The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A - January 22, 2017

Preacher: 
The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Year A

January 22, 2017

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

 

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:12-23)

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Well, we’ve inaugurated our new president, and yesterday, thousands of women, many of them my friends and one of them your bishop, marched on Washington.  Their voice was heard by millions and what they did was truly extraordinary. (Some of you sitting here today were there, as well!)

I could not go.  There was too much going on here, and so I reconciled myself to focusing on the work at hand and the people in my midst, all of whom are very important to me, and of course, to God.  And whether that is complacency or self-justification, I believe it is something we are all being called to do in the aftermath of much divisiveness and uncivil discourse.  And that is, to focus on what we can do, the light we can shine, in the circumstances we have been given and through the people who have been placed in our lives, whether this leads to coming or going or staying right where we are.

Because I believe that God calls each of us, ordinary people, people like you and me, right in the middle of our ordinary lives to do extraordinary things in those lives…just like Jesus does in today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew, when he calls his first disciples, right in the middle of their fishing, at the Sea of Galilee.

The word “call” is derived from the Latin vocare, which is where we get the word “vocation.” As Christians, we believe that our vocation is what God calls each one of us to do to become more fully who we were uniquely created to be…”to that place,” Fred Beuchner once said, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.[1]”

The problem is, most of us aren’t quite sure of what God is calling us to do…which is why so many books and seminars and counselors deal with the subject.  A few years ago, I read a study on Christian Vocation funded by the Lilly foundation that interviewed clergy graduates from five major seminaries across the country.  What I learned was that while most of the graduates identified “vocation” and “calling” as important theological concepts, central to their preaching and teaching, very few of their parishioners actually felt called.  That is, very few of those people sitting in the pews believed that what they did with most of their time had anything to do with God or the church or made a particular difference in the world. [2]

Why do you think this is so?  One reason might be that when most of us think about vocation, we tend to emphasize our work as the primary place of vocation. That is, we often equate “vocation” with “occupation.”   Of course, for some people, vocation and occupation are the same – for instance many clergy I know, or teachers, or people who work in the arts or helping professions do receive a deep sense of meaning and purpose in their work.  But for many, work is just that – work.  With, perhaps, moments of meaning and purpose but often empty of any significant connection to who they really believe themselves to be or want to do the rest of their lives.

Where, then, do most people find the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose? 

In relationships.  In fact, even the people in the studies who found their work as a source of meaning and fulfillment usually cited their relationships at work as the most significant factor.

Which brings me back to one particular phrase in today’s Gospel reading: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Not “heralds of God” or “disciples of the Messiah” or “emissaries of the kingdom” or even “the first Christians,” but instead fishers of people. All of those other worthy job descriptions may have been implied or eventually came to be, but what strikes me is that Jesus calls these first disciples not into work but into relationships.

And perhaps that’s one of the great challenges to the way we usually think about vocation: so much of the time, we stress the arenas in which we exercise our vocation – such as government or community, family, or church.  Or we emphasize the roles we play - as employees or employers, parents, volunteers - rather than emphasize the concrete relationships in which we are involved and the actual people in them.

And this isn’t to say that the arenas in which we’re involved or the roles we play aren’t valuable, because they are.  But in today’s world of vocational counselors and life coaches, what may be forgotten, or at least underplayed, is highly relational nature of vocation.  All the roles we play, and especially those functions we feel God calls us to serve, are provided in order for us to care for one another…for people we encounter day to day, as well as those we seek out, and especially those who are in need.

“Follow me, Jesus says, and I will make you fishers of people.”  And immediately, his disciples leave their nets to follow him.  They listen and they follow. Immediately.

Which, presents another challenge… for most of us…when it comes to vocation, and that is this “immediate” part.”  Most of us aren’t too keen on the idea of getting up and leaving everyone and everything we know to follow Jesus. And so we figure the disciples were extraordinary, first-century super heroes of the faith that we can admire - but not identify with.

But maybe what Jesus was asking these disciples wasn’t so extraordinary after all…especially if you consider just what it is he called them to be and do: fishers of people, in relationships.  In other words, immediate relationship - with himself, with each other, and with all the various people they’d meet in the wild adventure that became their lives.

Jesus issues the same call to each of us - to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us.  And to be in those relationships the way Jesus was with everyone he encountered – with an immediacy that enables us to be fully present wherever we are: bearing each other's burdens, caring for each other and especially the vulnerable, holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope and promise of God’s abundant grace.  

Sometimes that call - to be fully present in relationship with others - will take us far from home and sometimes it will take shape in and among the people right around us.  But it will always involve people - not simply a mission or a ministry or a movement, but actual, flesh-and-blood people.

So maybe I should re-state what I said at the beginning of this sermon, this way: God calls ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to be in relationship with the ordinary people all around them and through that does extraordinary things.

With that in mind, I invite you to imagine how it is that God is calling each of us to be fishers of people. We will be holding our annual meeting in two weeks, celebrating all we achieved last year, and I think it is helpful for us all to reflect upon the relationships behind the accomplishments, the relationships that grounded them and filled them with life.  Think of one or two people whose lives might have been changed just a bit by yours.  Think of someone who helped you change, helped you grow last year.  Your relationships with these people might have brought joy or hope, or even frustration or sorrow, but either way, think of how significant they were to your sense of call – to becoming more fully who God created you to be - within this community or in your family or place of work, and beyond.  And then, think about how God will continue to use you, use them, to make a difference. 

You see, it isn’t that Jesus is just now calling each of us to be fishers of people, but that he has been calling us, and in fact using us, all year long (all of our lives, actually) to care for those around us.  And whether this happens, here, through work in our community Garden, serving in worship, participating in a faith formation discussion, taking part in our Shrine Mont retreat, or bringing dinner to a member recovering from surgery, the important thing is that we are all being drawn into deeper relationships with those whom God has placed in our lives.

That is the vocation we all share, and precisely what it means to be a disciple – a follower of Jesus and fisher of people. In the ordinary, and everyday.  One day at a time, one person at a time.

Amen

 

[1] Fred Beuchner quotes, http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/19982.Frederick_Buechner

[2] For this and several of the insights developed below I am indebted to David Lose’s Commentary for Feb. 20, 2014, in “In the Meantime: Where Faith meets Everyday life.”  http://www.davidlose.net/

 

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