Epiphany 3, Year A
St. John’s 2014
The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge
Listen to this…Sermon 2014.01.26
Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, calls Peter and Andrew, and immediately they follow him. And going on a little farther, he sees James and John, the Sons of Zebedee. He calls them and immediately they follow him too. Imagine that, Jesus demands no interviews, no formal process of discernment. There are no background or reference checks. There are no contracts or letters of agreement to sign, no terms of their discipleship to be negotiated. Unlike other sages and rabbis of his time and culture, he does not require his new disciples to enter into a period of testing and trial to gauge whether or not they have an aptitude for discipleship. He doesn’t even go to the temple or a synagogue to find his ministry recruits. No, instead he meets the men not in a religious sphere but in their everyday lives–in their place of work. Jesus meets them where they are and without qualification invites them to be a part of the kingdom.
The disciples are asked to follow him and they do so, immediately. For their part, they do not ask for time to think about their decisions, nor even ask for time to pray on it. There are no consultations, no interviews with other teachers, no listing of the pros and cons of following Jesus. Tossing their nets aside, without delay, they head for Capernaum.
Well, eureka, I have struck gold! What a great Gospel to have in front of us this morning as we prepare to hold our annual meeting in just forty-five minutes! Sure part of the business of the annual meeting is to look back at the preceding year, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for a priest- in-charge to inspire and motivate the congregation to become missionaries like those first disciples. Here is a golden opportunity for me to look at the behavior of the earliest disciples and say, ‘Come on folks this could be us. Jesus is calling, lay aside the mending of those nets, drop what you are doing and follow Christ’. Follow Christ: code words for saying, ‘Support the ministries and the mission of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist’.
I have preached such a sermon in the past, using the zeal of the earliest disciples as a segue into preaching on the importance of developing vision and mission statements complete with a ten year plan which articulates a congregation’s ministry objectives with measurable goals. After all, numbers, statistics, reports are a piece of the work required to keep any organization going.
But there’s the rub; we are not just any organization, are we? We are not another volunteer service organization. We are not another friendly social club. We are not a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to raise money so that we can survive.
None of that. So listen to what I hear the Spirit saying to God’s People today.
We are the church, for better or for worse, with all of its foibles and failings, its saints and its sinners. We are the church, the People of God, sons and daughters who have been taken by the hand of God and brought into a covenant, a loving relationship with the divine. We are the church, called to focus on the business of God. And what is God’s business but to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves?
The Great Commandment to love was a simple mission statement that proved to be too difficult to embody. And so God embodied divine love, the love of God and the love of neighbor, even the love of self, in the person of Jesus. And what we see in this morning’s Gospel is that Jesus called the earliest disciples not into a synagogue ministry, not into a professional religious caste, but simply into a relationship with him and one another precisely to learn more about the commandment to love.
We lose sight of the fact that our on-going life in the church is really a journey with Jesus and one another. As the biblical scholar, Marcus Borg has said, “Journeying with Jesus means to be in a community, to become part of the alternative community of Jesus. Discipleship is not an individual path, but a journey in a company of disciples.”
Discipleship indeed is not an individual path, but a journey in a company of disciples. And at its best, this journey in community with Christ-at-the-center offers us so many gifts. Gifts like the knowledge that Christ’s love can transform the most deformed and unloving heart. We know that prayer done in small groups, where the trust level is high, can heal the most broken of souls. We know that children have visions, that worship can and should be fun, and that salvation from God comes to us in and through the gathered community. We know that sacred meals and other rituals and sacraments can ease life’s pain and double life’s joys.
That should be the centerpiece of our church’s business. Gathering with one another in worship, prayer, study, service and fellowship to experience God’s radical life changing love. Love that we then share with others in our most intimate relationships. Love that we share with friends and colleagues. Love we share with those difficult to love and strangers– all the relationships that God puts in our path.
Here is God’s bottom line. We are meant to be formed in Christ to transform God’s world. Again, we are meant to be formed in Christ to transform God’s world.
Welcome to the Kingdom of God 101. The kingdom of God is formation in Christ and transformation of God’s world. We cannot do one without the other.
I invite and urge all of you to stay for the annual meeting. Yes we will conduct some business, and I will also take some time to say more about God’s business and how we might move in new ways to journey with Jesus in this community.
For now let be said that we are the head, heart, hands and feet of Jesus, called as individuals to follow Jesus but set into this community to be released to serve the greater community. Together let us celebrate and find more ways to be the life-changing love of Christ. Amen.