The Few

The fun part of being an associate pastor is getting to do things at the last moment.  Was it a little stressful?  Sure.  But I kind of like that sort of thing.  And the best part is that congregants are extra appreciative of a sermon they knew you only found out you had to preach a couple days ahead of time when the pastor and his family became sick.

We have a worship planning schedule, so I had this much information to go on for my sermon:

Psalm 77:1-2,11-20

Matthew 4:18-22

The Few: Central to Jesus’ style of ministry was the invitation to some to be his disciples, to share their lives with him, and to learn of Jesus’ way through the intimacy of doing life together.  Here we see the first disciples invited into this journey; the same journey to which we are invited as well.

Hymns: #421 The Church of Christ in Every Age #377 Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore #339 Be Thou My Vision

I also had the option to preach on whatever I wanted.  Sometimes, “whatever I want” is too many options so I was going to stick with the text or preach a sermon from a few years ago and just freshen it up.  I had a sermon that I could have done that with:  Transforming Discipleship Written for Third Church just after Biden’s inauguration based on a similar passage, Mark 1:16-20.  I decided to use this sermon as a backup plan and try to write a new sermon.  

The sermon I ended up with was not my best work, but I thought it was good enough to go ahead with.  It is on the lowest end of my sermon word count which works out well for an un-airconditioned space in the summer.  Luckily, today was a Klondike and popsicle Sunday too.  So, we had the opportunity to go to the airconditioned social hall and cool off after the service.  

Matthew 4:18-22 Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Last week, I talked about my experience at the Cathedral in Florence and my failed attempt to climb to the top of the dome.  After descending from the point in the tour where I could turn around, I continued down the spiral staircase of shame in my own mind, self-flatulating into the darkness where I met my intrusive thoughts that I’ve named “the not enough monster”.  To get out of the dark place I membered some techniques from therapy and St. Catherine’s warning against self-harm for holiness.  I connected that experience with Matthew 4:17, “17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (NRSV).  Jesus’ words remind me to repent of or let go of the things I thought would make me holy, receive God’s forgiveness and forgive myself, then simply pay attention to the kin-dom of love, which is already all around me.  

Participating in the cycle of repentance, forgiveness, and loving acceptance is the way to see the kin-dom of God and the way to live in it.  I asked you to think about your experiences with trying to be holy, especially those when it felt like you missed out on holiness in pursuit of perfection.  I’m so grateful for everyone who shared their stories with me and with each other after worship last week.  It is not easy for all of us pursing perfection to be that vulnerable.  I hope that those conversations helped you to participate in the cycle of repentance, forgiveness, and loving acceptance of self and others this week.  

Last week was mostly about inner work, inside yourself or inside the walls of our building, maybe some of us extended the conversation with close friends and family, offering repentance, forgiveness, and love to each other.  

This week, our passage is about Jesus inviting a few disciples to follow him, to share their lives with him, learn his ways, and share in his ministry.  When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John they left their nets and followed him.  They let go of what they were doing.  They walked away from their boats.  Perhaps they had heard Jesus’ preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  And they accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. An invitation to give everything over to the transforming love of God.  An invitation to journey with him.  

The Italian Pilgrimage was certainly a journey with amazing destinations that you will be hearing about in sermons for a while.  The best part of the pilgrimage was not the gelato or the wine or the amazing places we visited; it was doing those things with a small community.  Being together all day and all night, every day for ten days was not without its challenges, but it was full of blessings. I know the women I took this journey with more intimately than I ever expected to and that is the greatest gift I received during the pilgrimage.  I was so thankful to be with other clergy women discerning what God has called them to be and to do.  I received blessings from each of them just in the simple acts of doing life together and I hope that I can reflect some of those blessings in my life back home.  

St. Clare used the metaphor of a mirror for self-reflection and reflection about who we are called to be; we are called to be like God. She wrote these words to Blessed Agnes of Prague (3rd letter) “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation! So that you too may feel what His friends feel as they taste the hidden sweetness which God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love him.”

Those who followed St. Clare and St. Francis were people trying to create a community that reflected God in everything they did, from living a simple life, to the way they interacted with one another, to committing to worship, prayer, and spiritual practices, to the way they took care of the vulnerable and marginalized people around them.  

Following Jesus, going along with him on a journey, doing the work of the kin-dom of God, involves being in intimate relationships with those on the journey, transforming your own heart so that you reflect the heart of God, and serving the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized.  

This week, I invite you to think about a time when you lived in close community with a group of people.  For some of us that was summer camp or college.  What were the challenges?  What were the blessings?  And what can we learn from those experiences to apply to our lives here at Third Church.  I’m not suggesting we camp out on the social hall floor, but what are ways that we could be an intentional community doing life together as we journey in ministry?  What would be our challenges?  Can you imagine what our blessings will be?

Benediction:  The experience of living with clergy women made me appreciate this blessing which is attributed to St. Clare: Always be lovers of God and your souls and the souls of your Sisters, [and your brothers and your people] and always be eager to observe what you have promised the Lord. Go in peace.

St. Clare’s in Assisi

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