God is present

God is present

This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 31, 2021.


The Rev. Karen A. Calafat

 My favorite teacher in high school was Diane Hudson.  She was the Honors English teacher and Theatre Arts Director.  I loved her.  She was kind of quirky and a little rough around the edges.  She was about 5’6” tall and quite thin.  She had disheveled, dark brown hair, clipped back in no certain order with a variety of hairclips and bobby pins.  She had a gravelly smoker’s voice and piercing blue eyes.  Her clothing style seemed to be whatever her hand landed on first in her closet, matching or not.

Ms. Hudson saw the best in her students and challenged us to become more.  She graded hard and left instructive, insightful notes and questions in the margins.  It was actually a relationship.  I couldn’t wait to get my essays and journals back to see how she connected with me through writing.  I couldn’t wait to receive her guidance to help me become a better writer, a better communicator. The thing about Ms. Hudson was that she taught not only for information, but for transformation.

When I think of her a Maya Angelou saying comes to mind, saying, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how they made you feel.”

I bet you could say that of your favorite teacher – not even remembering what they said or did, but how they made you feel.  Ms. Hudson made me feel worthwhile, capable, motivated. We remember how our favorite teachers impacted our lives and brought about transformation in us.

That is what Jesus entire ministry was about – transformation of lives… leaving people better, leaving them amazed and astonished, helping them see things in a new way, in a new light.

Here is today’s Gospel scene: The people are gathered in the synagogue and the teachers – the scribes – are teaching – their authority comes from studying the Torah and respected Rabbis. Jesus arrives on the scene and embodies the power of God and speaks with authority without consulting the writings or the rabbis.  Jesus claims us for God and for healthy, righteous, joyful living.  Because when Jesus walks into worship, something happens.

Jesus is the honored traveling teacher who stops in at the synagogue, sits down, and teaches. Now we do not know what Jesus taught, be we know how he made the students feel – amazed and astounded.  Jesus taught differently from the scribes who relied on the interpretations of the Torah by various Rabbis.  Scribes were inclined to say, “Rabbi Shammai says this…” or “Rabbi Hillel says that…,” sometimes resulting in confusion for the people who were not sure which interpretation was best.

But Jesus is distinctive in that “he taught them as one having authority.”

Pope John XXIII told about an encounter he had with a group of people, one of whom was the mother of several children.  At one point the pope said to this woman, “Would you please tell me the names of your children.  I realize that anyone in this room could tell me their names, but something very special happens when a mother speaks the names of her own children.”

We know what the Pope was talking about.  (Theologian Scott Hozee explains), ‘… maybe it was something like this that the people sensed about Jesus.  Maybe this is what they meant when they said he had an authority others seemed to lack.  The teachers of the law were good at teaching about God.  They drew from their book learning and seminary training…, but there always seemed to be a bit of disconnect between a given scribe and the God being talking about.’

“But not so with Jesus.  There was an intimacy to his knowledge about God.  He spoke as though he had spent a long time personally being with God.  Oddly enough, it almost seemed at times like he was speaking as God.  Probably no one in Capernaum that day went quite so far as to conclude this was God in the flesh, but when this Jesus fellow talked about God, it was like hearing a mother intone the names of her own children–the love and the personal involvement Jesus had with his subject matter made it clear that this was not coming out of his head so much as his heart.”

Jesus did not quote the experts but spoke from a place of knowing that transformed his hearers. In Mark’s gospel, “we see the teachings of Jesus.  His care for the poor in spirit and mournful is demonstrated, as we will read in the weeks ahead. Jesus’ teaching has everything to do with seeing justice served.  This is what Jesus’ ministry is about…. It is a new teaching, a new preaching.  Not just information, but transformation.” (Mark Graves) Transformation that helps us see things in new ways.  Transformation that makes us more and makes us want more for others.

“They were all amazed.”  Jesus, who astounded the synagogue in Capernaum that day, has the power to amaze and astound us still today.  That same Jesus sees our obstacles, our “demons,” if you will, the things that interfere with our lives – the insecurities, habits or illnesses that prevent us from living life fully.

Perhaps you wonder, “Where is God in all that possesses me? In my depression, addiction, disease? Where is God in my loss, loneliness, grief, sorrow? Where is God when our world gets turned upside down and we aren’t sure how to move forward? Where is God when our doubts, disbelief and disappointments are profound?

There are seasons in life when it is challenging to feel the presence of the Holy. It is in those times we must not lose faith for “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

Wait, persevere, and don’t give up.  God is near.  God is present.  God cares about you in the midst of all that torments you. And there are certainly plenty of torments in our world today.

Many of us heard the beautiful, inspired, powerful poem by Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.  Amanda’s poem, The Hill We Climb, was filled with struggles and hopes – much like her life – much like our country.  Amanda’s own struggle with an auditory processing disorder challenged her ability to speak.  A teacher, a speech therapist, came along and taught her in a way that brought about transformation.  Her writing and delivery were amazing and astonishing.  I hope we take her words to heart, that “our nation isn’t broken, just simply unfinished,” and get busy doing our part to complete the American Dream where all sorts of God’s children are treated equally.

Ms. Hudson was a transformational influence in my life, helping me see in new ways, in new light.  Jesus’ love is transformational, helping us see in new ways and then inviting us into God’s transformational work in the world.  Young Ms. Gorman preached it well, “For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”