Sunday, January 26, 2014

III Epiphany

 (A) Matthew 4: 12-23

Grace and peace and good morning this Third Sunday after the Epiphany, the Thirty-Third Day of Christmas, in the midst of this winter, and with the encouragement of knowing that as of tomorrow there are only nine more weeks--nine!-- until our Pirates will take their opening day positions against the Chicago Cubs down at PNC Park.  So no matter how much it snows this afternoon: hints of spring and summer in the far distance! 

Thinking about different seasons of the year:  no bagpipes this morning, but the Second Lesson certainly should ring for us with great familiarity, anyway the last part of our reading from the fourth chapter of St. Matthew--which is, we would I’m sure all pretty much remember once we hear the reminder, the gospel reading appointed for the festival observance of our Patron, St. Andrew the Apostle.  So we in this parish hear this reading every year in November, echoing deep down and front-and-center in our congregational psyche and DNA. 

Again and again for almost 177 years now for this congregation:  Jesus looking deeply into our eyes and hearts to issue that great invitation and to enlist us to join his work.  In the cadences of the traditional translation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Last Sunday in the announcements I had a few words to say of appreciation and encouragement about our recent Annual Stewardship Campaign.   And just to repeat again this remarkable moment, that in the same year that we as a congregation amazingly responded to a call to support the Opening Door campaign for capital improvements and outreach, with gifts and pledges from a smaller congregation like ours of more than $1.5 Million Dollars--50% more than the total that the metrics of our feasibility study originally indicated as the upper end of our most likely projection--and so providing the foundation to build new capacity and new resources for mission and ministry in generations to come . . .  in that same year, to have turned almost immediately after the conclusion of the development portion of the Opening Doors Capital Campaign to turn to the annual campaign for 2014, and in just a few fall and early winter weeks to know that more families, more households have made pledges of support for the life and work we will share together next year I’m pretty sure than we have seen in more than the last 20 years, and to see more resources pledged and committed to this work in annual giving for 2014 again, in real dollars, than in any year before.  Near as I can tell maybe all the way back to 1837.

What is going on here?  Something, that’s for sure.  Something.  Follow me, and fish for people.

The point of all this isn't really for us to be congratulating ourselves for two overlapping and still very successful fundraising campaigns.  That sounds like fun, and in fact I think it probably is fine to smile a bit for a moment. We can and should celebrate.

But I actually think the more emotionally coherent and spiritually discerning thing for us all to be feeling right now around St. Andrew’s is, you should pardon the expression: a sense of terror.  I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word.  But close.  And I’m actually pretty serious about that.  Holy Cow!  What in the world is going on?  Keep your eyes open.  Hold on to your hats.

Peter and Andrew heard these words.  Get up.  Now.  Now.  Put down what you were doing.  Follow me.  A whole new agenda for you.  To use a term that got really overused a few years ago, but is right on target here:  a paradigm shift.  And what they must have felt, pretty much it seems to me what you and I, all of us, might be feeling in these first weeks of 2014, facing deep truth in the presence of Jesus.  Which is just to say, “something really big is about to happen, IS happening, right here, right now.”  Something really big.   Our next job, a challenge much bigger and way more important than a couple of stewardship campaigns, is going to be to get our eyes open and our heads straight and figure out just what it is.  What it means.  What we're supposed to do now.  Look and listen.  Watch and pray.

If this moment is going to mean anything, it certainly is not just about one brief afternoon conversation by the shore.

 The Kingdom is near.  Right here, in fact.  Sometimes we talk about “hiding in plain sight.”  Back in the 1980’s when I was doing a lot of Youth Ministry we had a conference worship book with a song, “Have you seen Jesus my Lord?  He’s here in plain view.  Take a look, open your eyes.  He’ll show life to you.”  So by the seashore, mending nets, needing to learn to see in a new way.  God reaching in, with mercy and forgiveness and love.   

Jesus comes to the disciples because he has big, big plans for them.  More than anything they ever could have imagined.  Plans that are going to launch them from the routines of their ordinary lives and carry into a life of challenge and purpose and accomplishment that never could have been on their radar.  He’s not just inviting them to join him for a six week tour of the Galilean villages.   A short-term mission trip.  No, this is different.  Turning everything over.  A watershed moment.  This is the pivot of history, after all.  A moment of transformation that is cosmic in scope.  The whole creation has been groaning to come to moment, as St. Paul says in Romans 8.  In the presence of Jesus, enlisted, lifted up.  Come with me.  Nothing ever going to be the same again.

Jesus says in St. Luke’s gospel, “from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”  And that’s what might be in our mind this morning, in this new year of our life together.  Called like Andrew and Simon Peter, to be apostles.  Called to follow.  Called to fish in new ways, to fill the net.  Called not simply to go out into the old fields of our life experience, but into new fields, for a new harvest.

God would never have come to you in this way without having something big in mind for you.  About to be revealed.  Stay tuned.

Sounds fun, maybe.  But also, terrifying.  You all know how much I love change . . . .  Like maybe lots of great new things will come.  Like maybe lots of the old things and the old ways will need to be left behind.  Thinking for James and John of their father, old Zebedee.  This is the first and only time we see him, and the young men perhaps with tears get up to move along in the new way.  Remembering the title from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “A Costly Discipleship.”

Our Bishop Alden Hathaway used to talk about what he called “the Seven Last Words of the Church:  We’ve never done it that way before.”   “Last Words.”  And of course as a deeply habituated traditionalist, I always got a little nervous when he started talking like that.  But I think it is just right for us to have this thought in front of us as a congregation, and each of us in the corners of our own lives.   As we sit by the shore, mending our nets.  Whether we know it or not, our whole lives have been directed toward this moment.  We can think about these things corporately, and at the same time we need to be thinking about them individually.  Thinking as best we can in and with the words of scripture, in the fellowship of the Christian family.  What is going on in your life right now?  Where is it that you see him?  That  I see him?  What do you think he has in mind when he says his to you?  “Get up.  Come with me.  Let’s go fishing.”  

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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