by Rev. Joan Kessler
So much has changed in our world these past four weeks since I was last with you on a Sunday. And I suspect we are all concerned and waiting with some trepidation around events taking place in the neighborhood to the south of us this coming week. We watched as protesters storm the Capitol building in Washington, the center and symbol of the United States and its democracy on 6 January. And how I remember this event was all the wordage that was used through media outlets. Words mattered. They were analyzed, denounced, blocked, and suspended. I was reminded of a phrase this week that I suspect we have all heard at some point and that is the “Medium is the Message”. It was coined by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher and a communications theorist. He lived from 1911 to 1980 and his work is considered to be among the cornerstones of the study of media. The Medium is the Message refers to how a message is received based on how it is shared. For example, you likely perceive spoken words differently from written words, music is experienced differently from an image alone. Despite the reality that McLuhan died in 1980 and would have had no experience of the internet or social media, he argued that various media streams including radio, television, films and computers would have far-reaching social and philosophical consequences to the point of altering the way we experience the world. It was McLuhan who first spoke about technology and communication having the ability to create a “global village,” where ideas are shared easily and widely.
The global village as we have come to know it is in a bit of state at the moment. If the presence of COVID hasn’t given us pause to consider our speech, the values and beliefs we hold, then the recent US electoral defeat of an incumbent president certainly has altered the way we relate and communicate with one another in our closer personal relationships as well as our “global” circles. Media moguls, Twitter and Facebook, took the bold step to suspend the accounts of Donald Trump. Twitter’s justification for the closure was on the grounds of false allegations concerning the election and inciting violence and unrest. This act brings into the spotlight the discussion around the power and influence of the tech industry and begs the question of what their role and responsibility is towards the sharing of ideas.
We are in the church season of Epiphany which celebrates not only the visit of three Magi to a holy family in order they might bring gifts to the infant Jesus and celebrate the birth of the one whom they identified as the King of the Jews; this is also a season for revelation… for asking and discovering once again who is this Jesus? And this morning we hear the familiar story of Jesus calling his first disciples and John’s version of Jesus’ encounter with Philip and Nathanael. Jesus’ approach is direct and uses few words to extend an invitation to the people to follow him. There’s no job description provided or necessary skills listed. What is interesting about John’s take on this call story is that we are privy to the discussion between Philip and Nathanael about Jesus… to whom he belongs and where he comes from. Nathanael has formed an early opinion and quips, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see”, says Philip. Other gospel versions of Jesus calling the disciple are very one-sided… Jesus calls to fishers and tax collectors who in turn, drop what they are doing, leave their families and go with him… we hear of no discussion around the matter. But John creates an encounter for us in much of his writing of Jesus’ ministry… he is intent on establishing who this Jesus is and what others know of him, everyday folks just going about their business.
Call stories shared in church are often used to lift up the vocation of clergy, of dedicating one’s life to answering a divine call or nudging from the Spirit. And I hear it said all the time that people struggle to identify with stories of Jesus calling of his disciples because they do not feel they have had such an experience…that God no longer speaks or if such an event were possible, that voice would only be made known to a select few. Jesus’ concise wordage, Follow me, is warm and invitational… there’s no talk of what this means… no experience necessary… no call to take up arms or storm a nation’s centre of government and democracy… but interestingly enough Jesus and the disciples will travel to those places… to markets to overturn tables… to Temple steps and city squares to deliver words of peace and compassion for those who the system of the day left out, and overheard by those who will stop at nothing to maintain the current government and its hold on power.
The words I am drawn to this day are “Come and see”. They too are invitational and peak my curiosity and wonder. What will I find? You may be listening to this message and have decided that you have not ever experienced a sense of call… but I am going to be so bold as to suggest you have. In my humble opinion, it matters little our theological perspective, who you are or what you believe, you are here listening to this message this morning. You came to see for yourselves… and this is where the excitement begins to build… on a January Sunday in the midst of a pandemic where it feels like not much of anything is going on and there’s nothing to look forward to. But there is… come and see. Come and see how the alarm system gets tested each month and how our building upkeep happens in big and small ways unbeknownst to most of us… come and see the calendar that reminds us of our story and the things we long to return to… come and see the thrift store donations get sorted and ultimately fill the needs of our dedicated customers week after week… come and see the beauty of our created world as we walk and talk along the trail…come and see the church décor changed out to beautify this space that waits patiently for our return and celebrates our varied liturgical seasons. There is a lot to look at from where I am standing… what about you… . We have our challenges to create a service that invites wide access and participation. It occurred to me this week through conversation with friends that if we had not embraced Zoom for our Sunday service means of delivery, I don’t know how well I would have gotten to know you all this past year. I am grateful for the reminder and on this first Sunday back, I celebrate our connection to one another the community we find here.
Marshall McLuhan once said, We become what we behold…and we somehow secure the tools we need to this end… we all have our own thoughts and opinions on what is happening in our world and this has led to difficult exchanges in some families. But may we all heed Jesus’ gentle invitation to follow in our own ways and means, using the gifts and the tools we have and perhaps be ready to pick up some new ones along the way. We are still here because we continue to come and see. Some are invited through a divine sense of call… and more still by the invitation of others on the ground. This is work we are compelled to undertake… to invite others to come and see what we have found. I hope over the coming weeks, you will give some strong consideration to sharing our Zoom link with another household as we continue to meet and pray and long for reconciliation and peace in our world and in our families. May it be so.
Amen and Amen.
We become what we behold. We shape our tools then our tools shape us. ~ Marshall McLuhan