5 Epiphany

The Reverend Angela S. Ifill
Judges 6:11-24a; Ps. 85:7-13; 1Cor. 15:1-11; Luke 5: 1-11

Good morning:

Let me first say it has been a few years since my last visit and it is good to be with you again this morning.    I bring you greetings from my colleagues at the Church Center and offer you my own prayers as you continue your search for a new rector.  

Let us pray:   Almighty God who promised to be with us always, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you, O Lord our God and our Redeemer. 

I want to talk with you this morning about the gospel lesson for today which closely follows the occasion when Jesus was baptized.   We are told that after he was baptized Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit.  After he returned from the river Jordan he went to the wilderness where he remained for forty days.   He went there to be quiet and to pray and meditate upon what kind of ministry he was being called to do.   Just like we need to take quiet time from the busyness of our daily lives to pray and be in the presence of God so we could hear what God is saying to us.  

But the devil was there to tempt him.   The devil does not like it when we are about God’s business.   The devil also tries to get between us and God, to keep us away from following Christ.  So rather than having the quiet time he wanted, Jesus had to deal with the devil.   Three times he tempted Jesus. 

The first time he said, “man cannot live by bread alone, if you are the Son of God, you can turn these stones into bread.”   Then the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and told him, “this is all mine, and it could be yours if you worship me.   And then the third time, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, on top of the temple and said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here God will protect you.”  But Jesus said to him, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” and disappointed, the devil left him alone.  

Not put off by the devil and still filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued his journey to Nazareth to begin his ministry.    Remember now, he was brought up in Nazareth and went to the synagogue every Sabbath, so as usual this day he went to the synagogue.   Jesus stood up and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and he read from the scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The words on the scroll describe the ministry to which we too are called.   We were baptized with water and filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to be transformed with renewed hearts and minds when we renew our vows at baptisms.   Our time in church on Sundays is to praise and worship Christ; to fellowship with one another, because we love Christ. 

But we are also called to follow Christ, to become disciples of Christ to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind - those who are blind to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   We are called to let the oppressed go free; that is to help those who are on the margins of life, those who are worse of than we are and be the voice of the voiceless; to be Christ hands in the world; Christ’s feet in the world, to be Christ’s eyes in the world, Christ’s ears in the world and Christ’s heart in the world, because Christ has no body now, but yours.   

Jesus needs disciples, he needs you and he needs me and calls us to follow him just as he called Simon Peter and James and John the sons of Zebedee.   They were fishermen who had gone fishing the night before and caught nothing all night.   So when Jesus asked Peter to go out into deeper water to cast his net on the water, Peter said to Jesus, we already did that, we were out all night and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will let down the nets again, and he did.   

Then what a surprise, Peter probably could not believe his eyes.    They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break and they had to call for help to bring the fish into two boats.   There was so many fish that the boats began to sink, then Peter in awe fell down on his knees begging Jesus,” go away from me, I am sinful man.   But Jesus said to Peter and James and John the sons of Zebedee, “Do no be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.”        

Catching people for Christ!   As Christians we must be obedient to God.   Remember when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died, he prayed: “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet, not my will but yours be done.”  The thirty-three year old Jesus was not ready to die so he asked God, “remove this cup from me, yet not my will, but your will be done.”  Don’t let this happen to me but if that is what you want, I will obey you.

We are to be obedient to God when he calls us.    We may not want to do what God asks of us, either because we are too busy, or we feel that we do not have enough money, or we are not brave enough, or we are not ready or a hundred and one other excuses.  We have to remember though, that God promised he will never leave us.    And when he calls us to do a task he did so because he knows that we already have the skills needed for the job.   All we must do then is to look to God for the strength; not to depend on our own human efforts, but knowing that with God all things are possible.     

Jesus called Peter, James and John into evangelistic ministry when he told them “from now on you will be catching people.   As followers of Christ we are to catch people for Christ.    We have to extend radical welcome and hospitality to others so that by our actions we can catch people for Christ.  To be radically welcoming we have to go beyond what is familiar and comfortable, to be kind and hospitable to all people.   Those who are not like us, who do look like us, who do not speak the same language, people of different cultures and races.

Jesus was a Jew and started a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well at a time when Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans.   It just was not allowed, but Jesus did so that we could understand radical welcome and hospitality.   Jesus ate lunch with Zacchaeus a tax collector who was an outcast in society.   When he invited Zacchaeus to lunch the privileged people of the day were amazed and annoyed, because you just did not talk and have lunch with the marginalized and outcasts.   By his actions, Jesus said, NO to what society wanted him to do and YES to God.   All people are welcomed, because they are God’s people, created in God’s image, and loved by God.

Jesus also welcomed children and young people and young adults.  They too are created in the image of God and loved by God.    They too are to be welcomed into the full ministry of the Church, not doing something only one special Sunday of the month, but involved in ushering, and other activities in the Church, to teach them how to love and invite others.   We are to teach them and be examples for them.

That is our ministry, to extend radical welcome and hospitality and catch people for Jesus.   That is the work that God calls us to; the kind of people that God created us to be.   Jesus’ ministry showed us what it means to extend radical welcome and hospitality to all people.   Because it is only then that we are able to invite others to follow Christ.   Only then will people see us as authentic because our words will be followed up by actions; Actions in the name of Christ; actions that will glory God, always.     

I say this to you this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.    Amen.