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Epiphany 3 – 1/26/2020 – St. Paul’s-Annual Meeting

Almost fifty years ago, I had my first meeting with the Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago to talk about my call, my belief that God was calling me to be a priest. My Rabbi, Alan Tarshish had recommended to Bishop Montgomery that he reach out and visit with me seeing as I was not 

going to be a rabbi anymore.  My Rabbi thought I was still called by God. I only remember two things about that day with Bishop Montgomery: 1) being so nervous that I felt like I was going to pass out, and 2) being asked….What have you given up to enter the ministry?”  I managed to say something, but the most truthful answer would have been, As a forestry major in college and looking at being number 16 in the draft and no job prospects…because I was going off to war…. not much!  

Years later, as part of a discernment team for the Diocese of Maryland, I found myself in conversation about a call with a young person who has worked for a major American corporation for several years and makes a nice six-figure salary with good benefits and bonuses. I said, For me, “what I was giving up” was all theoretical; for you the change in standard of living will be very real and possibly quite shocking and painful.

In today’s Gospel lesson we see people whose sacrifices were very real. It is probable that they were also shocking and painful; if not to themselves then certainly to their family members and business partners who depended on them for help in earning a living. As I read this lesson over and over, I wondered – How can anybody just drop everything and go, on a moment’s notice, just like that?,  especially when to do so is giving up so much in terms of financial security and personal relationships.

And yet, the Bible tells us that first the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and then the brothers James and John, immediately got up and walked away from their boats and their nets and their families when Jesus called them.  (Actually, it refers to James and John as other brothers, which makes me laugh because it reminds me of the Newhart Show and the line, my other brother Darrel,)   Unless these two sets of brothers are as clueless as the backwoods brothers both named Darrel, how could they make such an apparently thoughtless and reckless choice?  How could they walk away from a lucrative business catching and selling fish in order to follow a carpenter who offered them nothing but a vague promise to teach them to fish for people?

Well, this being the Epiphany season we must make allowance for the idea that Simon and Andrew and James and John had, well, an epiphany – a sudden realization of the truth, in this case a sudden realization of the truth about who Jesus was and as a result, an equally sudden realization of the truth about who they themselves were.

Most of us in the modern world aren’t real comfortable with Epiphanies and Revelations and sudden realizations of the truth.  We are much more at home carefully calibrating the odds and possibilities, gathering together our data and building a logical case for the truth. We are all a lot more Sgt. Joe Friday; Just the facts Ma’am, just the facts, than we are Hank Williams; I saw the light; I saw the light; no more darkness, no more night.

But there they were, those hard-working fishermen, confronted by the commanding presence of an itinerant preacher and precious few other facts to go on.  Had they heard of him?  Had they heard of his baptism in the River Jordan and the dove from heaven and the voice proclaiming him the beloved son and messiah?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We don’t know.

All we know is that Jesus came out of the wilderness a changed man.   He had wrestled with the devil and his own vocation for forty days and he came out of there sure of who he was and what he was to do.  He came out of the wilderness and into the world ready to teach in the synagogues and proclaim the good news of the kingdom; he came out prepared and eager to cure diseases and sicknesses among the people.  He came out ready to get to work, and he came out ready to pick some people to work with him.

And so he strode down the beach and he looked these people in the eye and said, You, you, you, and you.  Yes you.  Come with me.  We have work to do.  And they came.  For us today it matters not why those men chose to follow Jesus that day.  It matters to us that they did, for it was through them, and others like them, that the gospel has come to us.

What is important for us today is that Jesus has issued to us the same invitation, the same call, the same imperial command to follow, that he issued to them.  And you know what?  We deserve it as little as they did and understand it even less.

The message is that God in Christ has chosen us, every last one of us, to be his disciples, his followers, his fishers of folk.  And God has not chosen us because we are the smartest, or the prettiest, or the richest, or the most popular, or the most likely to succeed.  No, God has chosen us because God is God and God is love and God has graciously loved us in spite of ourselves, and when that overwhelming reality suddenly becomes clear to us – all of us then have a moment of epiphany and revelation and realization and find ourselves in the midst of a great light that has pushed back all our darkness and all our night.

And the only rational thing any of us can do at that moment is to lay aside whatever it was we were doing  that we thought was so important and give it and ourselves  over to God and the Kingdom. To be disciples is to live in a way that chooses transformation, that embarks on journeys, that embraces change, and that takes risks.

And the strange thing is, when we do that, God turns us around and sends us right back out to do the same thing in the world that we were doing before.  But now, we do it differently.  We do it knowing we do it not for ourselves, for our own pleasure, or improvement, or material gain; we do it for God.  We do it knowing that we are in the world as ambassadors for Christ, as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We do our work and live our lives knowing that the most important things we do are those things that help others know that they too are chosen by God, loved by God, wanted by God.

And in the end we will never, ever think about what we have given up to follow God.  Instead, we will wonder how we ever got by without God and God’s work in our lives.

With his new team of followers, Jesus goes on the road. He is growing into his work as God’s Beloved One, teaching, preaching, welcoming, and healing. We are part of God’s realm today. We are the ones God is waiting for. Not only each one of us individually also as a faith community….How will we follow Jesus?  How will we  be open to God’s vision of Shalom, opening the creative transformation of Christ at St. Paul’s and the Big Bend Region

What might St. Paul’s be like if we could be more courageous – more willing to be adventurous? Imagine a courageous church. A church like that would be worth joining, worthy of sacrifice and devotion. A church like that will inevitably grow. A church like that will burst with love and witness. A church like that will be living only for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be that church. AMEN+

Opening Prayer

Gracious Light-Bearer, 

Into the shadows of our isolation 

you speak words of life and community.
Challenger of our lives,
you call us from places we call home
to lead us more deeply into the world you love.
With your gentle, healing touch
you redeem the broken places of our lives
and you heal the wounded places of the earth.
Inspire our worship and annual meeting here this day,
so that we may receive liberation in your word,
and be filled to overflowing
to share your reconciling love throughout the earth.
We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Offering

With a clear voice, 

Jesus calls us to accept 

the costs and joys of discipleship,

and the challenges of living in peaceful unity 

with those who are different from one another. 

As we make our offering at this altar,

let us remember that we give and work and love

on behalf of Christ’s whole and undivided body on earth, 

and let us celebrate the gift of unity that is ours

through the Spirit and our generous hearts.

Benediction

May you go now in peace, 

for Christ has called you to live in peace

among your brothers and sisters in Christ.
May you Go now in courage,
for Christ has called you from the places of your life
to be agents of redemption and partners in healing.

May you Go now in joy and thanksgiving,

for Christ is our light! 

May we Go now as one body, 

with the Blessing of God Almighty……
.