Sermons

  • January 22, 2023 Sermon

    The Rev. Joseph Farnes
    All Saints, Boise
    Epiphany 3A
    January 22, 2023
    Religious Life Sunday

    “Follow me,” Jesus says. “Follow me.” Much easier when you had Jesus right there in flesh-and-blood telling you to leave things behind and follow him. Literally following him, walking behind him, listening to him as he preached and taught and healed along the way. Literally following Jesus seems easy compared to what we have to do now. We have to figure out how to follow Jesus in the more metaphorical sense. 
    Luckily for us all, there are many ways that we do that. Now that we don’t have to drop literal fishing nets to literally follow Jesus, we have the challenge and the gift of following Jesus in many different ways. There are multiple ways that we can follow Jesus in our lives. We might be called in many different ways, we might be called to follow him down any number of paths. 
    This call to follow Jesus is referred to in the Church as “vocation.” Vocation comes from “vocare,” the Latin word meaning “to call.” Jesus calls us to follow him, and that is our vocation. 
    The Church, however, does a terrible job of explaining vocation. Over the years we’ve made some big mistakes on what vocation means, and so let’s name those mistakes so we can get vocation right. 
    The First Mistake: that some vocations are more important than others. This has a long, long history. The Church has often lifted up certain vocations as being holier and better than others. To be called to be a priest was a noble thing, to be called to be a monk or nun was even holier, that God had called you to be super special, more important than the regular folks. 
    Nope! There are many different vocations, and it’s a mistake to rank them in a hierarchy. Different vocations are simply different. All vocations are important in the body of Christ. 
    The Second Mistake: that vocation never changes. The Church sometimes acts as if the way we follow Jesus doesn’t change over time. But it does. Maybe the passionate young person becomes the contemplative elder over time – the way that person follows Jesus changes, and both might be the right vocation for the right time. Or flip it around: maybe the reflective, quiet young person gets to be a fiery prophetic voice for truth in their old age. The way we follow Jesus can change over time. 
    The Third Mistake: that God has one single vocation in mind for you, and it’s your job to figure it out. We sometimes hear that phrase that God has a plan for us, and the way we think about it is that God has a plan written out, and we’re supposed to figure it out. 

    I’ve struggled with that a lot in my life. Some of you may know that I tested a monastic vocation with one of the Episcopal Church’s monastic orders, the Society of St John the Evangelist. I walked in the door of the monastery with a suitcase full of guilt. That this was what God wanted, and that if I didn’t make it, then it was my fault for disappointing God and not living up to the plan. Ouch! That’s a heavy burden, and it sure didn’t make the work of figuring out whether I was meant to be a monk any easier. And even though monastic orders have tried their best to fix the assumption that being a monk or nun is the “superior” vocation, it’s still in the air.
    And so I left the monastery. It was deeply embarrassing. Did I disappoint God? Did everyone think that I was an indecisive flake? It seems I took that suitcase of guilt to the monastery, and apparently I made sure to pack it up and take it with me when I left.
    The truth is, though, that our vocation is not a secret that we have to figure out. It’s a calling from God that we work out together with God. God works with our hopes and dreams, God works with our desires, and God’s far more creative than to have just one plan for us. We are called to be faithful to God with whatever we do.
    So looking back, we see that whatever our vocation is, whatever we are called to do, whatever we think we might be called to do, whatever it is, follow Jesus with what you do. Listen deeply to God, and follow Jesus. Embrace the messiness of it.
    So over the years of figuring out what God is calling me to, I’ve discovered that it really is a messy thing, not clear cut and easily defined. There are many different ways to go, and God’s got creativity enough to make it up as we go along, too.
    I’m a priest. I’m a thinker and a teacher and a preacher. I’m a parish priest. I’m monk-ish; not a full-fledged monk, but have monk tendencies, but still too much of a hermit to be a monk, so last year I became an associate of a monastic order, the Order of Julian of Norwich, so I can keep my monkish, hermit-ish tendencies in a fellowship with others. I’m also more things than these. I am, in short, called to be me.
    Our vocation, our call, is to be ourselves, fully ourselves, truly ourselves, really ourselves, because that is who Jesus has called to follow him. He calls you to follow him.
    Follow him. Follow Jesus. Amen.

  • Sermon for January 22, 2023

              “Follow me,” Jesus says. “Follow me.” Much easier when you had Jesus right there in flesh-and-blood telling you to leave things behind and follow him. Literally following him, walking behind him, listening to him as he preached and taught and healed along the way. Literally following Jesus seems easy compared to what we have to do now. We have to figure out how to follow Jesus in the more metaphorical sense.

              Luckily for us all, there are many ways that we do that. Now that we don’t have to drop literal fishing nets to literally follow Jesus, we have the challenge and the gift of following Jesus in many different ways. There are multiple ways that we can follow Jesus in our lives. We might be called in many different ways, we might be called to follow him down any number of paths.

              This call to follow Jesus is referred to in the Church as “vocation.” Vocation comes from “vocare,” the Latin word meaning “to call.” Jesus calls us to follow him, and that is our vocation.

              The Church, however, does a terrible job of explaining vocation. Over the years we’ve made some big mistakes on what vocation means, and so let’s name those mistakes so we can get vocation right.

              The First Mistake: that some vocations are more important than others. This has a long, long history. The Church has often lifted up certain vocations as being holier and better than others. To be called to be a priest was a noble thing, to be called to be a monk or nun was even holier, that God had called you to be super special, more important than the regular folks.

              Nope! There are many different vocations, and it’s a mistake to rank them in a hierarchy. Different vocations are simply different. All vocations are important in the body of Christ.

              The Second Mistake: that vocation never changes. The Church sometimes acts as if the way we follow Jesus doesn’t change over time. But it does. Maybe the passionate young person becomes the contemplative elder over time – the way that person follows Jesus changes, and both might be the right vocation for the right time. Or flip it around: maybe the reflective, quiet young person gets to be a fiery prophetic voice for truth in their old age. The way we follow Jesus can change over time.

              The Third Mistake: that God has one single vocation in mind for you, and it’s your job to figure it out. We sometimes hear that phrase that God has a plan for us, and the way we think about it is that God has a plan written out, and we’re supposed to figure it out.

    I’ve struggled with that a lot in my life. Some of you may know that I tested a monastic vocation with one of the Episcopal Church’s monastic orders, the Society of St John the Evangelist. I walked in the door of the monastery with a suitcase full of guilt. That this was what God wanted, and that if I didn’t make it, then it was my fault for disappointing God and not living up to the plan. Ouch! That’s a heavy burden, and it sure didn’t make the work of figuring out whether I was meant to be a monk any easier. And even though monastic orders have tried their best to fix the assumption that being a monk or nun is the “superior” vocation, it’s still in the air.

    And so I left the monastery. It was deeply embarrassing. Did I disappoint God? Did everyone think that I was an indecisive flake? It seems I took that suitcase of guilt to the monastery, and apparently I made sure to pack it up and take it with me when I left.

    The truth is, though, that our vocation is not a secret that we have to figure out. It’s a calling from God that we work out together with God. God works with our hopes and dreams, God works with our desires, and God’s far more creative than to have just one plan for us. We are called to be faithful to God with whatever we do.

    So looking back, we see that whatever our vocation is, whatever we are called to do, whatever we think we might be called to do, whatever it is, follow Jesus with what you do. Listen deeply to God, and follow Jesus. Embrace the messiness of it.

    So over the years of figuring out what God is calling me to, I’ve discovered that it really is a messy thing, not clear cut and easily defined. There are many different ways to go, and God’s got creativity enough to make it up as we go along, too.

    I’m a priest. I’m a thinker and a teacher and a preacher. I’m a parish priest. I’m monk-ish; not a full-fledged monk, but have monk tendencies, but still too much of a hermit to be a monk, so last year I became an associate of a monastic order, the Order of Julian of Norwich, so I can keep my monkish, hermit-ish tendencies in a fellowship with others. I’m also more things than these. I am, in short, called to be me.

    Our vocation, our call, is to be ourselves, fully ourselves, truly ourselves, really ourselves, because that is who Jesus has called to follow him. He calls you to follow him.

    Follow him. Follow Jesus. Amen.

  • January 15, 2023

    Second Sunday after Epiphany

    “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – You may have noticed that part of the Gospel reading today sounded awfully familiar. We have been using it as the fraction anthem, the prayer that comes after the priest breaks the consecrated bread. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.

    One of the key theological points of the Gospel of John that we read from today is that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Paschal Lamb. John’s Gospel puts Jesus’ crucifixion on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, when the lambs would have been killed for the Passover. He is the Lamb, he is the Passover. (You may recall for a while we were using a different fraction anthem, “Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us / Therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleluia”). Christ is the Passover, the Paschal Lamb.

    But we need to remember that, per the Book of Exodus, the Lamb for the Passover isn’t sacrificed for sins. The Passover Lamb isn’t about covering the sins of the Israelites. In the Book of Exodus, the Passover lamb is slaughtered and its blood is put on the doorposts so that Death will pass those homes over and only afflict the Egyptians, who have held the Israelites in slavery for generations. The Passover Lamb is a meal shared between Israelites, and if someone is too poor or small to afford one, they join with their neighbors to share. They roast the lamb, they eat it with unleavened bread, and they put the blood on doorposts and lintel (kind of like the chalk blessing if you took home a blessing kit last week, but not exactly the same).

    The Passover Lamb does two important things in Exodus: it brings the Israelites together, and it sets them free. The Passover Lamb builds community, and it liberates from oppression.

    So, then, why is John the Baptist saying, “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”?

    In the Gospel of John, sin is not like a speeding ticket, a misdemeanor, or a felony. That’s the model we tend to use for sin. You did something wrong, it goes on your criminal record in God’s books, and Jesus gets your record expunged.

    In the Gospel of John, sin is enslavement. It’s a cosmic condition. The sins you and I each do are part of it, but there’s something bigger at play. Sin is an oppressive reality that we’re all stuck in. We need to be set free from it. We need to be liberated from sin, we need a Passover miracle. We need the Lamb of God to get the ball rolling on our freedom, our Exodus from enslavement to sin and to move on toward life and freedom in God.

    Don’t forget the other thing that the Passover Lamb does in the Book of Exodus: it brings the Israelites together. The Passover Lamb doesn’t just set you and me free as individuals – it brings people together and sets them free together as a community. If we want freedom for ourselves, then we should also want freedom for others, for the whole world. We should want the power of the Lamb of God to set the whole world free; as we pray, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world” – not just my sin, not just the sum total of all of our sins, but the sin of the whole world, the whole cosmos, the whole universe. We can’t be selfish with salvation. Salvation sets us free, together.

    And back to the prayer that we have been saying after I break the bread: the third petition goes, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us your peace.” Grant us your peace. In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers his peace to his disciples only when they are gathered. He offers them his peace at the Last Supper before his crucifixion, he gives them his peace when they are gathered together after the resurrection. Peace is shared in community. The Lamb of God calls us together as community. Thus, it is very fitting that we say that prayer before we begin to share in communion. We don’t “Take” communion as if we were in line at the snack bar, but as a sharing in Christ, a sharing in community, a sharing in Christ’s peace, together.

    The Lamb of God liberates us from the oppression of sin, and the Lamb of God liberates us together. The world is longing to hear this message – the world wants to be set free from all these things that bind us, and the world is waiting to be brought together in the love and peace of Christ.

    Where are you going to bring the power of the Lamb in the week ahead? You’re not on your own – you have your fellow faithful alongside you in spirit, in communion. Where can you set people free from what oppresses them? A word of love to set free the spirit oppressed by despair – the work of love to feed the body oppressed by loneliness? As you feast at the supper of the Lamb, remember that this power goes with you – to set you free, to set others free, to bring together in the peace of Christ.

    Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Amen.