Jan. 26, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jan 26, 2020 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 26, 2020

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.     

Jesus has just heard of John the Baptizer’s arrest, here Matthew reminds us of these words from Isaiah.

They had waited for this great light and finally it dawned in the coming of the Messiah. A light which changes everything, which carries the spirit of God’s love into every dark corner. Think of the light of those candles we hold on Christmas Eve or at the Easter Vigil—light in the darkness is transforming, not just as a metaphor but as a reality, in our hearts and souls. Often people tell me they want the uplifting feeling of light and peace of Sunday to carry all week, to tap into when we feel that shadow of darkness. Next Sunday we have a special opportunity to do so is a quietly sacred and beautiful way; Candlemas. (Remember the “Candle” part.) Candlemas is the celebration of Jesus’ first time entering the temple, a ‘presentation’ we call it, by his parents. The prophetess Anna and devout Simeon saw his coming as a great light for revelation and the fulfillment of God’s promise. It became the tradition of the church to celebrate Jesus’ light with new candles – so on that day we bless the candles to be used in church throughout the year, and you bring one from home for that same blessing. Yes, bring a candle with you next Sunday—battery ones are fine too! Bring your candles and we’ll have some extra. We will bless them and process into the church celebrating the coming of Christ’s light into the house of God. Then you will take them out with you, as a sign of Christ’s light entering your homes or even your workplaces.

After these words about the coming light, Jesus repeats what John had preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” When John said these words, they had a certain feel, accompanied as they were by his wildness and accusations of those who he saw being hypocritical. John was awaiting the Messiah and knew the time was near. In Jesus’ mouth they may have sounded different, because he was who John and others waited for, in him the coming near of the kingdom of God meant it was going on around them, near to them right then. When we heard John’s call to ‘repent’ a few weeks ago, we might have understood it morally, as a call to set aside the ways of sin and to turn to God in righteous living. The word ‘repent’ or in Greek, metanoéō, can be thought of in several ways; “changed after being with” or “change your way of thinking” or “be of new mind.” This last translation is what to my ear fits when Jesus says it. He takes up John’s words meaning them every bit as much as John did, though in his own life-giving way; Be of new mind! 

We hear this bridging Isaiah’s words about seeing a great light and Jesus’ call of the fishermen to be disciples. Be of new mind! They will be drawn to him perhaps as light in the darkness, in such a way that they’ll leave their work and parents and homes to be his disciples. They are seeing Jesus’ light and letting themselves be of a new mind, travel a whole new way. They bring their own histories with them as we all do; skills, knowledge, attitudes, shortcomings, humor, all of it. It is not that their skill set is just the set Jesus is looking for, instead they use who they are and what they know in following Jesus. “I will make you fish for people” he says. They are fishermen with their nets, and this call is intriguing.

Fishermen (and I presume fisherwomen!) are not afraid of the water, not afraid of the deep. They know it will yield life-giving nourishment. Remember water is a symbol of the Spirit of God and consider how he has called people unafraid of that Spirit, unafraid to go deep. They are fishermen with nets—these are the best tool next to their boats, and in fact they can fish from the shore with a net if need be. Nets must be strong and well-tended, mended when they tear, checked with vigilance. I think of them rather like our lives as followers of Christ; when we pause to check for tears and holes from sharp rock encounters in our week. There is an old saying; “When fishermen can’t go to sea, they mend their nets.” What spiritual holes do I need to mend? Am I snagging on the same darned rock every time? Blessedly when we bring our tattered souls to God we are always mended, restored.

Nets are not just strong because of their material though; they are strong in how they are constructed. Ever look at one up close? All of those points of intersection are knotted. Every connecting point is secured by an individual knot. St. Michael’s reminds me of such a net in the hands of God as fisherperson. No fear of water of the Spirit, unafraid to go deep – we are sent there and come up with a nourishing cache of riches. We are strong, being tied in to God and to each other, knot by knot. On sabbatical it felt very odd to leave ‘my net’ — like I was a bit of a loose end at first. That twitchy feeling was healed as I was blessed to know being knotted together meant you were a strong well-tended net with or without me. Leaders and ministers make sure each knot secure so that the fabric was strong and able; Kathie with pastoral care and Eucharistic visits, Jane with the altar guild, Pat with Parish Care, Joe and Doug and others teaming up for properties, Laurie tending to our hospitality, Christie the altar servers, Lectors, Chalice-bearers and worship leaders, the Acolytes, Carolyn tending the greeters, our ever-careful Counters, Godly Play leaders, Choristers, Amy tending our Bread bakers, John and Jan tending Spirituality and Mental Health, our Adult Forum leaders, Carol with the prayer chain, Teri with our teens, Lori with outreach, Bill and Julie on finances, Tina and Anita and Jason tending all manner of things, and wardens Terrie and Andy leading vestry and wisely and prayerfully keeping an eye on it all. And add to this list every one of you who is part of the knots and spaces in between which make this one strong and spirited net!!

We are each part of it, connected to God and to one another in community; fabric strengthened through those knots. You are part of making it complete and robust, and if you aren’t – let’s change that. Our volunteer schedule is looking a bit thin in some places and there’s some net-mending work to do—happy news for those wondering how to be more engaged here! When we share this interconnected-ness, we are a people of faith who are a whole body of Christ, a well-tended net in his hands. The evidence of this is right here in the parking lot, the addition, and the history of this community. This as a year to focus on what Jesus called forth that day; people unafraid of the Spirit’s call, ready to go deep into it, and be a net knit of great strength.

My part of this is to help each of us to share our wisdom and grow that very strength and depth, so we teach and learn from each other, are equipped for the “fishing” call of discipleship. We will have new opportunities in the year ahead for us for the joy and fun of our interconnected-ness. We will explore what “deeper” and “stronger” means in our faith lives, to be excited to reach deeper within and grow stronger. Equipping ourselves for this depth and strength and connected-ness happens in our Sunday and Wednesday worship together, and it can be more; we do it in family ways and with close friends, in one-on-one listening, and in small dynamic groups. In Lent we will discuss and work with icons of Jesus in our Adult Forum, and our Wednesday Soup Suppers will include an exploration of the Word that will be fun for children and adults. This spring I look forward to a rich personal growth project with you about listening to how God speaks in your own lives, starting with an initial group gathering and then a one-to-one session with me as we listen and discern about your story together. In the fall I hope we can embark on what is called “The Radix Project; Small Groups/Deep Roots” borrowed from St. Mark’s Cathedral; it’s a six week small group initiative, designed to foster trust and strengthen our relationships with God and with each other. I can see St. Michael’s being known as a place where people come to learn and grow and become strong, passionate disciples. And all of these will need curious net-tending knot-tying fisherfolk, like you.

In looking at our St Michael’s family, at all of this, I’m really excited about the year ahead. We can take Jesus’ words to heart; Be of new mind, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!  Because Jesus calls us to follow him and be his disciples; deep, strong, and well-knotted together, loving and light inspired.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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