Epiphany 3 January 23, 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4                                                                          

1 Corinthians 1:1-9                                                             

Matthew 4:12-23

I was talking with a friend who goes to an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. He grew up a Baptist and has respect for that tradition, but he’s long been an Episcopalian and a very serious one. “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t go to church, and especially Episcopal churches like mine and yours,” he said to me. “The words are beautiful, the music is beautiful; it’s the time each week I connect with God.”

“Well,” I responded, “it’s easier for me to list the reasons people don’t come to church than the reasons they do.” And I quickly gave him a dozen “don’t come to church reasons” off the top of my head: the competition of other activities, families where one parent doesn’t want to go, families where the kids are with their other parent every other weekend, the negative image churches and religion have in the media, bad experiences with churches in the past . . . and so forth. Really, when you think of all these reasons, that anyone comes to church here at Holy Cross on a Sunday morning, that we manage to keep this congregation alive and vital, is a miracle, given all the forces ranged against us.

It set me thinking, this conversation with my friend, about why I myself come to church; why even after I retire and am not paid to come, and have to go to a church that won’t be as close to what I personally love as this one is – why even then I will go to church every Sunday, pretty much no matter what. And the answer, for me as I thought about it, is really very simple:  I come to be with Jesus. I’m like those fishermen in the gospel reading this morning, to whom Jesus said, “Follow me.” It’s as simple as that. I long ago made the commitment, really out of desperation, to follow Jesus, to try to be with him.

 

Life, you see, when we stop and think about it, is overwhelming, beyond our control, beyond even our understanding. I think it’s always been that way, we just have our own particular version of its overwhelmingness now. All the issues that divide us, the crises in the news – they’re pieces of this overwhelmingness. And closer to home, our jobs, our children’s futures, the security of our retirement, our health – they’re all full of uncertainty, for me, for you, for everybody. We try to put things together, little pieces of our lives, and we succeed in part, for awhile. But in the end there’s always this overwhelmingness.

 There’s an old hymn that goes,

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult

of our life’s wild, restless sea,

day by day his clear voice soundeth,

saying, “Christian, follow me”;

 

as, of old, Saint Andrew heard it

by the Galilean lake,

turned from home and toil and kindred,

leaving all for his dear sake.

We need, all of us, some “clear voice” above the tumult of our lives. We need a center point, a lodestar, something above and beyond, to give direction and meaning to our lives. Without it, we fragment and disintegrate: we turn to alcohol or drugs or other addictions, retreat into ideological bunkers fueled by talk radio and cable television, try to sooth ourselves by amassing possessions or the pursuit of money and status. But all of these things in the end only make the tumult, the overwhelmingness, worse. At least for me.

So I come, Sunday by Sunday, to be with Jesus. It’s never perfect; it wasn’t for the disciples. It’s a seeking, a journey, a “follow me” lifelong commitment. Jesus isn’t only at church, of course. But church provides the basis that allows us to find him elsewhere. Jesus is God: which means that in looking at him I see what the invisible God, God the Father, is like. In Jesus I see that God is the continuing force of creation, God is forgiveness, God is a God of promise and commitment. Jesus is also human: which means that in looking at him I see who I am, who I am meant and called to be. I too am part of God’s creation, I too am called to be forgiving, I too am meant to keep the promises of baptism and to live a life of commitment to God and service to others.

It was all of this that lay behind that call of the first disciples, so long ago on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. All of this that lies behind the call of Jesus to me and to you today. Jesus calls us out of our isolation as individuals. He calls us into community, into communion. It was Andrew and Peter, James and John, the Twelve together and then the Church, never isolated individuals. You can’t be a Christian alone. So we are brought here together, people of different opinions, linked through our apostolicity – that thing the Episcopal Church is so proud of, but sometimes so quick to ignore when it’s inconvenient – linked with other “called” people around the globe and through the ages. Jesus is never just “my” Jesus. Jesus is always “our” Jesus.

So all of this is stuff to think about, this Sunday when we have our Annual Parish Meeting. As I said, building a congregation in a time and place like this, keeping it vital, striving for real holiness in its life – it’s not easy. The transition in ministry that lies ahead – it’s a challenge. But we do it because we need to be with Jesus, because he “calls us o’er the tumult”; because without Jesus, our lives would be lost.

God bless us all. God bless Holy Cross.

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