In our Gospel reading for this morning, we are still in the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus has been baptized and endured forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Then Jesus gets to work.
And virtually the first thing Jesus does, before working any miracles or even doing much teaching, is to call disciples. Last week we heard about Philip and Nathanael. This week it is Peter and Andrew, James and John.
I have always wondered if there is a backstory here, if our four for today already knew Jesus, or if this is their very first encounter with Him. Either way, what Mark tells us is pretty dramatic. While Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He notices Peter and Andrew. Jesus says, “Follow me.” And that’s all it takes. They become Jesus’ disciples on the spot.
The same thing happens with James and John, if anything even more dramatically. When Jesus calls them, they are working with their father. But they immediately drop what they are doing, leave their father sitting in the boat, and follow Jesus.
When I preached on Jesus’ baptism, I emphasized that Jesus was thirty when he began his public ministry. Jesus already had a life. But at baptism Jesus abandoned the life he had been living to take up his ministry.
When Jesus calls disciples, He asks them to do the same, to abandon the life they have known and to embrace a new life with Him. For Peter, that means leaving behind a mother-in-law for sure, and perhaps also a wife. For James and John, it means leaving behind their father and, we read later, their mother (though their mother herself eventually follows Jesus, too).
Jesus presumably knew more or less what he was getting into when he began his public ministry. But not Peter and Andrew, James and John. They were giving up everything that was familiar and following Jesus into an unknown future.
The faithfulness of these four disciples has always impressed me. But in most years, I am not sure exactly how this story applies to us. In my own life there have certainly been a few twists and turns. That is true for most of us. But I have never been called to abandon everything in order to follow Christ in an entirely new way.
But in the year since our last annual meeting, in some ways, I have been. We all have been.
On March 15, we had our last regular Sunday service for 2020, although we didn’t know it at the time. It quickly became clear that Christ was calling us to abandon, at least temporarily, a way of life that was familiar and that we loved, and to follow Him into very unfamiliar waters.
Over the last year, we have had to wrestle with fundamental questions about how to be Church in circumstances that none of us could have envisioned this time a year ago. How do we worship together if we can’t be physically together? What does that mean for sharing Eucharist? How can we as a parish continue to support each other in our relationships with Christ? What should Christian formation look like for adults and for children? How can we love and serve our neighbors?
Virtually overnight, those questions, and lots more like them, were forced on us by the pandemic. Since then, we have been engaged in a continual series of experiments in how to be Church now.
Our time of experimentation is definitely not over. In just a few minutes, we will try our first ever annual meeting on Zoom. I am a little anxious about how that will go, as I have been anxious about a LOT of things in this past year.
But two things have kept me going over the last year and keep me going still.
The first, and the most important, is that it is Christ who leads us. Christ has called us to follow him into an unknown future, just as Christ called the first disciples. Like them, we have not always been great at following the Christ who calls us. But always Christ is there, Christ is here. Always Christ sustains us, and leads us, and helps us grow in the direction of the full stature of Christ. That is the lesson of our Gospel reading.
The second, and also really important, thing that keeps me going is the creativity, faithfulness, resilience, and good humor of you, the people of Saint David’s.
We have all struggled at points along the way in 2020. But when I stumbled, you were there. You were like Christ’s hands, picking me up. When I ran out of steam, you came up with creative news ways to minister to me, to each other, and to the world. Through it all, you managed to keep a sense of humor, which has been a huge help. You have truly been an inspiration to me in this last, challenging year, and for that I thank you, and I thank God.
Now, like Jesus’ disciples when they first answered his call, we still don’t know exactly what our future holds. That will depend partly on how much longer the pandemic lasts. It will depend even more on where Jesus leads us.
But I feel quite confident about a few things.
Jesus will continue to be our guide. We will continue to follow Jesus as closely and faithfully as we can. And we will continue to follow Jesus together, grappling at each step with the question of what to carry with us and what to let go.
We won’t always agree on how to answer that question. We won’t always agree on a lot of things. But as long as we keep focused on following Christ, as best we can, individually and as a parish, we’ll be OK. And keeping focused on Jesus is one thing Saint David’s is really good at.
And so, in new and different ways, we will continue in 2021 in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We will persevere in resisting evil and proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ. We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people, and cherish the wondrous works of God in creation.
We will continue to do all that with creativity and faithfulness and resilience and good humor as long as the pandemic lingers, and we will continue to do all that with creativity and faithfulness and resilience and good humor long after the pandemic is over. Because we are Christ’s disciples, and that is what Christ’s disciples do.
I end with a prayer of thanks to Christ, who calls us forward into an unknown future with Him. And I give thanks to the Holy Spirit who empowers us along the way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan