A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 26, 2020

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany. I finished my pilgrimage walking the Camino de Santiago on a rainy October day. When I reached the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, I paid my respect to the bones of St. James in a crypt beneath the altar. Like so many pilgrims before me, I was moved to be so close to the relics of St. James, who was so close to Jesus’ in his earthly life. 

Who was St. James?  Once he was simply James, the fisherman, one of the first people to follow Jesus.

In our Gospel today we hear the calling of James along with his brother John, and another set of brothers Peter and Andrew. What can we learn from this passage in the season of Epiphany, and in our season of Interim time? 

In the Episcopal Church we call these weeks between Christmas and Lent the Season of Epiphany. Today, we heard a few lines of Isaiah read both in our Old Testament lesson and in the Gospel:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”

These lines from Isaiah, also quoted in Matthew, give us our themes for Epiphany Season.  A great light has come and illuminated our world.  Christ has come in the person of Jesus and made everything new.  We see Christ’s light manifest in the world around us, and we are called to share it.

The Roman Catholics call this season, “ordinary time,” rather than give it another name.  And there’s something attractive about that, too.  If Epiphany focuses on the light of Christ, ordinary time reminds us that we are ordinary people who Christ calls in love to share that light with the world around us in our time.

And ordinary people can do extraordinary things out of love. 

These days, I admire Greta Thunberg, a teenager who speaks truth to power about climate change.  She is not intimidated by the condemnation of certain world leaders. She’s an ordinary person doing extraordinary things out of love for the earth.

This past week we celebrated Martin Luther King Day. By mobilizing ordinary people to uphold the dignity of every human being, MLK did extraordinary things out of love for justice and human rights.

In our Gospel passage today we see Jesus call four ordinary people to be his first disciples:  Peter and Andrew, James and John.  We may be so used to the story that we don’t see how unusual it is.  The Son of God does not call the powerful people of his day, rather, he calls ordinary people:  fishermen. 

Somehow in the middle of their workday by the Sea of Galilee those fishermen responded to Jesus’ powerful authentic love. They leave everything they know and follow him in faith.  They end up traveling far outside their comfort zone; they go from Galilee to Golgotha with Jesus, and after Pentecost they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which transforms them into apostles and martyrs.  You never know where love will take you.  It always causes us to stretch and go deeper, to give of ourselves, to receive joy, and to share it.

As I experienced on my Camino, James traveled to Spain to preach the gospel, went back to Jerusalem where he was martyred, and his body was returned to Spain. Peter became the first bishop of Rome, was martyred there, and his bones reside beneath the Vatican.  Andrew went to the eastern part of the empire, founded the church in Constantinople, and was martyred in Greece. Only John, the beloved disciple, and the youngest, lived into old age. Tradition says he wrote the Gospel of John.

Not bad for fishermen casting their nets in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.  They said yes to Jesus’ invitation, and spread the Gospel of love throughout the Mediterranean world.  Ordinary people can do extraordinary things out of love.

I wonder what this means for us here in our Interim time? 

We, too, are ordinary people. And we are living in extraordinary times.  Christ invites us to share the gospel of love where we are in 2020.

We live in extraordinary times of economic change here in San Francisco, and the larger Bay Area.  The tech boom has rewritten the economic landscape, and that affects each one of us, our neighborhood and our parish. This is our context for ministry now.

As we know, All Saints’ has met extraordinary times before.  Father Harris opened our parish to a diverse population living in the Haight in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and ministered to the hippies of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.  We were a haven of God’s love during the AIDS Crisis in the late 80’s and 90’s.  We continue to feed hungry people every Saturday morning.  We have a legacy of love that can offer us direction into the future.  In the coming months, we’ll meet to talk about who we are as a parish today, and where we see Jesus calling us.

The good news is we have a jewel of a rectory next door that is a great investment in the future of our parish. Our Jr. Warden, Larry Rosenfeld has carefully stewarded the front end of the project with a lot of love.  Please offer Larry your thanks for all he has done so far, and for what he will continue to do as the project unfolds in the next few months. 

With the housing crisis, the renovation of our rectory has become more than a nice thing to do; it is essential to the health of our parish going forward.  It’s difficult for Episcopal priests to live in San Francisco or most of the Bay Area on their salary and given the probable age of our new priest to come, someone in their 30’s-40’s, they will probably have debt from college and seminary to pay off. With our rectory in good working order, we can attract a wider pool of applicants to be our next priest.

At the end of the service, we will process directly out the front door to the rectory steps.  Please follow the altar party and gather there with us. We will bless the beginning of the renovation project and our contractors.

In our Gospel today, Jesus invites the fishermen by saying, “follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  

Notice he’s not inviting them to become better, more prosperous fishermen.  The invitation to “fish for people” is ambiguous and intriguing.  It’s outward-facing. 

Jesus uses what they know—fishing—to characterize the work of ministry that he will teach them over time.

He’s inviting them onto a path of change and growth in love.  He invites us onto a path of change and growth, too. 

What does it mean to “fish for people” in 2020, in San Francisco?  You never know where love will lead you, usually places you would never imagine.  But we know that Jesus will be there with us in love.  Amen.