Sermon for January 15th, 2017.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced a new series of superheroes. They weren’t to be like other superheroes; they didn’t come from outer space, nor did they have one moment in their life that completely changed them and transformed them. Instead, these were humans, but they were special humans. They were mutants.
I am referring to the X-Men. X-Men, were humans, but they were mutants. For some reason they had this genetic mutation that gave each and every one of them some strange, special power. On the outside they might have looked like any other human, but as they grew up and became adolescents they discovered that they weren’t like everybody else; that they were special. Something about them was different and they could do things, or at least one thing, that nobody else could do.
One of them had wings like an angel that allowed him to fly; another one had claws that made him like a wolverine; another was able to control ice. You get the picture. They each had something special about them that they could do that nobody else could do quite that way. And because they were mutants, and different, the rest of society (that they didn’t fit into) very often rejected them. There was suspicion and tension between regular humans and these special mutant humans.
Because they felt rejected, some of these special mutant humans began to hate others that were “normal.” And they decided that since they were going to be rejected that they would find against the normal humans, and hurt them like they had been hurt.
Then there are the others, those who come underneath the wings of Professor X, that are taken to this School for Gifted Youngsters, (which happens to be in Westchester County, which I find amusing). At this School for Gifted Youngsters he teaches them that they can use their special powers, not to hurt humans, but to help them; to fight for them; to fight for good in the world. He teaches them that although they are not like the rest, like every other human, but still that difference has a purpose and a use.
The X-Men has been going on since the 60s, has had a popular following and now it has been made into several blockbuster movies. It’s not just because it makes for great special effects and great fantasy. It does do that, and it is fun to watch, but I think that part of the enduring popularity of the X-Men is because it touches on an emotion that many of us can identify with. Feeling like you don’t belong is actually a pretty common human emotion. We may not always feel that way, but at some point in our lives, I am willing to bet that most of us have felt like we didn’t fit in.
Maybe we didn’t fit into our community; maybe we didn’t fit into our families or our religious groups. For whatever reason, we have looked at our differences and looked at what other people have, or what they show, and we have felt left out. We all at some point deep down want to fit in to a community; we want to belong, we want to be accepted, and most of us at some point in our life have felt rejected. That is a strong theme in this comic book series: these people are rejects. These people who have these tremendous and amazing powers, still society has rejected them and not valued what they had to offer. Most of them as they are growing up, they don’t even value their own gift; it’s a burden; it’s a liability; it’s what makes them different. They see it as what excludes them, not what makes them special.
The problem is that if you are constantly comparing yourself to others it can be very easy to feel that you don’t fit in, or that you don’t have what it takes, or that you’re not talented enough, or not gifted enough because you don’t have what someone else has. I think most of us go through that at some point. I know that I, myself, whenever I have see someone that is very talented (a musician, or a dancer, or a preacher, whatever) I think: “If I could just have that talent.” “How great would it be if I could have more of what that person has!” Whenever you spend that much time focusing on what someone else has that you don’t, you often miss what you have that they don’t. You often overlook the special gifts that you’ve been given, that they might need, value or envy. We are all of us different for a reason. I think part of the key to happiness in life is figuring out what that reason is.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus is beginning his ministry. He was baptized last week and this morning he has begun to call his disciples together. He begins with Andrew and then Peter, and then we know he will go on and continue to gather his twelve. This week somebody shared online a chart of the twelve disciples, who later became apostles (see the chart here). Not only did it have all their names, but it also had listed underneath each one how they all died, and then underneath that where their remains supposedly are today. Now I was fascinated by this and I thought wouldn’t this make a great punch-card for Anglo-Catholics like myself to tick off each one that I have gotten to go and see. So far I’ve only seen one (twice), that’s Saint James, but there are so many more and here is the list of where their bones are supposedly held. I thought wouldn’t this be great, I’m collecting them like superheroes.
But as I was looking at that chart I thought: gosh, these people are so different from each other. Even Andrew and Peter, who are brothers, are quite different characters. Although we don’t know a tremendous amount about some of them, those that we do know, we know that they came from different walks of life, they had different skills, and if you look at the chart you will see that they all wound up in different parts of the world. No doubt they ministered in different ways, and ministered to different people, and yet, each and every one of them was called by God to serve and to build his kingdom. Each one of those apostles was unique. They might have had some things in common, but I would venture to say that they had a lot that was not in common. They probably, at times, looked at each other and said “why am I with you people? How do I fit into this picture?” And yet we know that Christ called each and every one of them for a reason. Each and every one of them was integral to building his kingdom.
I think it is worthwhile to ask ourselves what our own gifts and talents are. Now, of course if you are watching superhero movies you are probably going to feel inadequate. You are probably going to think that: “I don’t control the wind, or water, or ice, and I don’t have the power to change magnetic fields or read people’s minds like Professor X.” No, maybe not, but maybe you have gifts that you don’t even realize are gifts. Maybe you have things that you might think of as limitations. Perhaps you are a rather chatty person; perhaps you are charismatic; maybe you are a good leader; perhaps you can add numbers in your head (I can’t). Whatever it is, realize that there are skills that you have and talents that you have that God can use, no matter how much they may make you feel like a mutant in this world.
The prophet Isaiah, like many of the prophets, was a rather bizarre person, he did not fit in to popular society. He was not always accepted, but he was charismatic. He knew how to preach; he had visions; he could see things; he had a close relationship with God and he used that to build God’s kingdom. Isaiah didn’t always feel worthy to do this work, certainly not, but he at the same time recognized that God had been shaping him, fashioning him throughout his life like a tool. He could see himself as an arrow in God’s quiver (a quiver, if you don’t know, is the basket you put arrows in if you are into archery). That is how Isaiah saw himself: as a tool that had been fashioned by God, and whatever shape that eventually took, no matter how odd it seemed, there it was waiting to be used by God. And he wouldn’t be the last prophet to think that way.
John the Baptist, another person who did not fit into society, wandered the desert dressed strangely and eating strange things. And yet, he has this powerful charisma and a vision. He knows that part of his mission is to point out God’s messiah, God’s anointed, when he sees him. And when Christ comes to him to be baptized that is exactly what he does. He uses his weirdness, his differentness to serve God, to point to Christ and to point others to him.
There he says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that takes away the sins of the world.” Now that probably sounds a little bit familiar to you, because in the old tradition, after the Eucharistic prayer, the priest turned to the congregation and says “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that taketh away the sins of the world.” That comes from here, the words of John the Baptist pointing others to Christ.
The response that people say comes from another part of scripture. In the episode where Jesus is going to the home of the centurion who has a sick servant. The centurion, who is not a Jew and doesn’t fit in to the community (although he is respected by them) says to Jesus: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” Whenever we hear “behold the Lamb of God…” we respond: “Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the world only and my soul shall be healed.” Even though that centurion didn’t feel worthy to work for God or even have him under his house, still he was used by God as an example of faith. Christ applauded his faith; his trust in his word. Even when we don’t feel worthy; when we don’t feel like we fit in, still God can use us to build his kingdom.
The superheroes of our faith, the apostles and the saints, they were all very different, very unique individuals with different talents and different skills, but somehow they learned to use their difference to work for God. So remember that when you don’t fit in, or when you feel like you are not worthy or that you don’t have enough talent or that you don’t have the talent that everyone else has, remember that the thing that makes you different might be just the very thing that God needs.