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Living into our name and our calling…

January 16, 2011

Sunnyside Mennonite Church
Season of Epiphany (“to make manifest”)
A feast of light, color and culture celebrating the revelation of Christ to all nations…
Year A
January 9, 2011 to March 6, 2011

Epiphany 2A
Scripture texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42


Soon after Christopher Columbus came to the Americas in the late 15th century, this part of the world dramatically changed. It is a story of Conquest and Colonization. The story is portrayed in an epic film produced by Roland Joffe. The Mission, tells the story of the Catholic Church seeking to Christianize and “civilize” the indigenous native populations of South America in the 1750s.  It is a story of colonial powers exerting pressure on the church to protect the economic interests of slave-trading.

One of the most compelling characters in the film is Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro). When the movie begins, Mendoza is making his living by kidnapping natives and selling them to nearby plantations. He has a beautiful fiancée—Carlotta. He has a younger brother, Felipe, whom he cares for deeply. One day Carlotta reveals she has fallen in love with Felipe. He responds stoically until he finds Carlotta and Felipe together.  His anger boils over and he kills Felipe in a duel. He descends into a black hole of guilt and depression…into a place seemingly beyond redemption.

The words that come to us from Isaiah tell us that the servant of God, the Holy One of Israel is called and named from the womb (v. 1). Isaiah’s words echoe the words of the psalmist: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13).

We have this image in scripture that even before we receive our given names, God calls us forth and names us. We are shaped by our gene pools, by family stories, by circumstances. But also by the loving God who sees and knows each of us–even when we are threads of DNA being knit together in the womb.

Even when we have been called and named in the womb we hit walls.  There are days when we say with the prophet that we have “labored in vain, we have spent our strength for nothing.” (v. 4)

The process of maturing as human beings (as disciples of Jesus) is an uneven, discouraging process (George Sheehan). There are weeks and years when it seems we have labored in vain. We yell at the kids…our friendships seem stale…our marriage is strained… we isolate from community…we struggle with health issues…we relapse…we look at pornography…we hold tightly to our God language…we drift away from daily prayer…we keep going…we work…we make grocery lists…we talk about the weather…who won the game…

What is the task as we listen for our name and calling in these places?

Parker Palmer says that our life speaks to us as we live it, as we hurt and as we celebrate, as we weep and as we laugh. As we listen to our lives, we also listen for the voice of God that echoes from the womb.

As we are still, we hear echoes of God’s voice saying: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (49:15) We hear…we are honored in God’s sight. God is our strength (49:5). Reassured of God’s love, we see ourselves as gift…as light to the nations (49:6)

The story of Rodrigo Mendoza reveals what is true about all our stories—it takes grace to live into our name and our calling. For Mendoza that grace comes through a Jesuit priest who invites him to risk the possibility of redemption. Father Gabriel invites him to a journey of penance. One of the most moving scenes happens after Mendoza has heaved a heavy bundle of armor up the rocky façade of Iguazu falls—barefoot. He reaches the top and falls to his knees—a mud-caked body.

The Guaraní look on at this strange figure—their antagonist. One of the Guaraní approaches Mendoza, cuts the rope and throws the cargo over the cliff into the river below. Mendoza begins to weep. A new name and calling begins to emerge…

The gospel story is that when we are dead in our trespasses, God comes to us and offers new life—liberation.

When you are 16 years old—choosing friends who take you to parties with girls and drugs—sometimes you end up doing stupid stuff. You end up in the Youth Intervention Center. Like Mendoza, you come to a dead end. The gospel story is that when you are in this place—it’s not too late to live into your name and your calling.

How do we begin again to live into our name and our calling when we lose our way?

In the gospel story the answer to this question is always a movement toward Jesus. John the Baptist bears witness to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (v. 29). This extraordinary witness emerges within ordinary comings and goings. Two disciples hear John’s witness and follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them with a question: “What are you looking for?” Rabbi… “Where are you staying?” Come and see. It is about 4 o’clock. Fascinating exchange. A question. An invitation. Ordinary time.

How do we begin again to live into our name and calling? Perhaps it has to do with responding to Jesus’ question—what are you looking for? There is always an invitation—come and see. It happens in ordinary time—at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Andrew hears the witness of John and goes to get his brother, Simon Peter. This is a family story. He shares his experience. “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew brings Simon to Jesus who looks at him and says, You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas”

Peter encounters Jesus—who calls him into a new name. Peter will continue to live into that name and calling. He will stumble….he will get it wrong…he will be restored. Receiving a new name does not preclude the process of becoming.

Relationships are the way we come to Jesus. Who are the people that have helped bring you to Jesus?

When we are the 16 year-old sitting in the YIC, Jesus comes to us and asks us: What are you looking for?  Jesus talks to us about the importance of choosing our friends wisely. Jesus invites us to come and see. When we get out, Jesus helps us fix our motorbike. He continues to help us remember our name and calling.  And sometimes–six years later–there is fruit…

The process of maturing as human beings—as disciples of Jesus—is an uneven process. But here is the deal. As we pay attention to our lives…as we listen for the voice of God beyond the womb…Jesus is manifest through others…through us.  And there is light.

This morning we are thinking about how the light of Christ has been revealed into Latin America.  Even though I was young when my family lived in northwest Mexico, the light of Christ that shone through the lives of these campesino believers still burns in my memory.  It is part of the story of where I’m from…

A delegation from Pacific Coast Conference (Mennonite Church) had visited northwest Mexico a year earlier to explore

mission possibilities. They had inquired for Evangelicals and talked with Sister Lupe. When my parents arrived in the late 1960s, they went to visit her with the hopes of finding ways to work together.

She had joined the Church of God in that year. She had begun a mission to a remote village—sharing the gospel. She welcomed my dad and invited him to preach. Never a discussion about whose work this would be.

Sister Lupe did not have a lot of formal education, but she had learned to read. She was a woman of great faith. When she would run out of food, she would pray. People who were antagonistic to the gospel would bring her food.

She was concerned about the integrity of the gospel. For someone coming out of a rigid understanding of how one practices Christianity she was remarkably open…sensitive to the Spirit…seeing God at work.

Jesus—the Light of the world—manifested in Latin America through Sister Lupe.

Trini was a respected man and a community leader. When my parents starting a work in Guacaporito, they looked for a person of peace. Trini and Carmen had a Bible in their home. Trini, a man who had run off other Evangelicals in previous years, said, “Why don’t you have meetings in our home.”

At the second service Trini and Carmen respond to an invitation to give their lives to Christ. The next day he went to resign from his position as Comisario (town sheriff) under his own sense of stirring. Years later he would allow the community to call him back to that role under certain conditions. Carmen was a bit of a sharp-tongued women when she came to faith, bore evidence of a tongue seasoned with grace over the years.  My memory is of her hospitality–homemade flour tortillas, beans, and panela cheese.  Trini was in 60s when he responded to the gospel and lived as a strong witness in his community until the age of 100.

Through Trini and Carmen—Jesus came to live in Guacaporito.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have shown yourself to the nations and transformed
many by your radiant light. Your ongoing revelations bring a continual
rebirth, recreating each of us in your likeness. May today’s rising sun remind
us that your light is for the healing of the nations. Amen
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

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