22 August 2010

Proper 21 C - Bent out of Shape

Proper 21 C – The Call to ministry

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Luke 13: 10-17

21 August 2010

St. Luke’s Burlington

Many of you know that I recently returned from vacation and the start of my vacation was spent with 16 other St. Luke’s parishioners, plus even more other Christians (mostly Roman Catholics) from across the United States. The Americans and we almost filled a 40 passenger coach.

We were on a coach tour of the Imperial cities of Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Innsbruck with the tour culminating with the real purpose of the trip, which was to see the Passion Play in the small village of Oberammergau in southern Germany.

The week before the play we had a very busy schedule visiting the sights of the Imperial Cities and getting to know each other better. I really enjoyed being with the other St. Lukans in a different way as well as getting to know a colourful spectrum of Americans with a wide variety of accents.

Perhaps the most flamboyant of the Americans was one of the ladies from New Jersey called Barbara. She had a big, loud voice to match her gregarious personality. She loved to have fun and to make sure that everyone else was having fun as well. And she was a devout Roman Catholic who helped plan and carry out a very moving ceremony of anointing with myrrh on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The main thing which all the people on the tour had in common was our faith.

The Passion Play enacts the story of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion and death and finally his resurrection. The play runs from mid-May to early October five days per week. Each performance lasts for five hours. The whole village gets involved in the play. About 2400 from a population of 5000 are given parts in the play and even those who don’t act in the play are involved in hospitality, feeding the huge quantity of tourists and housing us in the comfortable small hotels in Oberammergau and the surrounding villages. The actors range in age from a few weeks to people in their 90s. For over a year none of the men cut their hair or shave their beards, so that they will look the part.

Some of them who have main parts in the play have to give up or curtail their ordinary day jobs for the five months that the play runs, such as Andreas Richter, who was the actor who played Jesus when we saw the play. Others who have minor parts continue to work in their regular jobs.

What an incredible gift which the people of Oberammergau give to the world in providing this deeply moving Passion Play. These people are really living their faith, and telling the amazing story of our God who loves us so much that he became one of us and then, even further, died for us. When I think about what these villagers do it makes me ask what can we do for our faith? What is God calling you to do?

In today’s Old Testament lesson we have the story of God calling Jeremiah to be his prophet and to call Israel back into faithfulness. But Jeremiah, true to the tradition of most prophets, protests that he can’t be God’s prophet. He says he is too young. But God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” It seems that God has a purpose for Jeremiah, and Jeremiah isn’t very old before he begins to understand his purpose.

I believe that God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and our task in this life is to come to understand what this purpose is, and to life faithfully into it. We’re here for a reason which is beyond simply our own personal needs and desires.

One of the things which we celebrate at a baptism is that we are all baptized into a royal priesthood. This doesn’t mean just the priests, but every baptized person is part of this priesthood. Each one of us has a purpose.

In the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus Christ, we have a few stories of Jesus’ birth, with the angels and the shepherds and all, and the coming of the wise men from afar. And then we only have one other story of Jesus as a young boy, when his parents lose him at the temple, and then that’s it, the next time we hear of Jesus in the Gospels is when he is a man of 30 and he goes to John in the Jordan river and asks to be baptized.

All of the rest of the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ ministry for the three years until his death and resurrection. So the story of Jesus’ ministry really starts after his baptism. Just like us, baptism marks the beginning of ministry.

So how are we to find out what our ministry is about? What we are called to do? Well, following the example which Jesus gives us is a good place to start.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus reaches out to a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She is all bent out of shape and hasn’t been able to stand up straight for all those years. The most amazing thing happens when Jesus touches her and heals her – she stands up straight.

And then another amazing thing happens: the leader of the synagogue, instead of being pleased for this woman is indignant because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath! Jesus does this incredible miracle and the leader of the synagogue is upset because it doesn’t fit into his orderly worship service.

Perhaps as the baptized we can think of those who are bent out of shape, and how they need to be freed to stand up straight. For the most part, I’m not talking about a physical deformity here (though it might mean that.)

What about people whose lives are bent out of shape because of stress in their lives? What about those who desperately need to find balance in their lives? Those who haven’t had the time to find a place for God in their lives? Those are some people who we might reach out to as we follow Jesus’ example.

And today, as we baptize these young children into the Christian family, we might ask, but how can they have a ministry – they are so young? A huge part of the ministry of their parents and Godparents is to help these children listen for the voice of God calling them, so they can discover how they can live into their baptismal ministry.

When we finally left the passion play late at night we jumped on a bus with the words, Werner Richter Omnibus painted on the side, to take us back to our hotel. The older man who drove the bus had long grey hair and a grey beard, and looked a bit like a hippie, but he had actually acted in the play that night in a small part. But he passed out a colour photo of his family including his two adult sons his daughter-in-law and his infant grandchild, all of whom, including the infant, had parts in the passion play. As the photo went around the bus there was a moment of recognition. The married son with the wife and child in the play was the actor who played Jesus that night and our bus driver was none other than his father.

Barbara’s joyous Jersey voice loudly rang out as she called to her friend, “Would you get a load of this: God is driving our bus!”

All of us have a part to play in God’s world, no matter how young or old. It might not be a part in a passion play, but may we each have the grace to listen for God’s voice calling us so that we may find our deepest meaning in fulfilling God’s purpose. Amen.

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