The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Sermon January 24, 2021


“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

Tis the season to hear the stories of those who answered God’s call…

Last week it was Samuel…Now the Lord came…calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel (after hearing this curious summoning three times) finally said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Today we hear about Jonah… “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’”

And in our Gospel passage, Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew, James and John heard Gods’ calling while out fishing in Galilee; Jesus plainly says, “Follow me,” and they left their nets and followed him.

Why them, do you wonder? Was there something special about these people? What did they have common? Not much really, when we look at who they are.

Samuel was just a boy; he was unsure, even of what was happening to him.

Jonah, was grown man, very sure of what God wanted, but he was just plain reluctant.

And the disciples? They were not prophets, nor did they grow up in the house of the high priest.  Simon, Andrew, James and John were simple fisher-folk, as an old hymn sings, Just off the hills of brown, such happy, simple fisher-folk, Before the Lord came down.

All these people led very different lives, unalike in circumstance and setting, but they all encountered the same dilemma—

How shall I answer God?

What can I do, I’m only a boy? We might imagine Samuel saying.

And Jonah, replying to God, “You want me to do what?” Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved God’s saving—they were heathens, foreigners. God presses Jonah, are you willing to accept my love for your enemy…are you willing to share my love?

The disciples had hard choices as well. Simon and Andrew’s mother was sick; James and John’s father needed them for his fishing business…how could they drop everything and follow this itinerant preacher?

All of these folks faced difficult decisions.

And while this week’s stories tell of men, it’s not just men who are called.  We just celebrated Elizabeth’s and Mary’s calling all through Advent and Christmas—scripture holds many other examples, Deborah, Ruth, Judith…

The stories of our faith’s forefathers and mothers tell us of these extraordinary persons, accepting the call of God…and we hold them up as heroes of the faith.

But we must know they were just people, like you and me, growing up in the midst of hard choices and family dilemmas.

The Good News of God’s saving love is spread not through the work of faultless men or perfect women, but through human beings with faults, peccadillos, worries, and flaws.

In the early 1980’s, I left home to attend Auburn University. My college years gave me a chance to grow up, away from my parents, and to form my goals in life. While there on the plains, I joined a sorority, I was active at the Episcopal chapel (St. Dunstan’s) right there at Toomer’s corner, and for a time I studied pre-med— that is, until decided that I really wanted to work with people’s minds more than their bodies—and I switched my major.

My Auburn experience was wonderful, all of it. My course work did keep me in the library a good bit, but I loved all that I was learning, and, being the perfectionist, I studied a lot. At St. Dunstan’s I met with other young adults during the week and was a lector at church on Sundays. And just like those of you who went to the other college, we at Auburn had lots of fun too, with tailgating and parties.

One Saturday night back then, a good friend of mine and I were out visiting parties around campus. As it was getting late, I said it was time for me to go back to my place. I was reading in church the next morning and I needed some sleep. I remember my friend’s reaction so well—he wasn’t surprised, as he knew I actually lived at Stephen’s House, a residence just behind the chapel, and he knew I volunteered at the chapel. But my friend was still perplexed. He stopped walking and looked right at me, and he asked, “How can you go to church on Sunday, when you’ve been out partying the night before?” I knew what he meant, he was thinking, wasn’t this hypocritical?

Now I’m not like Bill White, who is quick with the wit and funny responses. But this time, this one time in my life, I remember saying something pretty good—and I didn’t even have to think much about it. I answered, “How can you NOT go to church on Sunday after partying on Saturday night?”

My friend replied, “Touché.” And I was pretty happy with my quick retort at the time.

But the truth is, I didn’t really like my answer. You see, I know my friend took this as if I were saying, “yeah, partying is bad, so we have to go to church and repent on Sunday”…and frankly, that is far from what I wanted to convey.

What I wanted to say is this…We go to church to thank God for all that we have, for our friends, for parties and the joys of this life. We go to church to show our gratefulness for the opportunity to live a life given to us with grace. We go to church to be strengthened for the hard choices in life and the difficult decisions we’ll have to make. We go to church to be guided by God and encouraged by our fellow Christians to live a life of love.

I wish I would have said that instead.

Somehow, sometimes, we don’t always say what we really mean.  

I wanted my friend to know that God isn’t looking for the best or most perfect people to show up on Sunday, to be a part of God’s movement.

The idea that Christians are supposed to be perfect, flawless is ludicrous, and it leads us down a dark path, one where we can’t admit when we’re wrong. But Somehow, sometimes, Christians say things we can’t actually believe, if we read the Bible.

Those who answer God’s call, the followers of Christ, those of us who go to church, the gathering of baptized people, we are not an elite group—the best of the best. We are kids like Samuel and reluctant wanderers like Jonah, working men and women like the disciples.

We are just folks who are listening to the invitation of God.

God invites humans to partner with him, the young and old, women and men, foreigners and the guy next door; God calls those who cheated, like Jacob, those who persecuted Christians, like Paul. God calls those who stutter or are slow of speech like Moses. We are NOT asked to be perfect, we are asked to say yes, I’ll go, or at least yes, I’ll try.

The star of the past week’s inauguration was one like Moses, who struggled with a speech impediment growing up. Amanda Gorman had every reason to say like Moses “Here I am, Lord! Send Aaron!” Of course, Moses eventually agreed.

Amanda could have hid like Jonah. But she didn’t. Like Samuel and Jonah, like the disciples of Christ, Miss Gorman said yes, and fed by her faith (she’s Roman Catholic by the way) she pushed through her adversity and the world is a better place for her yes.

Amanda’s poem sang out with an understanding of perfection that we all need to hear. From the Greek word telos, found often in our Bible, perfect means having an inherent purpose, an intent, an end goal.

Our country is not perfect, but we are hopefully made of people who are called to a purpose, to constantly grow and learn and find better ways to serve all people—As she recited in her poem.

And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose

Christianity had from its start the calling to grow to perfection—which just means to grow with purpose, with the help of the Holy Spirit to “fit ourselves for God.”

Our Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams once said, “you don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud!” It’s a great line. By this Williams means being Christian is saying yes, Lord. Being Christian is agreeing to get dirty, not to be perfect in that we can do no wrong, but that we are called to a purpose, to bravely spread the incredibly, powerful love of God.

Thanks be to God for calling us.