January 22, 2012: And We Are to Follow, Too

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
First Sunday after the Epiphany

I wish I could say, “Follow me,” or “I need you to do something,” and people would drop their nets and do it. Jesus is able to get grown men to drop what they are doing to follow him. Of course, Jesus has the Son of God thing going for him, but the fishermen don’t yet know that – and they know idea what they sign on for, or where Jesus will lead them. Mark’s Jesus commands attention – few words – like President Calvin Coolidge, who once decided to attend church. He gets home and Mrs. Coolidge asks, “What was the sermon about?” “Sin.” “Well, what did the preacher say?” “He’s against it.” That’s like Mark’s Jesus. He invites; they follow – that’s all we need to know.

I doubt the fishermen had heard Jesus’ sermon: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near – repent and believe in the good news.” The Jews long awaited God to come and take real, manly charge of this world. If God is near or will be soon, that’s good news – maybe enough to cause a person to drop everything and follow a stranger.

When I was young the good news I was taught to believe meant a plan to get us to heaven when we die: “You are pretty crummy; repent; be baptized to be saved, and you’ll go to heaven.” That doesn’t hold for me anymore – though I am not opposed to going to heaven. The good news is God comes in Jesus to reign in us. Heaven comes to earth to calibrate heaven’s life with our earth lives. If we accept the good news, then we join God in making earth a place where people have enough, and those with too much share; a reign of love, generosity, respect for all, and no one has to be left out. God’s kingdom is now, here, among us. That’s good news.

Today we celebrate St. Paul’s 173rd Annual Meeting. We do a lot of things really well – like welcoming people, showing generosity of spirit, active outreach opportunities, wonderful music – and superb potluck meals. As I listen to some your reflections, I wonder how well we connect what happens in here to our daily life in the world. We say God is important – but do distractions and responsibilities keep us from giving time and making room for God and each other in holy and reverent ways? We may know more about the broken hearted women on the “Bachelor,” than friends whose hearts are also broken, sitting on the pews beside us. Do people find God’s good news here? Does God truly reign within and among us? Do we have such relationships among ourselves that we can share our crises, doubts, talk about faith, tell our stories, ask and value questions for which we have no answers, and listen prayerfully to each other? Does God’s kingdom impact our thoughts and values of how we act daily? God’s reign is not just for Sundays. Maybe we can pay create more opportunities to see God at work among us, and share our stories to help each other on this journey of discovery and thanksgiving.

Can we help each other move from a place of holy longings to holy conversations where faith grows? I believe so, and we are. The new Prayer Ministry Team connects people daily in prayers for others. Praying lifts us into God and reminds us God is active in holy care for each other. Foyer Groups bring people closer, over food, laughter and stories shared a holy, sacred presence and relationships deepen. Living Compass is a place for holy conversations. God is present in our listening, sharing struggles and joys, encouraging each other, praying and supporting each other. When we serve a meal to the hungry, participate in a Common Ground project, volunteer at the Thrift Shop, or tutor a child – God is active through our hearts and hands. Some of our members work daily with people whose lives are broken, some unfixable. God is active when we are present, not to fix, but to listen, as the book title says, “Don’t just do something; sit there.” Just showing up for the other, our hearts open to God, can bring God’s love alive. Being a member of the choir, volunteering in the office, I hope we see God is active among us. Maybe we need more opportunities for holy conversations with God and each other.

The reign of God is here. That’s good news that needs to be lived and shared. People may not see it readily, but they’ll know it by our love – for God and for all. The good news is God is present and with us each day. We discover this in individual holy conversations – or prayers and silence with God and in gatherings and ministries we share together in holy conversations, at church – even in homes – with children and youth – spouses, partners, friends. Sounds sort of risky, I know. But then Jesus doesn’t seem to let risk get in his way.

Here’s a prayer is in the spirit of St. Francis I found recently:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.[i]

As we pray and live this prayer, and talk with each other about what we see God is up to among us, God’s nearness becomes very good news. Like Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together…”  What nets do we need to drop to follow Jesus more fully?

[i] The Emergent Village Voice, posted January 20, 2012.


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