Sunday, November 20, 2016

Observing St.Andrew the Apostle

Matthew 4: 18-22

Good morning fellow St. Andreans—or as some of our choir used to say, “fellow St. Androids”--  family, neighbors, and friends.  A special welcome and word of thanks, as for so many years our friends of the Syria Highlanders have blessed us  in the celebration.  We are reminded by your presence to include in our prayers the important work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, which you all continue to serve as your fundraising mission.  It’s a great pleasure for us to have the opportunity to share in that with you.

This year St. Andrew’s Day was also set by our Vestry as Stewardship Sunday --and the idea  was that St. Andrew’s Day would be a good occasion to share a prayer of dedication of our offerings of time, talent, and treasure.  And in that context I want to pause over a phrase in our gospel  for St. Andrew’s Day that is at the thematic and theological heart of what Matthew wants us to understand about Christian life, Christian stewardship.  From Matthew 4: 20.  Jesus calls to Andrew and Peter, as we hear every year on this day: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” the beginning of a new chapter of the holy story, the first evangelistic invitation to join in the life and work of the Church of God, the Body of Christ.  And then, Matthew tells us, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  And to shine a light on those four key words:  “they left their nets.”

The point here may seem  fairly obvious.  But I’ll try to draw it out anyway.  Andrew and Peter were fishermen.  Their nets were their livelihood, the tools of their trade.  Those nets were what made it possible for them to be fishermen, and so to take care of themselves and their families.   The sign of their role in the community, the source of their paycheck and their pension.  And so, what this gesture represents, this putting down of their nets:  from this point on in this strange new way of life, say Andrew and Peter, we’re not going to be relying on our skills and resources, we’re not going to be trusting in our knowledge and experience and professional expertise.  We’re not going to be known mainly as “fishermen” any more.  That’s behind us now.  It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll never fish again.  But it will be just what we do, not who we are.  We’re putting our future into your hands, Jesus.  Who we are going to be, what we are going to be about, from now on.   We’re going to take what you have to give, and be o.k. with that-- even if what you have to give turns out to be different from what we thought before that we wanted.  From this point we’re going to be following, you, Jesus.  Not fishermen, but disciples.

This is exactly the difference in the gospels between those who are in the crowds, who come to see and hear Jesus, and those who become disciples.  The disciples are the ones who put down their nets.  Who stopped being what they were, and became something new.   It’s one of those resonating metaphors.  They left their nets--which had given them their identity, security, self-sufficiency-- in order to say that from that moment on, Christ would be sufficient for them. They would trust in him from here on out.  I doubt these First Century Palestinian Jewish fishermen would have appreciated contemporary Western Christian praise songs, but perhaps as they dropped their nets and set out on this new journey as disciples of Jesus they might have been singing  the words of the popular Stuart Townend song, “In Christ alone.”  In Christ alone my hope is found, he is my light, my strength, my song.   The emphasis would have been on that word, “alone.”  In Christ alone.   Following Jesus wasn’t going to be a hobby, a special interest, something to attend to in their spare time, after work, on weekends, on the side.  What Matthew is communicating in this small narrative detail, that they put down their nets, is that now and from now on, everything is different for them.

They don’t seem really to think this over strategically.  They just set the nets down.  It’s not that the disciples will never go fishing again.  They will.  But in this moment as Jesus calls and as they answer his call everything changes, as they learn deep down from the passage from Deuteronomy 8 that Jesus had quoted to Satan in the wilderness just a few days before:  “Man shall not live by bread alone.”  Or in this case, fish.  Whatever security and meaning those nets had for these Galilean fisherman, something new, someone new, was in front of them now, and they were turning to him.

It probably doesn’t take any of us very much time in reflection to figure out what our nets are--and how this story of the calling of our patron Andrew and the beginning of his Christian life can speak into our lives and have something meaningful to say to us on St. Andrew’s Day and Stewardship Sunday.  We have a custom of using those familiar words, “time, talent, treasure.”  Maybe part of it just to think about what it is that is actually happening in us we fill out our blue and pink pledge cards this and put them into the offering plate or pop them in the mail.  (Blue cards indicating our financial commitment, the pink cards our offerings of our attention and talents and spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the church and its ministries.)  The gospel truth of the matter is that if in our hearts and minds we’re singing  In Christ alone my hope is found,” then our Stewardship Campaign and any Stewardship Campaign will have been a rousing success, no matter how much money is raised and how many ministries are supported with new participation.  He is my light, my strength, my song.   I suppose it’s alternatively true to say that so long as we keep holding on tightly to our nets, so long as we find ourselves thinking instead, this is what I can give of my time and talent and treasure and still know for sure that I can take care of myself and meet all my goals and complete all my plans—then maybe not so much.  Even if we were to exceed the annual 2017 budget goal and need in terms of dollars for the parish operating budget, even if the sign-up sheets for congregational ministries and activities were to be filled from top to bottom, it would be leaving us all right where we were before.   Still standing in the boat, and not walking on into the future with Jesus.

A concluding story about nets.  At the Stewardship Dinner our keynote speaker the Rev. Adam Trambley talked about how a number of years ago he and his wife Jane settled on the Biblical idea of commitment to God of a tithe, 10% of their income each month, in their financial pledge to their Church.  At the dinner you could sort of feel a little ripple of tension as he began to talk about this.  The word “tithe” doesn’t seem very Episcopalian, I guess.   But anyway: he said they were pretty sure as the two of them talked it over that they could make it comfortably on 95% of their income every month, by pledging 5% of their income, but that they were not so sure that they could on 90% with a 10% pledge.  So after a good deal of prayer and discernment and sort of holding their breath:  90% is where they decided to set the bar.   As an aside at one point he used the image of the circus trapeze artist swinging high in the air without a net.  A slightly mixed metaphor, but it does connect with us and with Andrew and Peter this morning.   And boy: right about there is about as brave as I could imagine a young married couple to be--with kids raise and feed and send to college, and a mortgage,  and student loans, and all the rest.  10% is a lot, and they committed that first, and then decided to manage all the rest of their family budget from the 90% remaining.  Adam shared with us some stories about how that decision and commitment began to transform their lives, their marriage, in small ways and in some dramatic ways, shaping their sense of themselves as husband and wife, as parents, as Christians.   He actually said he thought this decision saved his marriage.  He didn’t go into any detail, but clearly a very powerful experience.  And he said, and I would repeat, so that everybody could breathe and keep listening, even Episcopalians, that what wasn’t important was the legalistic calculation of some specific percentage or amount of pledge by an arbitrary formula, 5%, 10%, or whatever.  The point for them and for us was just to do whatever it would take to move us out of our comfort zone.  The question, what does it take, time, talent, treasure, how much does it take, that we would give away, put down, let go of, so that we find ourselves needing  to rethink everything else in a new way?  That’s where it gets exciting, Adam said.  Where all this “stewardship” talk finally comes into focus.  Wherever the tipping point is between security in the idea that we’re in charge and can take care of ourselves, and the risk in the idea that we can’t quite see how it’s going to work, and that we are going to need to seek God’s guidance and God’s protection.   Putting down our nets.  Working without a net.  That with prayer we are going to put ourselves in the hands of Jesus, and to trust in him with all our hearts.

Blessings, friends of St. Andrew’s, on this St. Andrew’s Day, and in our homes and families, our circles of friends, our neighborhoods, the places we work and study and play.  Blessings on this St. Andrew’s Day and as we move toward Advent next Sunday and a New Year.'

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