Sermon: Epiphany 3 RCL B – “Encounter”

keep-calm-and-encounter-jesusBoudreaux lived across the bayou from Clarence, who Boudreaux did not like. There was no bridge or other easy way to cross the bayou so the two would argue by yelling across the bayou.

Boudreaux would often yell across the bayou to Clarence, “Clarence, if I had a way to cross dat bayou, I would come beat you up!”

The threats continued for many years.

One day the state built a bridge across the Bayou.

Soon after the bridge was built, Boudreaux’s wife, Clotile, says “Boudreaux, you’ve been talking about going across dat bayou to beat up Clarence all dese years. Now that they have dat bridge, what are you waiting for?”

So Boudreaux decided it was time to go see Clarence, so he started walking down to the bridge.

Just as he was getting ready to cross the bridge, he looks up at the sign on the bridge, reads it, and goes back home.

When Boudreaux gets home, Clotile asks “Mais, Boudreaux, did you go beat up Clarence?” Boudreaux said, “Mais no Clotile, dat sign on dat bridge says ‘Clearance 13 feet 3 inches’. Mais, Clotile, Clarence don’t look dat big from across de bayou!”

There are times when we all look out over the bayou and think that Clarence isn’t all that big. It is a common mistake and folks have been warning us against for years. Thoughts such as, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and, “Don’t judge another until you walk a mile in their shoes” Unfortunately, it is quite often how we operate. We get these preconceived ideas that we apply to situations and people. You see a man wearing a camel hair coat with a leather belt, who eats locust and wild honey and you think to yourself, “There’s a freak.” Turns out – prophet of the Most High God. See a sharp dressed man walking down the street with a briefcase in one hand and a cell phone in the other and you think, “Successful. Upstanding citizen.” Turns out he’s a mean drunk and last night he beat his wife to within an inch of her life.

It is the same way when folks have an encounter with Christ for the first time. Think of the stoning of Stephen that we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Who was there? “They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul… And Saul approved of their killing him… Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”

Saul had an idea about this Jesus: He was a madman, a heretic, a liar, and deceiver. A destroyer of truth. This Jesus deserved the death he received and now his followers deserve nothing less. Cut out the disease and let it die. But then Saul encountered Christ. Not the Christ he had been told about or the Christ that he had conjured up in his mind. He encountered the Risen Lord:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”

Saul – that is the great disciple Paul – had an encounter with Christ. The scales that had blinded him from seeing who Jesus truly was fell from his eyes, he believed, he was baptized, and he proclaimed the Word of God. In the end, it cost him his life, but that didn’t bother him. As he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

The Gospel reading from last week and this week are about Christ encounters, first meetings with Jesus. Last week it was Philip and Nathanael. This week it is Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. When they met Jesus for the first time, when he said to them, “Follow me,” they already had this idea of who they thought he was. How? From the time they were old enough to understand the Torah – God’s Holy Word – they were taught about the long awaited Messiah. They believed he was going to be a great leader and military genius. Another King David and Moses rolled into one, but on steroids. However, like Paul would later understand and so many others since then, the apostles would grow to know that the Christ is so much more than they had originally believed.

You are fully known by God, but to know God – even a little bit – requires much more from you than simply looking across the bayou and yelling at him. It actually takes walking with Him, and not just talking to Him, but listening to Him as well. To know God requires that you not only break bread with Him, but that you also suffer with Him, die with Him, and rise victorious with Him. Therefore, you too must have a Christ encounter, so that you might be joined to Him and made one with God.

What is so amazing about this Christ encounter is that for it to occur you don’t have to be up on the holy mountain or cloistered away in a nunnery or monastery. Jesus encountered the disciples on the shores of the sea. Paul was encountered on the road to Damascus. Mary Magdalene was encountered in adultery. Matthew was encountered at work as a tax collector. Lazarus was encountered in the grave. St. Josemaria writes, “What amazes you seems quite natural to me: God has sought you out right in the midst of your work. That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, John and James, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the customhouse. And – wonder of wonders – Paul, in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity.”

Your encounter with Christ is not something that must follow a specific formula, nor will it happen at a specific time or under certain circumstances. Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The time and place are determined by God, because it is in that time and in that place that God desires to use you. Yes, some are called out for other service, but most are called to serve God where they are. Paul teaches us, “Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” In most instances, we don’t serve God in some yet to be disclosed location, but instead we serve Him right where we are, in the midst of our lives. Writing on the topic of conversion St. Cyril of Jerusalem declares, “You are standing in front of God and in the presence of the hosts of angels. The Holy Spirit is about to impress his seal on each of your souls. You are about to be pressed in the service of the great king,” and in all likelihood that service will not occur in a stone basilica made of marble and gold. Instead, it will occur in the office where you work, the home where you raise your children, the dusty streets and back alleys of your own neighborhood. It will occur in the general messiness of your life, because that is where – through you – others will encounter Christ.

We are made one with Christ where we are, so that we might be used by Christ, where we are. You don’t have to be ordained or travel around the world in order to serve God, because you can serve Him by living your life for Him, right where you are.

St. Jean Eudes was a 17th century French missionary. The following was his prayer for his people, and you may not like it, but let’s pray it anyways. Let us pray: I implore Jesus to annihilate you entirely and to establish Himself perfectly in you; to draw and consume you completely within Himself; to be all in you, that one may no longer see anything but Jesus in your interior or exterior life, in time and eternity; to dwell in you, live and function in you, suffer and die in you, and adore and glorify Himself in you in whatever way He desires. Through the intercessions of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and in Jesus most Holy Name we pray. Amen.

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