Sunday, February 10, 2019

5 Epiphany


February 10, 2019

Isaiah 6.1-13; Luke 5.1-11

+ Last week I observed a somewhat sobering anniversary. On January 29, I realized it had been twenty years since I began the process to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.

It was definitely a momentous moment in my life. Occasionally we have those moments in our lives when we look back and realize the life we lived before that ended on a particular day. These momentous moments happen and we realize life will never be the same again.

January 29, 1999 was one of those days in my life.  Life changed drastically for me on that day, though I didn’t fully realize at the time. And twenty years later, here it is.

As I look back at the 1999 Jamie, I wonder what I—2019 Jamie—would tell him.  Did he really know what he was getting himself into? It was definitely not an easy route he was about to take.

But despite all the heartache and pain, despite homophobia and the cancer and the really terrible people he would encounter at times along the way, at time of seeing the Church be a truly ugly, horrible place at times, despite the people who really did try to throw a wrench into the ministry 1999 Jamie felt called to do, who did not want him to be a priest, or to serve in the Church (and yes, there were lots of those people over the years), I have to ask myself; if I had to do it all over again, would I?

And the answer is: Yes.

Yes.

Because, the good of these years definitely outweighs the bad.  There were so many more good people, supportive people, loving people who were there for me. And the Church, as a whole, really is not a terrible corrupt place.  It really isn’t.

And, of course, I have to accept the greatest reality in all of this: there was God with me through it all.  God held me up and led me through. Or, as the hymn we will sing later today says,

“I will go, Lord, if you lead me.”

God led me.

In the ordination process, there were several scriptures that were often used to describe the discernment and ordination processes.

Our reading from the prophet Isaiah is definitely one of the scriptures people in the process quote often.  A very powerful image of the call and response process of ordination is right there, with God, on the throne, asking:

Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

And Isaiah’s response of “Here am I; send me!”

For me, I realize, that call is still resounding my own life:

“Whom shall I send?” God still is asking in my life.

And even 20 years after first heeding that call, I can say again, now:

“Here am I; send me!”

Another of those discernment images was the one we get in today’s Gospel reading. And, like the scripture from Isaiah,  it works. And, like the reading from Isaiah, it’s not just for people who seek ordination. It works for all of us in our ministries.

In that Gospel for today, we have an interesting dynamic happening.  A very enthusiastic crowd has gathered beside the water to hear Jesus preach. Jesus, in a sense, use the boat of these work-weary fishermen for a pulpit to preach to the crowd.

Now, put yourself, for a moment, in the place of those fishermen. They have been working all night. They are trying to come home, clean up and go to bed.

Still, Simon Peter agrees and Jesus beings to teach. Then, Jesus does something a bit strange. He tells these weary guys to throw their nets into the water.  Again, put yourself in the place of the fishermen. Here’s a carpenter’s son—a Rabbi—telling them to do even more work. Certainly anyone else would simply say no and go home.

But not these guys.  They do as Jesus says.  They put the boat out into the water, they put down their nets.  And what happens?  They get fish.

I know none of you this morning fish for a living. For most of us here, in this part of the country, if we fish, we do so for sport. (I don’t fish; I’m vegan. I have never understood why people fish for sport anyway)

So, to some extent, we might not “get” the imagery here. Or rather, we might not “get” the imagery in quite the same way those fishermen Jesus spoke to in today’s Gospel would have.

When Jesus talks about “catching” people for God, it might not mean the same thing for us as it did for those disciples—those men whose very livelihood was catching fish.  Jesus is using their language to make real what they are called to do in following him. Jesus is using what they knew and held dear to go out and do what he is calling them to do.  He is not over-intellectualizing this for them. He is not making it complicated. He is being as straightforward as one can get.

You—fishermen—go out and catch people like you would catch fish.

And that is our job as well. We are called, just as those first disciples were, to bring back people for Christ. We are called just like the Prophets Isaiah, to respond, “Here am I! Send me!”

We are called to not be complacent in our faith. We cannot just sit on our hands and expect to feel good about being a Christian.  

To be a fully useful Christian, we need to go out and be a follower of Jesus in the world and, in doing, so, to bring others to God’s love.

Now, this sounds very uncomfortable for most of us. We have all encountered those somewhat unpleasant people who proselytize to us—who, very obviously, want to catch us.  They have come to our doors or they have called us on the phone or we have worked alongside them at work.  They are the people who preach AT us, who tell us that unless we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior we won’t be saved. They are the ones who spout their memorized verses from their Bibles and give us religious pamphlets and are always talking about their plastic, blond white Protestant Jesus.   And more often than not what they do NOT do is draw us closer to Christ.

Rather, they often make us uncomfortable with the Christian faith.  I’ll be honest, they make even me uncomfortable at times. Often when I hear someone go off to me (and they like to do that to priests, let me tell you), I find myself sitting thee wishing I was Jewish or Buddhist.  Their Christ—their blond plastic Protestant Jesus—seems so unpleasant and alien to those of who strive to know the true Christ.

Now, we Episcopalians just don’t do things like that. We’re not comfortable knocking on doors or spouting Bible passages at strangers or co-workers. After all, doing so rarely works.  And that kind of proselytizing has done great harm in people’s lives.

By spouting Bible passages and waving Bibles at people and demanding that people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior (which, by the way, is completely unscriptural) , and inflicting the fear of hell into people, we aren’t really evangelizing.  We are just manipulating. We are just coercing.  We are just hiding. We are hiding behind the Bible, hiding behind platitudes and tired catch-phrases. We are preaching with our mouths, but not with our hearts and our lives.  Bringing people for Christ sometimes involves nothing more than being who we are and what we are.

I worked with a priest once who loved to repeat something St. Francis of Assisi supposedly said:

“Preach the Gospel, use words only if necessary.”

I like that quote.  And it’s true.

Oftentimes, the loudest preaching we’re ever going to do is by what we do and how we act. By being who we are.  Even being the imperfect, fractured human beings that we are.  And, let me tell you, what we do and how we act is sometimes much harder than preaching with our mouths and hiding behind memorized Bible verses.

In a sense, our very lives should be one long proclamation of the Gospel.

We all should be living the Gospel in our very lives, and then our proclamation comes naturally in how we live and interact with people. We should be clear to those around us who we are:

Yes, we’re Christians—we’re followers of Jesus, just as those people in the boat in today’s Gospel were.

Yes, we’re Episcopalian Christians.

But how do we live that out in our lives? How does that fact become a way to bring people to Christ?

Now for each of here this morning, that might be something different. For one it might mean inviting someone to St. Stephen’s, which I know many of you do. To others it might simply mean living our lives a little differently than our neighbors do, even living our lives a little different than what is expected of Christians to do.  

For many of us, it means standing up and speaking out loudly when we see injustice and oppression and sexism and homophobia and transphobia or any other kind of oppression that causes people to be less than who they are.  And to do so in the name of Christ.

And not just speak out. But to actually live that way of life. To not treat others disrespectfully. To not ignore the homeless in our midst, to not ignore those who are invisible to others.  To do whatever we can to change injustice and oppression, in the name of our God in any way we can.

It might mean being just a compassionate human being in this world.

It might just being a kind, loving person in this world.

Whatever we do—however we do it—all we have to remember is that it is not us who does the proclaiming. It is not us who does the catching, ultimately. It is God’s Spirit in us who does the proclaiming and the catching. And our job is to simply let God use us as we need to be used to bring people to God. It is sometimes as simple as letting God use our actions and our way of life to bring people closer to God.

It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. It can be as simple as Jesus telling fishermen to bring in people like they bring in fish. It can be as simple as living a life of integrity and uprightness and holiness in all that we do and say. It is as simple as living a life in which we do not allow injustice and oppression to happen around us.

So, let us listen together to what Jesus is saying to us this morning. Bring in people to God.  Let us do it by whatever means we have. Let us do by words, if that works.  Let us do it by actions, if that works. Let us do it by the very ministry of our own selves. Let us hear God’s call to each of us:

“Who will I send? Who will go for us?”

And let us respond:

“Here am I! Send me!”

And let us let God, who dwells within us, use our voices to proclaim God’s words and presence to the world around us. Amen.


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