Showing ourselves thankful
SERMON: 3 Epiphany A 1 26 2020
We've got some interesting things going on today. At least three. One is the conversion of St. Paul. The actual commemoration date was yesterday. Let me pray for us the collect concerning the commemoration:
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
When we turn to look at the conversion window above the choir loft we see the ray of light above him, the rearing horse and apostle on the ground, wondering who it was, asking "Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?" He doesn't know it is Jesus at first, and that Jesus is referring to Saul's persecution of the early Christians.
The retinue that accompanied Saul, because he is a big deal in the Jewish faith, stand by wondering what his problem is. They don't see the ray of light, they don't hear the voice of Christ. But in the last frame we see Jesus wandering off with a halo and a cane, blinded, temporarily, by his experience, made holy by his belief, his conversion.
We realize most conversions are not so dramatic or debilitating. Most of us would call it coming to faith, also, not converting from something else. But when we look at Saul, now Paul, in the last frame we realize he was converted and he was called. And he was changed. His vision, represented by the cane, and his holy aspect, represented by his halo, tell us that Paul was changed radically. But also that he had these limitations of vision, albeit short term, and of the thorn in his side which he refers to in his epistles. My point is, though converted, Paul is still not without problems. His conversion did not make him perfect or pure as the driven snow.
That's a good thing to remember when we encounter the first apostles called by Jesus to fish for people. They are the second interesting aspect for today. They weren't perfect specimens, either. They were normal humans invited by Jesus to join in his ministry to the people.
And they were fishermen. These hardy boatmen were perfect for Jesus' purposes, even if they were imperfect in many ways. They moved around a lot. They had physical stamina. They knew how to get food from the waters. And without being glib or flippant, as fishermen they were always looking to catch more. Fishermen are by nature optimists.
Our bulletin cover today depicts fishermen casting a net for fish. This is a very familiar scene to me because when Molly and I lived in Pensacola, Florida, there were often people fishing by the shore of a lake or the side of a creek or a river, casting these nets over the water to catch the fish just beneath the surface. This is very different from the fishing scenes we know from Alaska where fishing with nets usually involves boats, sometimes very big boats. But our bulletin cover picture
shows us the determination of those who go fishing. And by extension and by knowing how the apostles stayed with Jesus for his three year ministry on earth, we understand that same disposition fishermen show toward catching fish applied to their efforts in fishing for people.
In Pensacola there was an easy way to tell if a person was a net fisherman. The nets they cast usually had a line extending from the middle of the net with a lead weight attached. The fisherman would hold that weight in their teeth as they cast the net and release the weight at the last second so the net would fall over the fish and the weight would cause the net to close on itself, trapping the fish underneath it.
It is difficult to know when is the exact moment to release the weight. Most net fishermen I knew had badly chipped from teeth from holding the weight too long in their mouths
So there is a signal there about the nuances of fishing with nets. And with all forms of fishing there are techniques that work and then there are others. A person needs to know what they're doing. Ask me about fly fishing some time. My ignorance is awesome!
The same applies to fishing for people. When Jesus invited the fishermen to follow him to fish for people they had to learn new skills. They had to discern what it was that would draw people to them and to Jesus.
And that brings me to the third interesting and intersecting aspect we encounter this morning: our Annual General Meeting.
Our AGM is basically our report to the congregation on how things are going. We're going to elect and re-elect Vestry members and thank others whose terms ended. We'll hear reports from our committee leaders. And we'll observe the bestowal of the annual Paraclete Potter Service Award.
But over all that is the question of how we're doing. And we'll get to discuss that as well. Because while we have an amazing building we have considerable expenses to keep it operating. And though we have a faithful and devoted congregation, there are still seats to be had, to put it mildly. So how we're doing has to be considered from a practical and from a spiritual point of view.
The practical aspect will be reported on. And in brief, we're gaining on both restoration and financial grounds. That is not to say we're out of the woods entirely, but things are decidedly hopeful.
From a spiritual standpoint we are quite healthy. We have engaged members. We explore our traditions and the Bible and have discussions and overall make faith meaningful here at St. Paul's. We do that especially well in the way we love our neighbor, by offering ourselves and our church to the benefit of others, whether we're talking about our church services, or our food pantry and thrift shop, or the 12-step groups that meet here or our CTC staff and clients and their alternative to incarceration program for young offenders.
And in that, we, too, get to fish for people. We get to invite our community, our neighbors, to our church for social events, Bible study, weddings and funerals, regular services and special ones. And invariably people like St. Paul's and the refreshing diversity this church exhibits.
There probably are some techniques we could learn to put more people in the pews on Sundays and we'll talk about that a little during the AGM.
But overall we are stable, we are healthy, and we are delighted to fish for people on this downtown street corner of Poughkeepsie.
When we offer people what we have here it is the healing power of faith. We don't have a rock band or overhead screens or seven services on Sunday. What we have is our faith and our confidence in that faith, lived out daily by you and by me. And we are ready to share that with all who visit us or join us.
That's us fishing for people. We don't threaten people with hell. We don't cajole or criticize. We let people we encounter know about what we have found here and what it has done for us. It's called grace, saving grace. We are blessed indeed to be on this journey together. Amen
A sermon preached on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Jan. 26, 2020, the date of
General Meeting, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector