Sermon for January 26, 2020: Walking and fishing in the light (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)

Updated: Aug 5

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Robin Williams used to do a routine called, “The Top Ten Reasons for being Episcopalian.” One of Williams’ most arcane reasons is, “because we have a color-coded calendar.” We do – and we are not the only ones. We share our multi-colored wheel of seasons with several other denominations. In addition, we share a schedule of Sunday scripture readings called “The Revised Common Lectionary (or RCL).” Using the RCL means that on any given Sunday, my mom in Connecticut and my Roman Catholic brothers-in-law in Virginia and Florida all hear the same portions of the Bible read aloud.


The RCL follows our liturgical (color-coded) seasons. During the current Season after Epiphany our gospel stories have been following Jesus as he grows from a baby into his full stature as the Messiah. Our psalms, Hebrew and New Testament scriptures are designed to complement the gospel narrative, fleshing out Jesus’s story and helping to explain why he came.


They also remind us of our similarities to the all people of God across time. In our recent readings, we have followed the stories of ancient people just like us who have struggled between faith and fear, hope, and despair, dark and light – people like those who first heard Isaiah’s prophecy. There is debate about who exactly these people were, but it is clear that they lived in a time of chaos, fear, and darkness. Isaiah’s words reminded them that God was with them – and that if they were patient light would shine on the faithful. As Richard Ward says, “With a faith rooted in the character of God, Isaiah forecasts new possibilities through human and divine effort, even when nations with imperial ambitions are wreaking havoc on the world stage.”[1]


Sadly, we are still in need of Isaiah’s words today. Although we are fortunate to live in a wealthy and well-defended land, we are sometimes reminded that our peace and well-being are not assured. During the recent tension between the United States and the middle-eastern countries of Iran and Iraq, my college-age daughter went from posting cute animal pictures on Instagram to repeatedly checking national news feeds, expressing her fear that the world was going to end. I reassured her with what is perhaps the least comforting truth I could muster, “Don’t worry Kate. This has happened thousands of times before.”


This is not God’s fault; it is the nature of humanity. God does not visit evil on us; we make our own evil. The history of human life as told in our holy scriptures is how we repeatedly betray God and one another, putting our own devices and desires ahead of the common good. Miraculously, it is also and more importantly about how over and over again God has attempted to save us from ourselves, ultimately sacrificing God’s own self for our salvation.

But still the people will not accept God’s deliverance. Still we refuse to believe that such goodness exists. Still we choose fear over faith and darkness over light. This is why church is a good thing – because it allows us struggle together to understand and accept the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s also why the Revised Common Lectionary is a good thing – because it reminds us that the people of God have been dealing with the same internal and external conflicts for thousands of years – and that if we truly accept the gift of Jesus’s love and follow his way, our suffering will end.


But in order to be true disciples, we cannot just offer lip service to our God. Saying you believe in Jesus is not the same as following him. St. Paul makes this clear to the community at Corinth when he finds that they have been jockeying for position based on who had baptized them. It is not, he tells them, acceptable to claim the title “Christian” as a sign of superiority and separateness rather than humility and sacrifice. They must not argue about who is right, but instead be united in the same mind and the same purpose. That purpose, according to Paul, has little to do with rituals. It is “wrong,” writes Tim Sedgewick, “to identify Christian faith with…a particular understanding of baptism or with the beliefs and practices of a particular person or group. The gospel is given in the cross as self-sacrifice, giving oneself up in response to and for the other, the cross as bearing the burden of others…[and to do so] in joy and thanksgiving. To claim anything else empties the cross of Christ of its power.”[2] Or, as Pastor John Pavlovitz puts it, “one of the markers of a life emulating Jesus, [is] a heart capable of being broken at the distress of other human beings around you: when they are hungry and hurting, when they are homeless and afraid, when they grieve and feel alone, when they believe they are unloved and forgotten, when tragedy befalls them and when injustice assails them. These things are supposed to move the needle within us if Jesus is present.”[3]


This should be clear to us if we have been listening to the stories of the season after Epiphany, which is a time in which we are shown how God was made manifest in Jesus, bringing the light of salvation that God’s people so desperately needed. Our post-Epiphany readings show us what it means to accept the gift of salvation – what it means to follow Jesus. We see this in the actions of Jesus’s first disciples in today’s gospel. When they recognize Jesus’s call, they do not hesitate or negotiate; they do not pack their bags or empty their bank accounts. They follow him.


Christian faith is not just something you say you have; it’s something you do. And it is not easy. “The life of faith does not render us invisible, anonymous faces in the crowd. Instead we assume some personal risks in following God.”[4] Notice that the gospel story does not end with the calling of the first disciples. It ends with what happens after they follow Jesus. It ends with the Good News being carried out and carried forth. It ends with the disciples acting in faith.


It is my belief that the people of Grace Martinez have been called as disciples of Christ to emulate his way and spread the Good News. Our mission statement calls us “to welcome, support, and serve all God’s people.” This means we need to constantly discern the ways in which we can expand our ministry and, as Jesus commanded, fish for people. Our property includes an upper lot, which stands unused. I believe that in a time and place in which many people are in need it is our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to determine how we might use this asset to support our mission. For that reason, in 2020 we will embark on a discernment process which will help us discover God’s plan for that piece of property. We will not be alone. Some of you may have seen Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, “A whole new calling for sacred ground.” It details a trend that has spoken to my heart, a desire to welcome and heal rather than exclude and reject- a path to service rather than selectivity. The name that has been given to this movement is, “Yes in God’s backyard.”


I believe that during this time of discernment as we read scripture, talk, and pray together we will begin to see and follow Christ on a great adventure and to say “yes” to whatever God asks of us. That is, after all, the number one reason for being an Episcopalian. AMEN.


1Richard F. Ward, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press], 4, Kindle location 9802.

[2]Timothy F. Sedgwick, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press], 4, Kindle location 10050.

[3]John Pavlovitz, (January 6, 2020), “Christians are supposed to care about people,” in Stuff that needs to be said, https://johnpavlovitz.com/2020/01/06/christians-are-supposed-to-care-about-people/

[4] Maryann McKibben Dana, (2010), in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press], 4, Kindle location 9897.