Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, January 22, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people respond to God’s call to follow, to serve, to love, and to steward the gospel. The going isn’t always easy, and the “fishing for people business” is risky and tough, but we are never alone. Together we are the Body of Christ that lives and breathes the message.
Key Scripture: Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. – 1 Corinthians 10:1
Christians behaving badly? Surely not! We know differently, however much we wish the life of discipleship in community would more resemble a cake walk than a food fight. Schism and division amongst God’s people is not new. Whether that should comfort or afflict I’ll leave to each person to decide. It seems pretty clear how apostle, evangelist, and church-planter Paul felt about unity and division. I sense behind his words a hint of weariness, tinged by frustration, yet tempered by his love for and devotion to this particular quarrelsome and querulous community.
Those who lead and serve in faith communities know that the sinful side of human nature will invariably rise to the surface given enough time. The brokenness of our human condition causes all manner of meddling, miscommunication, and mischief within the flock. An otherwise healthy congregation can descend into bitter dispute and division when a leader behaves unethically and inappropriately. Perfectly well-behaved parishioners can turn into a pack of church-going coyotes attacking the weak and vulnerable in their midst, tearing the body of Christ limb from limb over issues of varying levels of theological and spiritual importance.
As leaders, both professional and volunteer, this reality can be disheartening. Pastors burn out and leave ministry. Vestry or church council members become disillusioned by the dark underbelly of the church world and stop attending. Children of church workers, seeing the behind-the-scenes machinizations and the effects such goings-on have on their parents, decide that organized religion is hypocritical and vile. We’ve all seen the effects and the fallout of trying to follow the call of Christ into the wounding and difficult fields of ministry.
“Follow me,” Jesus says to the unsuspecting fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, “and I will make you fish for people.” Surely these seasoned professionals knew that fishing is a dangerous business and really hard work. Did they think fishing for people would be less rigorous? And yet we’re told that IMMEDIATELY they dropped everything and followed Jesus into the work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near. Yes, we too, have been called. We all have our story of how Jesus called us out of the life we were living into this upside-down inside-out vocation called
ministry, into a life of discipleship. Whether we are called to be pastors, teachers, prophets (now there’s a tough call), evangelists, deacons or deaconesses, musicians, youth leaders, Stephen Ministers, chaplains, council members, sextons, greeters, liturgists, lectors, acolytes (you get the picture) whatever expression our call takes and however it grows and takes shape, it is most assuredly NOT going to be a smooth, straight, easy journey.
Still, we are called. And we answer that call as faithful stewards of the Good News. And if we know what’s good for us and for the healing of the nations, we will hang on and work at keeping the Body of Christ fit and together in our given context. We are so much stronger together than we are apart. Together, by listening, hearing, valuing, and believing that God is working in, among, and with us, we will find strength to do the work to which we are called.
My wish for you and the people with whom you serve is that you will heed Paul’s words to that fractious Corinthian church and cling to the message and call of Jesus, no matter what. It may sound like foolishness, and it may present itself as a whole lot of work, but it is the power of God that surrounds us, keeps us, holds us, and saves us. The world may go to pieces around us, but Jesus never really does. Believe that. Live it. Be that message of hope and grace to this beautiful, broken world.
We are Called
Consider using the Latin word “vocare” (to call, to name, to invoke) to talk about our call to serve God. If you have not shared your call story with the congregation, consider doing so today. If you have a seminarian serving in your congregation, ask him or her to consider sharing the story of how he or she came to answer God’s call. The Galilean fishermen followed Jesus immediately. Why are we so hesitant and uncertain? How can we work together to build up the Body of Christ so that all disciples can be good stewards of the gifts with which God has endowed them?
What would it mean if every member of the worshiping community where you lead and serve decided to answer God’s call to serve somehow, some way, according to their gifts and talents? Perhaps include a bulletin insert with the word “Vocare” at the top of the page. Perhaps include part of the gospel story on the sheet, too. Invite each person to ponder how God is calling them this week and to use the bulletin insert to record their thoughts. Invite them to consider one small action or one small way they can serve God and follow God’s call to discipleship. Remind them that following the call to discipleship is not a one-time deal but a lifetime adventure.
How about singing “We are Called” this Sunday (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #720). The words are appropriate for the season of Epiphany and at a time when many are wondering how they can make a difference in a culture of division and chaos.
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Churches in the first century had trouble getting along, too. Paul’s pastoral response to the troubles within the Corinthian church speaks just as effectively to church dissent and dispute today. Consider a Bible study on this passage with an emphasis on verse 18 and the need to pay attention to what’s really important. What appears to be foolishness to the world is powerful and life-saving to us. Because this is the case, we need to strive for unity and on living out the gospel. Invite the youth to share what they find frustrating about the Body of Christ today. What matters to them? What are their joys? Their fears? Their hopes and dreams? Consider inviting them to write an open letter to your congregation and/or church council sharing what matters to them and what doesn’t. Remind them that they are important to the Body of Christ, and that their involvement in the life of the community is also of vital importance.
God’s House is a House for All People
This week’s psalm (27:1, 4-9) is a good one to act out with the children. Consider using the Easy-to-Read Version found here. Particularly stress how God is our strength and helps keep us from being fearful. Talk about what it means to dwell in God’s house all the time. Share with the children that their faith community is a place where they can “dwell” and always find a welcome. Here they can be who they are meant to be as God’s beloved children. Remind them, however, that God doesn’t stay in the church building all week; God goes home with us, into the world with us; God goes everywhere, and wherever God is, we have a home.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
“United we stand. Divided we fall.” This saying is as old as the Greek storyteller Aesop (“The Four Oxen and the Lion”), and a similar statement is found in Mark 3:25 (“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”) Good stewards recognize that we are stronger together and work to heal divisions and overcome rancor. We are called, never alone, to follow Jesus. Let’s be good stewards of God’s abundance and the amazing Good News we have to share!
Stewardship at Home
Called by Christ Together
How many of the people in your congregation do you know? Spend time this week seeking to get to know at least one member of your faith community with whom you are not familiar. Do they have a family? If so, learn their names. Listen and learn about their likes, their hopes, and their dreams. Look for common ground you share. Consider getting small groups together for a potluck or dessert. Have a game night. Work on a service project together.
How can we be the Body of Christ if we don’t know one another? How can we function effectively if we don’t share and communicate? When we begin to develop real relationships, then our community bonds strengthen and deepen, and we gain confidence to share the gospel with others.
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