Sunday, January 22, 2017

3 Epiphany

January 22, 2017

1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23

+ I know this won’t come as too much of a surprise to many of you. Or maybe it will. Either way, I feel the need to confess this, I think. I have never found this idea of “following” a great one. I know I preach a lot about following Jesus and how a Christian is a follower. But, deep down, such talk really grates on me at times. Being a follower in my understanding has never been something I enjoyed.

I was never a follower. I’ve always kind of done my own thing. And so when we come across this talk of Jesus telling us to follow him, I will do it. I get it. I understand it. And I try hard to do it. But it has not been easy for me at times.

And I can imagine if I had lived in his time, I would’ve been the one who would have done so a bit reluctantly. I would have been the disciple standing off to the side, with my arms crossed. I’d be there. I’d be listening. And I would follow. But I’d do so with a big of a drag in my feet as I did it. And you know what? That’s all right.

The fact is, we don’t all have to follow Jesus in the same way. Some of us might be enthusiastic. Some of us might…not.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean conforming. It doesn’t mean being a stereotype. It doesn’t mean I have to follow him the same way you follow him. We can follow in our own particular way.

The key isn’t how we follow him. The key is that we simply do follow in whatever we can.  Following—and this is real point for me in all of this—doesn’t mean conforming. 

Which is what makes us, especially here at St. Stephen’s, so…how shall I say it...eclectic. Notice that I didn’t say eccentric. Though we are definitely that as well.  And following Jesus in our own unique ways sometimes means that there will be differences of opinions.

There are divisions in our churches and—I guess I don’t have to really say this—there are divisions in our society right now.  If you don’t think so—uh, where were you this past week? We are divided. Even here this morning, there are diverse views in our divisions regarding where we are in this country and society. And it’s unfortunate that such divisions have to exist.

But, in our following Jesus, although there can variety, although we can be eclectic, we cannot allow ourselves to be divided from each other. We can have differences of opinions. We can argue about semantics. We can debate the fine aspects of how to live our lives as Christians. But if we are following Jesus, we cannot be divided from each other in our following.

“Has Christ been divided?” Paul asks this morning his letter to the Corinthians.  The answer, of course, is no.  Christ cannot be divided.  And that same thinking can be applied to Christ’s Church. Yes, there may be denominational divisions, or, as we are seeing right now,  political divisions or even physical divisions, but the fact remains that the Church continues to be the Church Undivided in even the midst of all the wrangling and fighting and misunderstanding.

Even death does not divide us.  We are also part of the Church that dwells now in the nearer Presence of God.  We are living, at this moment—all of us—with a certain level of fear.  In our lives, in this country of ours and in the world. And it is a fear that can truly destroy and wreak havoc.

If we as Christians are to face what seems to be overwhelming fear in our country, we need to be united. We cannot let these fears divide us.  When we gather together—even two or three of us—Christ himself and the whole Church, both here on earth and in the nearer Presence of God is present fully and completely.  

And the great reminder to us of this undivided Body of Christ is baptism. We are sealed against division, against fear, against the forces of darkness that may seem at times to prevail in this world by our baptism.

A few weeks ago I preached about how, in these waters of baptism all of us were made
equal. If you ever notice, at our funerals here at St. Stephen’s, the urn of ashes or the coffin is always covered with a white pall.  The use of the pall is not just one of those quant things we Episcopalians do.  It is not simply some fancy cloth we place over our mortal remains to add a touch of class to the service (though it does do that).  There is a very practical reason for placing the pall on the urn or coffin.  We put the cloth on because, no matter how fancy and expensive or cheap and inexpensive an urn or casket may be, before the altar, at the funeral, no distinction is made, just as, in God, there is no distinction between any of us.

We are all equally loved children of God.  We are essentially on equal ground under that pall. We are all the same.  

And, in so many ways, that pall represents baptism as well. Just as the pall is the great equalizer at funerals, baptism is the truly great equalizer in our Christian lives.  Our baptism—that singular event that made us Christians—is the starting out point of our lives as Christians and the common factor in those lives.  And just as importantly, that holy moment in our lives was the first moment when we were all compelled to preach the Kingdom of God. Without fear.

Yes, many of us are living in fear.  But, our fears died in those waters in which we were washed.  Our baptismal call is to stand up—strongly, surely, and without fear—to proclaim our equality before God.  Without fear.  To a large extent, what happened at our baptisms was the first major step in our direction of being followers of Jesus.  It was the day in which we essentially were called by Jesus , as Jesus called the disciples in today’s Gospel, to be fishers of people.

Baptism is the first of many steps in following Jesus.  And when we see that—when we see our following of Jesus beginning at that very moment in our lives in which we were baptized—we realize how following Jesus is truly a life-long experience.

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 is what Baptism does.  It compels us to answer the call of Jesus and to proclaim to all people the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  And the first volley of that proclamation began at our baptism.

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 call to us to be “fishers of people” is not necessarily a call to holier-than-thou. It is not a call to be exactly like everyone else in our proclamation.  Proclaiming the good news and being fishers of people might simply involve us communicating the truth of that reality in our own unique way It means proclaiming Christ through our demeanor, through the choices we make in our lives and the very way we live our lives.  It means standing up for what is right in our way. And it means doing so without fear.

If we do so in such a way, our whole life then becomes a kind of walking sermon, even if we personally don’t say a word.  And to a large extent this unique personhood that we received from God was formed in the waters of baptism.

“Follow me and I will make you fishers for people,” Jesus said to those first followers. And he continues to say that to each of us this morning.

So, let us follow him.  Let us follow him from the waters in which we were washed to whatever place he leads us in our lives. Let us stand up for truth. Without fear. Let us not let fear win out in our lives and in this world.

We are the ones who can stand up and fight against fear and injustice and inequality by simply being who we are. We have nothing to fear.  We have been formed and blessed in those waters of baptism. As baptized followers of Jesus we are protected in a unique and holy way.  Let us go out and proclaim this amazing message in our own unique and eclectic way. Let us fish for people and let us bring in a hearty harvest.  This is what it is all about.  This is how we truly follow Jesus where he leads.  And knowing this—truly knowing that—we can follow him with joy and gladness singing in our hearts.



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