Jesus calls us oer the tumult

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA Sunday, January 22, 2017 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)

Gospel reference: Matthew 4:12-23


Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;

day by day his voice still calls us

saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’1

What do you hear, over the tumult of your life? Do you hear Jesus calling? What does it mean, “to follow Jesus?”

Yesterday, over lunch in downtown Berkeley after some 3 hours of marching together, a Canadian friend, not a church person, was asking me about Christianity in America. He said, “so, most Christians in America must be like the new president, yes?” When I answered that I think there is a very, very broad array of what Christianity looks like in America, he was surprised. He said, “well, why don’t we ever hear about that?” I didn’t have a good answer for him.

What does it mean to follow Jesus, out loud? There’s an awful lot we don’t hear over the tumult. Even though we know from so many sacred stories of our tradition that it is often in the midst of trial and storm and waves on the sea that God comes with peace, or with thunder, or with the quietest of voices, and calls us, I think we are still surprised when it is indeed in the midst of tumultuous times that Jesus’ call is clearest.

I love this hymn we just sang. Not because it’s the best music (and there are two beautiful versions!) in the hymnal, but because it really reflects a prayer of my heart.

In the midst of the tumult that always seems to be my life, I am reminded that Jesus is right there, right here, calling me to be faithful. Calling me to follow. And calling me to set aside things I love, when I get them in the wrong order:

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.’ [2]

Love me more—more than ideology, or the illusion of control, or security, or middle class comfort and privilege: more than things that are so much a part of me, I don’t even think how much I love to love them.

[1] Verse 1 of “Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult” as found in The Hymnal 1982. Words by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).
[2] “Jesus calls us…” Verse 3



Last week I saw the film “Hidden Figures.” It is the true story of African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA in the pre-civil-rights era. It’s our history, but history I never learned in any school. The story follows three particular women, brilliant women, (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson) who were very, very clear that God gave them amazing brains, and that they would answer the call presented by this gift to serve their country.

It was also very clear that they were women of faith. The practice of faith was both implicit and explicit in their following of the call. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It reminded me that there are a lot of ways to be faithful—while the Civil Rights movement was unfolding on the streets, they were quietly, consistently and unabashedly opening doors for women and African Americans inside one of the most male, most- white institutions in our country. There are as many ways to follow Jesus as there are children of God. There are a lot of ways to say “yes” to the call.

These women made sacrifices. Their families made sacrifices. When one woman’s supervisor tells his staff to “call your wives and tell them you’ll be working long hours” you see her take a deep breath. She is a widow, getting help from her mother in raising her three daughters. And, there is no phone on her desk.

What would you sacrifice or let go of to follow Jesus? The disciples left their livelihoods. They stepped away from tradition. They gave up known patterns for the unknown. What would we, the church sometimes jokingly referred to as “the frozen chosen” be willing to move to free up space to follow?

As Jesus is calling Andrew, Peter, James and John, he is simultaneously demonstrating to what he is calling them: to be people of healing; and to upheaval in their spiritual lives; to uncertainty, and to trust; to something so powerful, they will give their lives for it.

My friend, I think, was asking why Christianity isn’t messier here. Why, if it’s a broad tent, only some are talking out loud about what their faith says about following Jesus in this time, in this place. Why aren’t we, who welcome all; we, who see all people as God’s beloved ones– why aren’t we making a ruckus about that?

Why aren’t we making sure that in this land that is built on a dream of freedom–why aren’t we talking about the vast and healing freedom of Christ, in ways that can bring healing, and not division; peace that is fueled by mercy and her sister justice, and not passivity, in the face of so much evil in the world.

Instead of lamenting that things are broken, why aren’t we focused on what we bring to repair the world?

Jesus does not call us to be perfect. He calls us to follow.


Leonard Cohen’s refrain in his beautiful song, “Anthem,” reminds us to

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.3

It is through our beautiful gifts AND our imperfections, through the cracks in the world around us, that the Christ light shines. We know from the disciples’ attempts that they most certainly were fishermen. They were not always “catcher-men.” In this call today, Jesus is inviting them to a new kind of fishing lessons. People, as we know, are far more slippery than fish!

What would it take to pry open our resistance to the radical call of the Gospel (and we all

have it) and “give our hearts in glad obedience” to be disciples, and followers, out loud,

proclaiming healing, and peace, and justice? To let the light of God shine out joyfully

and exuberantly through the cracks in our lives? To offer the gifts of who we are and

what we bring, not to make ourselves look better, not to line our wallets, but to build the reign of God, here and now?

Over what tumult is Jesus calling you today? Can you hear the call? How will you answer?

Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works. Amen.4

3 “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen. Full text can be found here.
4 Book of Common Prayer. Collect for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany.