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Fishing For People

  • January 26, 2020
  • 09:30 AM

Sermon for 26 January 2020 (Epiphany 3 Year A – ANNUAL MEETING)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             1 Corinthians 1.10-18; NO Psalm; Matthew 4.12-23

Context:        Annual Meeting – “The State of the Parish”

Title:               Fishing For People

“Jesus calls us; over the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea, day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying ‘Christian, follow me!’” (The Hymnal 550)

Christians! Sisters and brothers in the household of God, do you hear it?

Do you hear the clear voice of Jesus calling out to you, saying ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’?

It is good to see all of you gathered together  – and at the correct time! – for our Annual Meeting Sunday.

Our Annual Meeting is about doing the necessary business of this organization known as Saint Mary’s. There IS business to be done – not too much of it, but it is there. And it needs to be done.

What do you think about the business part of church? About the organizational side? Is this just a necessary evil, a burden that we must endure?

How many of you have heard someone say that they do not believe in organized religion? Anyone – a show of hands?

Oh yes, I have heard this dozens of times! And what I always want to say – although I rarely do, usually I behave myself and act politely! – but what I always want to ask is, Do you believe in organized hospitals? Do you want to fly out of a DIS-organized airport? Do you believe in organized elections, or do you think they should just happen organically?

It’s absurd, isn’t it?! For the simple and plain truth is that everything good that humans have done has resulted from organization! It’s what makes us human – we are able to communicate ideas and to organize ourselves around them.

And so, yes, we are here this morning to tend to the organization of this community. Our Annual Meeting is about doing the business of the church.

But it is about far more than that alone. It is about our shared experience of hearing the voice of Christ. It is about our shared commitment to follow where he leads. It is about our shared hope in the kingdom of God.

There is an old parable from medieval times about a traveler on a journey. The road he is on takes this traveler throw an unknown city. As he enters the walls of the city, the hustle and bustle of activity makes its quite clear that the citizens are engaged in some major undertaking. He sees a man carving lines and shapes into a large stone, and he asks him, “Sir, what are you doing?” This citizen replies, “I am carving and shaping this stone.” As he goes along, the traveler sees another person doing the same kind of stone carving, and again he asks, “Sir, what are you doing?” This one replies, “I am completing my apprenticeship to become a master stone carver.” And before he exits through the gate at the other end of the city, the traveler asks the same question of yet another man doing the same kind of stone carving. “Sir, what are you doing?” This third man replies, “I am helping to build a cathedral to the glory of God!”

Three people, organized to do the same exact work, and yet operating with three different perspectives, three different ways of understanding the task at hand.

There is a similar story from twentieth century America. It is most likely an urban legend; it seems highly doubtful that this incident actually took place the way it is presented. Nevertheless, it’s a great story with a great lesson – similar to that medieval parable.

It is said that one time, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was touring the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral, he noticed a janitor in the background carrying his broom. The story goes that JFK broke with protocol and walked over to that man and asked him, “And what do you do here?” To which the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I am helping to put a man on the moon.”

Consider the sheer volume of all the small tasks that are required for a community like this to function – counting the Sunday offering, folding the bulletins, lighting the candles, teaching a Guiding RAY class, baking breads for Coffee Hour, taking the collected clothes to Saint Elizabeth’s, reading the financial statements as a Vestry member, washing the Altar linens – on and on, this list could go on for a very long time!

All of these endless little tasks which we are called to do. If someone is to ask us, “What are you doing? What do you do here?”, it is simple and easy to say, “I am taking out the recycling.” Or “I am making something for Sparkles.”

Those things are true, of course. But there is another perspective! We can see these tasks in the same way that the janitor at NASA did, and in the same way as that third stone carver did, and we could answer and say, “I am helping to spread the good news of the kingdom of God!” Or “I am helping to share the love of God with everyone!”

Yes, we need to collect enough pledges for the year so that we can have a balanced budget. Yes, we need to elect Vestry members, and we need to adjust our Bylaws so that they are in line with state law. Yes, we need to organize ourselves.

But that it is NOT why we are here this morning. That is not WHY we gather on this campus at any particular moment in time.

We are here right now, and anytime we gather, because the Lord Jesus walked along the shore of the sea of Galilee, and he looked at some ordinary folk just like us, and he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

The net of the kingdom of God has been cast far and wide, with love and devotion and compassion and commitment.

By the grace of God, you and I have been caught in that net. Hallelujah! And now Christ is teaching us how to fish for people.

THAT is what it means to be church. Clearly, we are a community of disciples, learning together how to fish. The church is NOT a building.

But buildings still matter, don’t they? Perhaps in places like Greece and Lebanon and Palestine, along the shores of the balmy Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee, buildings could have been somewhat of an afterthought.

But in a place such as this? In a climate like ours? How can a community of disciples gather without a building to shelter us?

Even more than that, all of us understand this these buildings on our campus have value. We will not worship them, we will not allow them to supplant our understanding of who we are as a community of disciples.

And at the same time, we will NOT allow them to fall into disrepair! Wise and careful stewardship means that we pass along these buildings to the next generation of disciples in the same condition as we received them, and hopefully in even better condition!

Remember: everything good that humans have done has resulted from organization! And the church is no different.

After all, is that NOT what Paul was writing about in his first letter to the church in Corinth?

“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, that all of you be in agreement…that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1.10-11).

My dear friends, when we are gathered together as the church, we have only one purpose.

Jesus is teaching us how to fish for people. How to cast the net of God’s love out again and again. We do this through a thousand small tasks, a thousand daily decisions, allowing listening for the voice of Jesus, pushing away distractions, and always keeping the big picture in mind.

So what exactly are we doing here today at Saint Mary’s?

We are helping to spread the good news of the kingdom of God! We are sharing the good news of God’s love with every single person on planet earth.

May we never ever lose this clarity of vision. Amen.

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