Sermon, Epiphany 3A - Preached at Grace Episcopal Church on Annual Meeting Sunday
Text: Matthew 4:12-23
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the story of the call of Andrew, Peter, James and John. They are preparing to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus calls them to follow him. Matthew tells us that they immediately drop their nets, leave their jobs, and follow Jesus.
This reading seems a particularly appropriate one for reflection as we worship together in advance of our Annual Meeting. It’s a reading that tells us our common destination as a congregation: The Kingdom of Heaven. And it’s a reading that tells us our common call: Fishers of People.
When Jesus begins preaching after John’s arrest, he uses John’s own words: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Sometimes as Christians, we get confused about what Jesus means. Theologian N.T. Wright says that this Kingdom of Heaven isn’t about “our escape from this world to another one, but to God’s own rule ‘coming on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
At the end of this passage, Matthew describes how Jesus went about they work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near. He says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Teaching. Proclaiming. Healing. Those are the relational actions that help to bring near the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the common destination of this and every congregation.
Jesus tells Andrew, Peter, James and John that he will make them fish for people. That’s our common call. Often, when people think about this verse, they think about Evangelism. And that’s certainly one key way to “fish.” But, it’s not the only way. Whenever we reach out to love and serve others in Jesus’ name we are, in fact, fishing for people. That's the common call of this and every congregation.
The Sunday of our annual meeting is a perfect day to reflect on how we have been open to the call to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven by teaching, proclaiming, and healing in 2016. And, how doing these things led us to fish for people. It is also a perfect time to begin to talk together about how we see ourselves continuing that journey in 2017.
Here are just a few ways that I’ve seen our congregation respond to the call to Teach, Proclaim, and Heal in 2016, thereby fishing for people:
WATTS - We've just finished up our time of service at WATTS - the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter. Members of Grace and St. Mary's helped set up the shelter, cooked dinner on Wednesday and breakfast on Thursday, worked at the shelter on Wednesday night, helped out again on Thursday morning, and finally worked to break down the shelter. Those actions were ways to proclaim and heal, thereby fishing for people.
Sunday School - I'm impressed with our Sunday School. We have 30 to forty children and teens participating in our program. They are guided and mentored by a number of adults who love and care for them. And they are supported in their learning by so many in this congregation who show up for activities and fundraisers. It's how we teach around here, thereby fishing for people.
Backpack Program - Every week, our church provides meals for 37 children in the Clarke County Schools whose homes are food insecure. On Fridays, they are sent home from school with enough food to feed them all weekend. This ministry originated here and has now spread to many of the churches in Berryville. All told, 97 children receive food every weekend. It's another way we proclaim and heal, thereby fishing for people.
As we look forward to 2017, here are two things we’ll talk about during the Annual Meeting. Our question will be, "How do we hear God’s voice calling us in for 2017?"
Shrine Mont Retreat - Clarke Parish has held an annual retreat at Shrine Mont for man years. This year, we will focus on our liturgy. We'll learn about the different parts of our liturgy, working in intergenerational groups. It will be one way we proclaim and teach together.
Mission Trip - I've heard from many of you that you miss the regular mission trips that have been part of Clarke Parish's history. This year, we will bring that tradition back! Plans are in the works to go to West Virginia to help rebuild communities devastated by last spring's flood. That mission will proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, and heal those whose lives have been devastated.
We are called to follow Jesus. To listen and discern his voice calling us to follow him. We are called to be his hands and feet in the world today to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven through our teaching, proclaiming and healing, thereby fishing for people. Will you continue to join together and respond to that call?
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I'm Fran Gardner-Smith. I'm an Episcopal priest, a wife, a grandmother, a feminist, a writer, and an artist.