Answer readily the call of Jesus Christ – this is how our collect starts us out this morning. A request, a plea, even, to give us the grace to answer the call of Jesus, the Christ.
“The call of Jesus Christ” – an eloquent way of distilling down three years of prophetic teaching capped off by a state execution.
Now, I wonder – did the person who wrote that collect mean to refer to the Great Commission from Matthew? “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations?”
Or perhaps he – for the writer was almost assuredly a man – perhaps he meant to reference the specific passage from Matthew we heard today from chapter 4 of that gospel, where we see Jesus gathering his first students after hearing about the arrest of his own teacher, John. Literally we hear Jesus call a group of men one by one, two by two, we hear Jesus call them away from their current occupations, and into a radically different existence: followers of a traveling rabbi, eventually to become rabbis and healers themselves, and keepers of a new story much larger than themselves.
Perhaps the writer of the collect meant to specifically reference that story. But I can’t help but think that it gets even bigger than that – mostly I think this way because I know the Book of Common Prayer, and I know that its prayers are some of the finest, most eloquent, most profound to be found in the English language today. (And some of them are even in modern English.) And what I know – and to some extent trust – about the BCP is that whenever possible, a prayer like this goes beyond a single person or a single event in our sacred story – it speaks to the larger issues of our lives, our societies.
And so, when I hear, “give us grace, O God, to answer readily the call of Jesus Christ, and share the Good News with all people,” I hear a prayer that takes the gospel reading, and reaches a hand through it to grab us.
Let me give you an example.
There are as many ways to answer the call of Jesus as there are people in the world. We each have the ability to answer – in the thoughts we think, in the words we say, in the actiosn we do, and in the way we are deep down inside of us, beneath thought, word and action.
But still, this is not very specific. Let me get specific.
The call of Jesus; I understand the call of Jesus at its most basic, and most profound, to be the very principle by which he lived his own life: Rule #1: Love God. Rule #2: Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s simple, I know, and most of us have had that repeated at us for our entire lives, but I urge you to set aside the familiarity of it, because they really are amazing and radical principles to try to live by.
Love your neighbor
Jesus patterned his life by this, this mission statement if you will, and he took it seriously. If an action or a person, no matter how normal, no matter how well-groomed, didn’t live up to this standard, Jesus refused the action, refused to respect the person.
And conversely, if someone scruffy and smelly lived up to this ideal, if a taboo act really did embody this radical love, Jesus stood behind this person, this act.
So, let’s fast forward to the present.
Love god, love your neighbor as yourself.
There are a whole bunch of things in our world that fly in the face of this standard. We prove our lack of love for God when we trash our environment, or sit by without complaint or even anger as technology does it for us.
We prove our lack of love for God when we wage war in the name of God, wantonly killing our neighbors. The god who wants us to love our neighbor is not the one who sanctifies war against them.
We prove our lack of love for our neighbors when we do violence to them – judging them, hating them, discriminating against them, mocking them, denying their basic dignity as human beings, killing them.
We prove our lack of love for ourselves when we do violence to ourselves through substance abuse, self-hatred, and other destructive behaviors.
But I suspect there is a difference between simply trying to avoid violence, avoid destruction, avoidance of negative behavior, and actually enacting peace, enacting love, enacting change, enacting positive behavior.
There is a difference between avoiding negative behavior and enacting positive behavior – but I think to answer the call of Jesus Christ is to do both. Because we are told that the most important thing we can do is to love god. And loving God has some real world implications.
Loving god means treating all of creation with respect, walking softly on the land, increasing your own knowledge of what may be done to reverse humankind’s damage to the earth that god has created.
Loving god means working hard to find political solutions to international disagreements – and not political in that ugly, modern, negative sense of the word, political as in, the opposite to war, political, as in, non-violent conflict resolution.
Loving your neighbor means learning about the ‘other’ who is perceived as different, but who for all the tangible differences of gender or race, differences of religion or ethnicity, differences of politics or theology, differences of income or etiquette, and who for all these differences are not so very different from ourselves in the end. And when we allow ourselves to share experiences with our neighbors, to live in a community with them, at that point loving them, and acting in a loving way toward them will start to seem so much more natural than the way we tend to treat each other now.
Loving yourself means knowing yourself. Because when we really know ourselves, warts and all, we will be able to experience love, compassion, and respect for ourselves, something that will radiate out of us – because it is the love of God.
And accepting the love of God – the love that transforms everything it touches – is another way of saying, ‘answering the call of Jesus’ – to love and be loved.