Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bishop's Visitation Sermon

Preached by the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith at the 10 am service at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 26, 2014
Jesus says in that gospel reading, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. That has a nice churchy sound to it. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

Friends, he is telling us that we have to change, for the sake of God’s eternal changelessness.

I have been around long enough to know my own heart and to recognize human nature for what it is: to know that change is hard. And change is likely to be resisted, sabotaged, and denied every which way. And I have been around long enough to know that it is not less so in the church; if anything it is more so. And yet I know in my own heart, and in human nature, and even is the church that there is a restlessness, an often unnamed yearning, calling us into something deeper, something more.

Just to name one tiny piece of that yearning: The consumerism, the materialism of our culture is usually an attempt to fill in the hole in the middle of human life. It never works. We cannot pour enough consumer goods into that hole to fill it up

The only cure for that pain of restlessness is the resting-place to be found in God’s own life.

The desire for such a place, in our over-adrenalized, over-caffeinated, hurry-up, double-click culture is profound.

The answer for what ails folks in this spiritually hungry world is not more caffeine, more places to double-click, or a faster internet connection.

We have got to change. This basic datum of conversion holds for personal lives, and it holds for life together.

William Alexander Percy wrote that familiar hymn about those fisherfolk whom Jesus called. It is incomplete to describe Andrew and the rest as “contented peaceful fishermen,” “just off the hills of brown” and “such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.”

These were hard working people, you had better believe it, but archeology has helped us realize they were, first of all, entrepreneurs running a micro-enterprise.

If you worked hard, you could get rich. And some Galilean fishers did.

The market for fish was phenomenal. They could not catch enough fresh-water fish to meet the demands.

All around the Sea of Galilee were fish processing plants, at places like Bethsaida and Magdala. And we are not talking Mrs. Paul’s. We are talking about factories that turned raw freshwater fish into gourmet delicacies.

Galilee cured those fish every which way imaginable. Oil cured. Pickled. Sun-dried. Fresh salted. Dry salted. The latter was a favorite snack food of the time. Fish so tasty and interesting and salty that people craved them. From Damascus to Jerusalem, people paid good money for this foodstuff. You could become well-off, working the fishery trade in Galilee. Every house excavated in Capernaum has been found full of coins, tucked into nooks and crannies, spaces between stones. A house remembered having belonged to Simon Peter, remembered by believers since the second century, was full of coins. A good living was there to be had by all.

And passing along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting their nets into the Sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, Come follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people. Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed.

My question is: What if they hadn’t? What they had been so captivated by the inertia of doing the familiar and the comfortable, and what they liked? Which, by the way, was a good and honorable thing, their work of fishing. The issue was not (and is not) always one of leaving behind something evil.

The issue was (and often is) that of leaving something good, for the sake of something better.

When they dropped their nets that day, they dropped good money and they dropped interesting work. They didn’t wait until they knew everything they needed to know. Mark’s gospel, more so than Matthew’s, has a breathless immediacy about it. They followed first; they asked questions along the way; they never got all of them answered. They learned about a new life that was so salty, so tasty, so full of flavor, that you wouldn’t want to live without it.

They followed their restlessness into a life with Jesus.

If they had not dropped their nets that day, you can bet there would not be a Christ Church Cathedral. Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee boys would have faded into the history of so many successful but now forgotten Galilean fishers. But they dropped the net.

There is nothing scarier than net-dropping. Stop doing what you’ve been doing? And know how to do? Now both Peter and Andrew eventually got killed, because they decided to drop their nets that day in Galilee. But friends, it was something worth dying for.

Jesus call to repentance is a great big project that happens to get personal and to get local. It has a cost. God is Christ Jesus is transforming—changing—an entire universe. But God’s project of transformation includes you, and it includes this Cathedral and this Diocese.

The first words of Good News that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel are about repentance. The Good News is about radical change. I love what Stanley Hauerwas says about this point. He says that contrary to a popular saying, God does not accept me as I am, that in fact, he does not want God to do so. For him to remain the same broken human being as he is now for all eternity would be in fact be hell.

Stanley Hauerwas doesn’t want God to accept him as he is; he wants God to meet him where he is and to transform him.

Change is a necessary part of the gospel. Necessary for the Diocese of Missouri. Necessary for the Cathedral. We must leave behind the bad, and sometimes we must leave behind the good. For something better. Necessary for every one of us, you and me.

Drop nets? Or not. Follow Jesus? Or not. Change? Or die. Or die anyway, but find in the process something so salty, so yeasty, so savory and interesting that it is, like the Kingdom of God, worth dying for. Amen.

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