3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2012

Year B Epiphany 3
January 22, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” This text is about discipleship and evangelism. In a progressive church community like ours, besides talking about race or money (our money, not money in the abstract), about the most uncomfortable subject we encounter in church is evangelism.

Usually we look at this reading from the perspective of the called, of Simon and Andrew and James and John. Why did they follow? Why so immediately? Would I have left my dad in such a lurch? Would I have followed at all? Good questions.

I am wondering, though, about something else. I am wondering about Jesus in this story. Why did He want these men to follow Him? And more so, He wanted them to follow Him to learn how to get more followers. He was training the trainers. What was the big deal? And why so immediately, why the rush?

So, help me here. Why was Jesus out evangelizing? And yes, it was because his dad told him to. But why else?

Jesus knew that He had something of immense value that needed to be shared. He had good news; very, very good news. The Word, a radically new understanding of God was manifest and had to get out there, out here. And so, He spent his short public life telling everyone He could, everything that He knew about this very Good News. And what good news did He have? That God loves us, no questions asked, and we are responsible for reflecting that love back unto God and out into the world to the best of our ability. That is it. Oh, and the addendum that the more you love that radically the more you will be reviled, persecuted, even dismissed as a religious wacko, which of course requires that you love even that much more and so on and so on until in the end all you have is love, ceaselessly.

So in a bit, we are going to head downstairs and do our political duty as Episcopalians. We are going to attend to the business of this church; electing our leaders, electing our representatives to the Diocesan Convention, which conducts the business of the Diocese. We are going to review what we did this past year and, at least fiscally speaking, what the coming year has in store. Pretty exciting. We’l get back to this.

Why is evangelism such a touchy subject in progressive churches?
(don’t want to impose, have some doubts, embarrassed – don’t want to be “one of them”)

Ok, I am going to be completely honest here (not that I am not already honest but I want to draw attention to this). I have always been hesitant about evangelism. Where I am from it is very impolite to talk about faith, particularly about Christian faith, and your own faith and church and all of that. But as I have gone down the rabbit hole of religious devotion and life, that reticence has faded. (And not just because my livelihood depends on it, either.)

What has changed for me? I am getting, finally, an inkling, a whiff, a taste of how good, how really, really good the Good News is. This stuff will change your life. It is changing mine, constantly. And when we, when I find something that good, it is like the prelude last week, how can I keep from singing? (well, for everyone’s sake I won’t be singing too, too much, just enough, though.) Really, if what we find here is as good as it can be, as good as it needs to be, as good as the good news we proclaim actually is, how will we not be like Jesus on that beach? We will need to tell others, “follow me, or at least come with me this Sunday. I know some really cool people.”

So we are going downstairs in a bit. And like some other things that we do around here, we are going to do it a little differently this year. We will sit around tables, having a meal that everyone made in their homes to share. We will study the Bible together, if briefly. We’ll conduct all the business we need to conduct, but I m hoping that we will do it, maybe a little more religiously? Maybe a bit more reflective of the absolutely fabulous thing that we have here? We have some of the very best news ever told, we have some beautiful people gathered around it, we have concentrated some resources here that provide a brilliant base of operations for mission in this neighborhood, in this city, really, into the whole world… wherever the Spirit sees fit to lead us.

I think I remember like two sermons I have ever heard. One of them, preached by an eminent old Unitarian, used a New Yorker cartoon as the text. It was in two frames. The first had a bearded man walking down the street with a placard saying, “I’m a fool for Jesus.” In the second frame, the man is passing by and we see the back of the sign, “Whose fool are you?”

I think of that beach, and those young men and Jesus and all the rashness, the immediacy of it all and that little pragmatist in me says, fools. How foolish, I would never… I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that. I am not that confident. Then I remember the Good News; lights in the darkness, Word made flesh, people healed, thousands fed, resurrection and life everlasting… Whose fool am I? Jesus’. Fisher of men? How can I refuse. Why? Because we have something That Good. It has immense value, and not only to us, that is the least of it, but it has immense value to the world.

I asked a couple of weeks ago if we are going to do this, this whole church thing. What I mean is that if I am part of this community, we are going to become fishers of men. We are going to grow. In numbers? I am sure that will happen. If you build it they will come. But numbers, just help get me to full time, that is my only concern about numbers. But growth, I am ultimately concerned in growth. That we grow closer to God in Christ and each other. That we grow the breadth and scope of our collective and private religious practice. That we grow the breadth and scope of our ministry to those who need help in body, mind and/or spirit. That we grow our children into the men and women they were born to be. That we grow in our ability to love and be loved. That is the pearl of great price that we have inherited. It is going to take effort, risks, it will mean appearing foolish at times, it will require being actually foolish at times, but that is the deal. So, are we going to do this?