Epiphany 2B 2005 John 1:43-51
I may have mentioned before that often when I am driving down Interstate-85 through that part of the South between Petersburg,
Virginia and Durham, North Carolina, on my way to visit family in the Carolinas and Georgia -- when I am driving through that
part of the South I find that on the radio classical music stations and Public Broadcasting stations are not easily found.
So I began to listen to African American preachers who were a lot more interesting than anything else I could dial up on the
Some of you know that I have on occasion been invited to preach in several of the African American Baptist churches nearby,
particularly Shiloh, in Burgess. Or to speak as part of the long celebration of someone’s life in one of these lively
churches as par of the rite of funeralizing, Some of you have even been there when this happened.
Just by absorption while listening to great African American preachers like Malcom Currie -- an Episcopal priest and now Bishop
of North Carolina -- I learned a lot about what homiletics professors in Seminary call the Black Preaching Tradition. I learned
about cadencing, pausing, inflection, and particularly call and response in rhythms and waves of participation by congregations
attuned to the preacher, the sermon, and the Gospel. And I have to tell you that to step into an African American church
pulpit is quite an experience.
Last week the Burial Office was read for Katharine Cochran here in this church. Most of us don’t know Katharine. She
followed her husband Mckie out of the Episcopal Church about 17 years ago when one of my predecessor rectors insisted on introducing
the “new” Prayer Book. Which book, by then, considering trial use, had been familiar to many if not most Episcopalians
for thirty years and had been formally adopted by General Convention in 1979.
Three African American ladies came to the service. They gave a new meaning to call and response. Beginning with the scripture
readings and continuing through the service they constituted an ever louder and enthusiastic “Amen Corner”.
My short homily, primarily scripturally based, stirred up even more their enthusiastic response. And I must admit that I
slid easily into cadencing and pacing so that their Amens and Praise the Lord’s and Yes Jesuses, Yes Lords could be
lifted to highest heaven. And lo and behold, we were able to continue doing this through the rest of the Prayer Book burial
liturgy. This call and vigorous response pattern made the burial office something new, and gave profound meaning to turning
sadness into joy.
At the graveside I thanked the three ladies for their joyful enthusiastic responses. One of them said this: “I praise
my Lord and Savior wherever and whenever I can. If I can’t do that I will die inside.”
Call and response. Isn’t this the essence of Christian faith, being, and living? God calls us and we respond. God
calls us in our baptism to become what we were meant to be from the moment of our birth. God calls us constantly all our
days and we fail to respond sometimes, sometimes we delay, but when we fail to respond at all, it can be at our peril. We
may die inside.
Any talk about call and response for me makes sense and is meaningful only when it is anecdotal, when it is story.
Some of us who hear, felt, a call needed to wait, delay, and grow up. I was once with a youth group from Pohick Church on
a retreat at Shrinemont. This was in the middle 1970s, and both my children were part of that group. Our seminarian was
the retreat leader. He was also a marvelous guitarist.
The one campfire song that I remember from that weekend was one that had this phrase in it: “I heard the Lord call
my name; ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.” It still rings through my memory.
So the next week I went to see my rector to talk about the still small voice that had been nagging me for a number of years.
I believed that it meant seminary and the priesthood. He was encouraging and I returned to Shrinemont shortly afterward for
interviews with the Commission on ministry. A few weeks after that Bishop Hall talked top me in his office. “Not
yet,” he said. “Finish your Army career and then come back and talk to us.” I took his advice even though
I was personally disappointed. And it was very good advice indeed. And fifteen years later I had grown up enough so that
I could give myself to the response to the call.
I have to be honest and say that there are people in the Army who knew me in those years are still surprised – some
don’t even believe it yet. I get funny looks at reunions.
Our Old Testament and Gospel lections for today are all about call and response. There is the story of God’s call to
the young Samuel. And Samuel finally responds, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The psalm, 89, is passionate, almost overwhelming in the response of the psalmist to God’s call:
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water
For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
…and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.
The Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ call to Philip and Nathanael. Philip’s response at first is only physical.
He simply follows when Jesus called him. But then he finds Nathanael to bring him to Jesus. And when Nathanael meets with
Jesus, Nathanael responds with faith: “You are the Son of God!”
Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, must have had this or passages like it in mind when he
noted that there are two kinds of believing. One kind of belief is to believe things about God. He said there are some things
we can affirm about God that we can also say about the Turks, the devil, or hell. These are facts: encyclopedia knowledge.
This is belief. Luther then talked about another kind of belief. Belief as faith. Not only do we believe in God, but we
begin to put our trust in him. We bet our lives on the truth that there is a God. We even begin to give him our money because
we really do believe this business. We surrender to him. We follow him. We respond to his call. We believe that he is
with us, and nothing can separate us from his love. (1)
Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in an order of monks in France. Brother Lawrence, who came to the monastery relatively
late in his life, found himself eventually assigned to the scullery, the room where kitchen pots and pans and dishes and utensils
were kept and cleaned. He felt that he was being consigned for the rest of his life to the washing of the pots and pans and
the other cooking utensils of the monastery. At first he was a little uncertain if he had done the right thing by coming
to the monastery; washing dishes was not quite what he had in mind when he joined up. But he kept at it. And he found that
the relatively mindless task of washing pots and pans gave him plenty of time to think, meditate, reflect, and pray. He became
a very saintly person in the process, all his rebellion at being assigned to the kitchen scullery long gone.
As Brother Lawrence was near the end of his life, his abbot came to sit by the side of his bed and took notes on what the
old monk had to say. When asked what was the secret to his saintliness, Brother Lawrence said that it was only this: he
tried to do whatever task he was given to the glory and honor of God. And since his assigned task was the washing of pots
and pans, he tried to wash them in the best way he could, all the time meditating and praying. And he had spent the best
years of his life in this. And if it brought him any saintliness, he wasn’t sure. But he had given it his very best.
(2) He had responded with all he had to God’s call.
Perhaps Hymn 549 says everything that still needs to be said about call and response today:
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, “Christian, follow me;”
as, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, “Christian, love me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”
Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Savior, make us hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all. (3)
1. eSermons illustrations for 15 January 2006
2. Daily Readings with Brother Lawrence, Templegate Publishers, n.d., p. 30 et passim.
3. The Hymnal 1982