What is your cause and mine? What is the reason, the purpose for your and my living?
Isaiah found his cause through a vision: God, in resplendent robe, surrounded by angels, sitting on a throne. Beholding this royal, heavenly court, Isaiah recognized his sinfulness, his essential apartness, his fundamental human estrangement from God: “Woe is me…I am a man of unclean lips!” As God cleansed Isaiah’s lips, he found his cause, “Here am I, send me!” to be a prophet of God.
Paul found his cause through the proclamation of the gospel “that Christ died for our sins;” and that after having been called, through a vision, by none other than Christ himself to abandon his “persecu(tion of) the church of God.”
Peter found his cause through action. Jesus commanded him to do what he knew how to do, to fish, but, as of late, not well. Doing as he was told, he caught more fish than he had dared believe. Having dared not to believe, he recognized his sinfulness, his apartness, his estrangement from Jesus. Falling at Jesus’ feet, Peter confessed; his confession leading to Jesus’ commission: “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people.”
Unlike Isaiah or Paul, I did not see visions. Nor did I, like Peter or Paul, hear the voice of Jesus. Nevertheless, I found my cause, which I identify as the heart of the Jesus story, his life, his gospel, his “good news” message.
This morning, I neither will burden nor bore you with a recount of my life’s story about how I arrived at this place of daily awareness, this place of moment to moment consciousness of my cause. Nevertheless, I do declare unto you my cause, which I summarize in what, now, for over ten years, has become my life’s mantra: When I know that for which, in the name of love and justice, I will dare to die, then I will know how to dare to live. For I have come to believe that only when I know that for which I am willing to lay down my life, only then I will know how to live liberated from all fear of the loss of the things of this world, including my life. Or, to paraphrase this morning’s Collect, to live set free from the bondage of sin to have abundant life.(1)
I trust by now you know that when I speak of love, I’m not talking about emotion or feelings, but rather an active unconditional, impartial benevolence that seeks to do and to be, to embody good toward all. And when I speak of justice, I’m not talking about judgment, much less, condemnation, even less, punishment, as if I have the last or first word about good and bad, right and wrong, for I don’t, but rather active unconditional, impartial fairness that seeks and sees the equality in all.
This is who and what I behold Jesus being and doing. This, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, is who and what I am called to be and to do.
A call, a cause that, at times, terrifies me, for it means nothing less, nothing else than loving and being fair with folk, all folk, including folk who are different from me, folk who think and feel, who intend and act differently than I, folk whose views of the world, of politics, of other people are different than mine, therefore folk who provoke my phobias and prejudices, my fears and my bigotries; nevertheless, folk whom I am called by Jesus to behold as sharing our common God-given humanity and dignity.
This is my cause, the cause for which I am willing to lay down my life.
I close with a question, which, I also trust by now, you knew I would ask: What is the cause for which you are willing to lay down your life so that you can live?
(1) Full text of the Collect for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Prophet Isaiah, Antonio Balestra (1666-1740)
The Conversion of Saint Paul (1610), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Note: Carravaggio depicts that moment, as recounted in Acts 9.1-8, of Saul (later named Paul), on his way to Damascus to apprehend followers of Jesus, blinded by a vision of Jesus; a vision through which Saul heard Jesus’ voice, leading to his conversion.
Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish, James Tissot (1836-1902)