Sunday, January 26, 2014

3 Epiphany

Annual Meeting Sunday
 January 26, 2014

1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23

+ This past week I had a strange malady that seems to occur only at this time of the year. My stupid ulcer. Ugh! It seems like every January I have a flare-up of that stupid thing.
Anyway, this past week I just happened to make that observation—this ulcer always seeming to flare up in January—on Facebook. And our own John Ranney said, It must be Annual Meeting time.
 I think for some priests, Annual Meeting time IS a time for ulcers.  I have been to Annual Meetings in other congregations that were contentious and divisive.  So, no wonder those priests are so apprehensive.
 But not so for me. Being the priest here at St. Stephen’s, I can say Annual Meeting time is actually a good time for me.
 Why shouldn’t it be? It was an amazing year last year at St. Stephen’s And I am looking forward hopefully to 2014.

 This is a  great time to be at St. Stephen’s. There are ministries ‘a poppin’, shall we say. This past year, people at St. Stephen’s just stepped up to the plate, again and again. We have a very solid acolyte corps. We have a great Altar Guild. We have people stepping up to do things like Lectoring and Worship Leader and Eucharistic Visitor. We have people working in the gardens and on the maintenance of our building. We have people helping out in the Pride Parade and Sundaes on Sunday and Salvation Army, and many other areas.

 Our liturgical and musical life here at St. Stephen’s rivals that of many cathedrals.

 Yes, this so-called “little church” in northeast Fargo is a power house. There is an abundance of spiritual energy emanating from this place, emanating from the people here, emanating from this altar.  It is an amazing place to be, as we all, this morning, know full well.

 In our collect for today, we prayed

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…

That could be the prayer for all of us at St. Stephen’s Because that is what we are doing here. We are readily answering the call of Jesus to proclaim to all people the Good News of salvation.  We are doing so in our actions. We are doing so by our presence. We are doing so when we stand up against injustice or suffering or inequality, which we do very well here at St. Stephen’s.

We are leading the way in what the Church should be—a place in which love dwells. A place in which love of God is proclaimed and the love of others is shared.  We are living out that commandment to love.

That commandment to love is not a burden to us. But it is, rather, a call to freedom. It is a call to service. It is a call to be Christian.

These past few weeks, I have been preaching about Baptism again and how important Baptism is in forming us as followers of Jesus.  Our Baptism, of course, is the basis for all that we do here at St. Stephen’s. In those waters of baptism we were called to carry out the ministries we now do here. In those waters, in which we were marked as Christ’s own forever, we were washed in the love that is now the basis of our ministries here.  It was there in that font that we began following Jesus. It here, now, that we truly recognize the wonders of following him.

In today’s Gospel, when we find Jesus and his first followers going through Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,” we realize that the call to us to be “fishers of people” is not necessarily a call to preach wordy homilies to people.  Most of us here at St. Stephen’s do not do that. I don’t  even do that outside of Sunday mornings.  Proclaiming the good news and being fishers of people simply involves  communicating the truth of that reality through our personality.

And let me tell you, in case you haven’t noticed, we have personality here at St. Stephen’s. Quite a personality. And if you don’t think we do, you aren’t listening to what others are saying about us. People are talking about the amazing thing that are happening at St. Stephen’s.

This past week I had lunch with Canon Zanne Ness. Mother Zanne will be here on Sunday, February 23 while I am on vacation.  At our lunch, she shared with me some of the stories she’s heard throughout the Diocese of what people have heard about St. Stephen’s—about our growth, about our vitality, about the amazing ministries we are doing here, about what God is doing here.  People are talking about the new way in which we are doing things, and how we are doing these new things while still keeping our traditional worship.  (She was particularly impressed with the title we have been given as Smoky St. Stephen’s).

Our demeanor, the choices we make as a congregation, the commitments we make, the love we share and the very way we live our lives in this congregation is a noticeable thing.  Our whole presence as St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo, North Dakota,  is essentially a kind of walking sermon, even if we personally don’t say a word.  And to a large extent this personality, this charisma the Holy Spirit has granted to us, was formed long ago in those waters of our baptism.

This morning, as we plan for another year of ministry, we gather here together and with all the Church that has already been and that will be long after us.  We gather to ponder and pray about the ways in which we may proclaim God’s Kingdom.  We come together, marked as Christ’s own forever, to think about the ways in which we can use this distinctive personality we have as a congregation.

“Follow me and I will make you fishers for people,” Jesus said to those first followers.

And, this morning, on this Annual Meeting Sunday,  he is saying it to us as well.  So, let us follow him.  Together.  Let us follow him from the waters in which we were washed to whatever place he leads us in our lives in this coming year.  And, as he does, let us follow him with joy and gladness singing in our hearts.

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