Matthew 4:12-23

Do you ever say something that feels really clever until it exits your mouth? I do! I think Jesus may have felt like that about the “I’ll teach you to catch people” line. “I just said I’ll what?” And then generations of good churchy people fixated on that phrase as if it’s all Jesus ever said. “Fishing” is a metaphor, of course, but it’s not just a metaphor. It’s a particular metaphor for particular people. Jesus called tax collectors, tentmakers, and others, and not all of them went fishing. What they did was exactly what they had gifts to do in Christ’s service.

It’s not to say that this wasn’t a radical change for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Fishing with Jesus not like fishing with our men’s group. Jesus takes gifts these people already expressed as fishermen and transforms them. For instance, he probably got some mileage out of their dedication, persistence, and tolerance for discomfort. Probably not as much from their knowledge of moon cycles, weather, and fish behavior (except as a metaphor about knowing your audience, not that people are fish). He invited them to use their gifts for building a new community and reality of God’s people in God’s world. He also called forth gifts for teaching, administration, and service that they probably didn’t know they had. These gifts were all built on their more deeply held identities as children of God and (metaphorical) fishers of people.

Most of us don’t fish professionally, so we may not hear this metaphor in the same way. Something else is at our core, just above our name as a child of God. As individuals, we’re teachers, millwrights, nurses, or professionals – parents, poets, musicians, or cooks – and Christ calls that identity into God’s service. As a church, we are this beautiful building, a gathering of community leaders, a pool of interested minds and willing hands – and that’s how Christ will call us. Now, there are two things about being called, just like there were at Galilee. First, you’re called where you already are. And second, you’ll go somewhere you couldn’t have imagined.

God doesn’t give us a complete vision of the future. No one at Galilee probably imagined the next three yrs of Jesus’ ministry, let alone the next two thousand years of the church. In the same way, we can’t imagine exactly what will happen next for us. But I think where and who we are give us some clues as to the next few steps. I don’t get to decide about this vision, but here’s what I see. Reading the map is the session’s job, with all our help. We will all walk along this road together.

Here’s where I see us. We’re celebrating our fellowship and Christian growth ministries, getting ready to turn to outreach. Service to each other and our communities is a fundamental part of who we are. I point this out first because it’s a more important identity than our building or our theology. I don’t say that just because it’s pastorally correct to say it. I say it because I really see that reality at work in us. We need to talk about this building; theology and spiritual development are valuable; but the bulk of our congregational energy comes from doing good work in the world – and to that I say, “Amen!” I want to praise our college outreach dinners, our Head Start shopping trips, our Community Kitchen, the Billy Bell Bakery, and the emergency assistance fund, because this is what we’re about.

We came by this honestly. We have a legacy of community leaders and prominent citizens in this church. It’s appropriate that we have flowers today in memory of one such citizen-servant. At the same time, you could point out that these flowers are from a funeral, and George is enjoying a richer presence, serving God in a fuller capacity now. The loss of congregational and community leaders crystallizes a sense of decline over many years. Many of us remember when things happened in town simply because members of our congregation were involved in them, and fewer of us happen to be in those roles now. But we know the value of that service, the importance of making God’s love and justice tangible.

Leadership comes from love more than from someone’s position. It’s time to identify and develop the leaders who will carry this church’s mission into the future. It’s time to affirm their love and commission them to service. Some leaders are now among our elders and deacons. Others are among our youth. Some leaders are not yet among us, and they need us to find and welcome them. These future leaders will build on the foundation of Christ’s love and service our ancestors laid for us. Our job is to lead ourselves into that future.

Speaking of foundations, I’m not just being metaphorical. We’ve inherited a tremendous asset for ministry in this facility on a busy downtown corner. But it’s not the same asset Mr. Coates and Rev. Gade meant it to be anymore. Glorious edifices no longer evangelize by their mere presence in the world. The building is now called to reach out in another way, to hold a sacred space open for the community, to share space with others who also work for good in the world. We can imagine this as a meeting space, an arts venue, a sanctuary for those in need – what would bring the soul back to this building? What use of building would inspire you to contribute time, effort, and money toward major structural maintenance? The building is due for that maintenance. We have the opportunity to make a major gift to future generations, but first we must recognize what the gift is for.

All the same, I’ve said before and I’ll say again that the church isn’t a building. It’s us. The building could fall down, the legal/ecclesiastical organization could bankrupt and dissolve, and the church would still be together – maybe we could call it the resurrection of the Body. But the church could disappear without losing the building or the legal name, if we stop being together and supporting each other in faithful work. Living church’s life means nurturing God’s presence in and beyond this gathered community. It means expressing God’s presence through service.

It may seem that we value service more than the presence of God. We’re socially trained to avoid money, politics, and religion, because they’re areas we take seriously but in which we have our differences. We do have these differences, and good for us. I love this congregation’s “big tent” approach that puts love and service before conformity of ideas. But I often wish we could take out our differences and study them, could tell our experiences of God out loud, even though (indeed, because!) they’re different. God was on to something in calling us together in the midst of our differences. Being with others, especially when we disagree, deepens our faith. Deepened faith calls us to richer service. Notice that Jesus called his disciples to come along with him for a while before sending them out to heal, feed, and witness.

Sometimes we’re called to become something we’ve never been, to take on new names (Simon became Peter) and new roles (the fishermen became apostles). I’m not in charge of what we’ll become. This isn’t my vision. I trust that the Holy Spirit is showing us what we’ll be and how we’ll live it – and it won’t look exactly like I expect. This is our vision, not mine. We rely on meetings like this, both congregational worship and business meetings (the session, deacons, and committees), to be our corporate discernment. And we rely on your own sense of call: Where does Jesus meet your identity and transform it into something new? By all means, go and follow him there.