Saturday, January 21, 2017

Year A, Epiphany 3, Matthew 2:12.23 Just Say Yes.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Many aspire to greatness, but rarely succeed.
True greatness is more often thrust upon someone by circumstances quite out of their control.
Greatness is not the result of ambition, but of a calling to do the right thing at the right time, and in doing so to serve the cause of the greater good of all.
This calling is often accepted reluctantly.

Throughout the scriptures, from Moses to Mary, people have been called into the service of God and God’s people.  Most often their initial response was to say “No”.
Moses raised his objections in numerous ways:
·         First, by asking who God was.
·         Then, by questioning whether Israel would believe him.
·         The by pointing out to God that he wasn’t a good public speaker.
·         And finally, by begging that God simply send someone else.
Mary’s response to the announcement that she would give birth to the Christ Child was simple:
"How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
In contrast to this, when Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, and James and John, their initial response was to leave what they were doing and follow him.
Well, sort of.
They may have left their boats and nets on the shore that day, but we hear later in the Gospel that they would return to their boats on numerous occasions.  And following Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter declares “I am going fishing.”
They too, like most of us, were most comfortable with life as they knew it, and were not thrilled with the prospect of change. 
Eventually, and with a healthy degree of reluctance, they answered Jesus call and lived out their lives as witnesses to the Gospel.
Just say “Yes”.
A member of our congregation in Gig Harbor, when we were first married, preached a sermon on this that I remember to this day.  Dennis Goin was his name.  What he said that day was that he had learned to “Just say Yes,” and trust that God would show him how to make it possible later.
And this God has done with countless people throughout the ages. 
God calls us and gives us the gifts that we will need to fulfill that calling.
And then great things can happen.

In Jesus’ case, circumstances beyond his control thrust him into the spotlight.
He had been living in obscurity in Nazareth, presumably working in his father’s carpenter shop.  We actually know nothing of his life from the time he visited the Temple in Jerusalem as a young boy, till his baptism by John.
But then what happens is that John, who had been creating quite a following with his fiery preaching and message of repentance, his thrown into prison.
It was the news that John had been imprisoned that caused Jesus to leave his life in Nazareth behind, move to Galilee, and there begin his ministry.
The first thing he did was to assemble a band of followers, his disciples, to accompany him throughout his ministry.
Initially, just four men.  Fishermen.
And then later, he calls Matthew, a tax collector.
Finally, there are twelve.
Just twelve.
And an unlikely bunch at that.
But from that group, the message of the Gospel was spread throughout the world. 

Just twelve.
I think of that when I think about our congregation of Peace.  There are so few of us.  Yet we have a purpose statement for our congregation that says:  “God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.”
That’s a tall order for the few of us gathered here.
We have so few that just keeping the church cleaned sometimes seems like a tremendous burden.
“To welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community?”
But there are only a few of us.
How can this happen?

Here I have a confession of sorts to make.
I am bipolar.
What that means, is that when I am not on medication (which for the record I now take religiously), I cycle between periods of depression and mania.
When I’m depressed, my inclination is to look out at small group of people that we have gathered here this morning and say, “There are only, what twenty, twenty five of us.  What can we do?”
But when I have been in my manic phase, that’s when life gets interesting.
The sky is the limit.
In Sandpoint, this played out in a rather remarkable way.
It began with an opportunity to support one of my former parishioners who was serving as a missionary in Russia.
This led to a couple of visits to Russia, and on the second visit, and opportunity to visit with the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in  Russia and Other States, as well as the Bishop of European Russia.
During the course of that visit they shared that all of the salaries of the pastors in Russia were being supported by a 2 million dollar endowment that the German Church had donated, but that the funds were running out.
“2 million dollars, is that all?”
What struck me was that our congregation owned four acres of undeveloped commercial land, which at the time, was worth 2 million dollars.
If we sold that land, our congregation could support all the pastors in Russia.
One offer on the land was received, but it was too little.
Then a woman on our council said, “Lets build senior housing.” And my mind raced.
We could build senior housing, and use the profits to support the Church in Russia.
And so we did.  Build the senior housing, that is.  87 units of senior housing at a cost of 15 million dollars.
But that wasn’t enough.
My inspiration was to do even more.  I led the synod in an effort to develop a large project in Boise.  The economy collapsed before it was could be done, though.
And my manic phase gave way to a debilitating depression.
Looking back at it two things stand out.
On the one hand I recognize that I was in a manic state, and a bit out of control due to my mental illness.
But the second, and more important thing, is that God was able to use me, at that time, to do some real good.
We never did support all the pastors in Russia.  But we supported the missionary, and then the pastor of our sister congregation in Novgorod.
And we did build the senior housing, and many have benefited from that.
And I will confess that when I think about our congregation, and what we might be able to do, there is part of me that longs for the unbridled optimism that comes with a manic episode.
But that is not what is required.
All that is required is a willingness, even a reluctant willingness, to say “Yes” when God calls.

What is God calling us to do as a congregation?
And can the few of us here, like the twelve disciples, actually make a difference in the world?

One of the things that a healthy dose of medication has resulted in for me is a much more realistic sense of what our calling is.
I think that when we as a congregation think about our purpose, we shouldn’t think in terms of welcoming, loving, and serving all in our local and global community.  That’s kind of a manic goal.  “All” is a lot.  Our local and global community is a lot.
Instead, what I believe God is calling us to do is simply this:
To welcome, love, and serve that one person that we have the opportunity to care for, today.
That’s the way the Gospel works.  One by one. 
The challenge for us today is simply this:  Will we dare to say yes when we have the opportunity to share our faith with that one person that God has put in our life, who needs to hear?
Will we dare to say “Yes.”
If we are willing to do that, simply say “Yes”, then there is no telling what might happen.
With God, all things are possible.
A Final Note:
When Jesus walked up to Peter that day on the lakeshore, what do you think Peter imagined when Jesus said “Follow me.”?
He probably followed more out of curiosity than conviction.
I seriously doubt that Simon Peter had any idea what would happen, and certainly did not anticipate that Christians throughout the world would still be talking about him and his witness to this day.
But whatever he imagined, he did that one thing, on that particular day.
He said Yes.

Will we?

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