulthood; but is one we constantly need reminding of; Jesus came to save us. God sent Jesus to embody the forgiveness of our sins and to welcome us to this table of sacrifice where we remember that fateful night where Jesus broke bread and cup. God became incarnate in human form, being born into our world as Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph, but also Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, to bring us home; all of us lost sheep.
And while this is most definitely the answer to why God came in the first place; to save us from our sins and grant us grace, there is another reason why God entered our world as Jesus Christ that might even undergird this salvation message. God sent Jesus to remind us of our creation and that we indeed are divine, each and every one of us. Within every one of us is a divine spark that has been there from our creation. From the moment we were made in the “image and likeness of” God, we have had a God-spark which burns deeply.
But like so many of us, the ancients too had forgotten this spark within them, they had forgotten how they were supposed to treat each person as part of the whole, they forgot how to love one another and look out for each other, they had forgotten what it meant to be children of God, they had become too focused on rite and ritual and law, and they had forgotten the greatest gift they had ever been given was the divinity within each other. And in this, while they may have known it or not, they were sinning and this sin could not be erased by payment, sacrifice, or personal action. So God entered into our lives to remind us once more of that Spirit within us. And in so doing awoke a movement within a group of people who longed to be reminded of that divinity, who longed to lift up others around them, who knew that if they themselves wanted love and acceptance and freedom, then they must offer it to others as well.
Which leads us to another answer to the question of “why:” God came because we are loved. If you do not have them closed already, I want you to close your eyes and be with me for a moment. Allow yourself to feel the answer to the question of “why?” deep inside you. Reach out to that divine spark within you and hear these words from God:
“I Love You!”
“I Love You!”
“I Love You!”
Those tears in your eyes, that warmth in your heart, the tingles you may be feeling, is all God’s way of saying to you how much you are loved. What better response to our question of “why” is there?!
See, here is the great thing about all our answers to the question we have asked today: they all lead back to God loving you. In the beginning God made the world out of chaos, but it wasn’t enough, all this natural beauty, everything God sent in motion, God needed a deeper creation, one that would be made in the image and likeness of God, one that would be blessed with free will and the ability to love. And when that creation sinned and moved away from God, God so loved it that God became incarnate through the Christ-child to love that creation home.
We need to be reminded of this love, which is why I believe God created the sun and the stars and the planets to work the way they do; that we would orbit the Sun every year and at the moment when the Christ child bursts forth into our lives, it is also the same moment we are closest to the brightest star in our universe. It is also the moment we are closest not only to the sun but to the Son. It is the moment that after Christmas and all that comes with it and after another year in which we are trying to move on into a New Year, we come closest to warmth and energy and light in our lives. So that we would be reminded again of THE LIGHT which is always with us and warms each of our days, so that we would be reminded again of the love God has for us, the love God created us in, and the love God longs for us to remember through this baby born to our world; Jesus the Christ.
And when we find that moment of love, when we can see that the answer to all our “whys” is that God loves us, it allows us to re-create our lives centered around a love which never fails. So that maybe our New Year will be a better year, maybe, just maybe, 2021 will be different. Maybe we will change the old normal which was obviously not working into a new creation. Maybe God is calling us to something deeper, something more divine this year. Maybe this year instead of just moving on with our lives and living another year, this year will be the one where we live into the love God has for us and for each other. Maybe this will be the year that the broken systems of the past become the fulfilling systems of the future. Maybe this is the year that we truly work on living each day as one filled with the love God has for us; which means that we respect our created neighbors as they are, God’s Creation. Maybe this will be the year we care for the Earth like it is God’s gift for us to care for; because it is God’s gift for us to care for! Or maybe this is finally the year that God’s love breaks through to you; and you finally can see that God loves you just as you are and is loving you into eternal light through Christ Incarnate.
I wish I could adequately express to you all the depth of love God has for each and every one of you. But as we are just past our point of being closest to the sun, our perihelion, let us be reminded as we enter a New Year of the moment when we come closest to our God; the moment when we come closest to the love God has for us for all time in that God spark within us from creation. Placed there so that we would not orbit as it were, but reside eternally right where God longs for us to be, right where God created us to be, right where we are reminded, we need to be through the Christ child. In the place where all our questions of why today are answered; that deep, unspeakable, unexplainable, center of love God placed within you, just for you, forever with you; that place where you hear those words which answer every “why:” “I Love You,” Amen!