Change is Good

Epiphany 3 – An Immediate “Yes” – January 21, 2024

An Immediate Yes

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus Calls the DisciplesThe account of Jesus’ recruiting of the first disciples that we read this morning is consistent across the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Those are the synoptic gospels — the gospels that look roughly the same, that is, they have many of the same stories told in roughly the same ways.  Last week, we read this same story from John’s gospel, which was written later than the others and from a different perspective.  In John’s gospel, Jesus invites Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael to “come and see” what walking with Jesus was like.  Even with the minor difference in how this disciple-recruiting business takes place, it was a really easy invitation in each of these stories.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus said Follow me and I will make you fish for people, and immediately Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their nets and followed him.  The immediate response to the invitation is the same in all the gospels, and every time I think about that, I wonder what immediately really looked like for them.  Did Simon and Andrew talk to each other before they laid their nets down on the rocky shore of the Sea to follow Jesus?  Did they have wives and children, and if so, how did they find out?  Did other fishermen on the shore nearby carry the message home to the new disciples’ families, or did they just set off down the shore with Jesus in that moment, never looking back?  Did those other fishermen get to use their abandoned nets in their own fishing businesses?

We don’t know.  But we do know, emphatically and repeatedly, reinforced across all four gospels, that their response was immediate.  What that tells us is that not only was the life Jesus showing them compelling, abundant, liberating, and empowering, but also that it seemed possible.  The life Jesus was showing them seemed accessible enough to first century fishermen under Roman occupation in the Galilee that the disciples just said yes.  It was that easy.

Easy to say “Yes”

I wonder if it was easy to say yes immediately because the life of generosity, love, abundance, and connection that Jesus was offering was so inviting and welcoming.  I wonder if the disciples said yes immediately because the life Jesus showed them looked easier and better.  I wonder if an immediate yes was just so obvious that no other answer made sense.  The immediate yes was the disciples’ hopeful, faithful, courageous response to God’s invitation to be church.  I wonder…  do I — do we — have the hope, faith, and courage to respond yes right away when God invites us to follow?

Annual MeetingWho was at our Annual Meeting Sunday?  Suzanna said during choir rehearsal before the 10:00 service started that the church was “buzzy” — everyone up on the chancel and out in the nave was moving around and chatty before the service — energized and excited to be together.  At the Annual Meeting, we thanked our outgoing leaders:  Deb Venancio, our retiring Senior Warden, who has led with compassion, commitment, and keen emotional insight during my whole time at Emmanuel, and thankfully continues in the vital role of Emmanuel Trustee.  Treasurer Liz McCarthy, who has both taken on special projects and then served first as Assistant Treasurer and then Treasurer for the past six years, with accomplishments including developing Emmanuel’s web site, transitioning EDS into Newport Classical’s Recital Hall, and converting Emmanuel’s analog and old-school digital operations and accounting system to new integrated church management software.  At large members Fay and Ed Gosling, stalwarts of the Property Committee, counters, and inveterate hosts of Coffee Hour, and Cindy Larned, who helped transition the outside wedding coordinator role to Randy’s capable hands.  And we raised up new leaders, senior warden Valerie Martin, treasurer David Frazier, clerk Margaret Keiran, and at large members Paige Williams, David Thalmann, Rob O’Donnell, and Robert Messore, meeting in our first regular meeting this past Thursday following Evening Prayer.

We discussed what would make vestry service spiritually and emotionally engaging.  We talked about how it might be for us to be leaders of faithful innovation, asking big God questions, striving to be God’s Church In God’s World in 2024, and serving broadly and meaningfully in the wider community.  Inherent in this conversation is a recognition that both the church and the world have changed.  Noticing big change can lead to nostalgia, a yearning for what we’ve always known and loved.  Nostalgia is a close cousin to fatalism, related through hopelessness, looking back and not forward.

Looking Forward

Change is GoodSo we have to be faithful, holding on to hope, and always looking forward, even when we really love the way things used to be, and even when the future looks different from the way we’ve always done things before.  We engage creativity and imagination as tools of faith, meeting difference with curiosity before suspicion.  As a new vestry, we wondered together what it would look like if we activated strong committees to do the technical work of the vestry, engaging expertise and interest broadly in the congregation, and building the congregation into the wider community.

Many of you have discerned your spiritual gifts in this community, and your church needs your spiritual gifts.  Our committees include Stewardship, Worship (including lectors, ushers, flower guild, altar guild, and liturgy), Community Engagement (including the community garden, hydroponics, stitching group, Musicians’ Circle, APREP, and all the ways we seek to deepen our belonging at Emmanuel, and widen our invitation to others to join us), Property, Communications, Finance, and Hospitality (for Coffee Hour).

As we take up the technical work of the church in these strong committees, beefing up those committees with all of us, we knit our community together — vestry leadership with the congregation, and the congregation with the broader community, building meaning and purpose as God’s Church In God’s World.  And this is a reciprocating benefit — both engaging and strengthening capacity.  Strong communities and connection build human resilience, self-esteem, and ability to be a strength for others.  As the work of the church spreads out into the committees, we not only build connection and engagement, we build leadership.  We become disciples.

Was it easy for Peter to say yes immediately because the life of generosity, love, abundance, and connection that Jesus was offering was so inviting and welcoming?  Did Andrew say yes immediately because the life Jesus showed him looked easier and better?  Was an immediate yes was just so obvious to James and John that no other answer made sense?  Do I — do we — have the hope, faith, and courage to give Jesus an immediate yes?  I hope I do.  Amen

Swing into Spring with the Larry Brown Swinglane Orchestra - Pentecost Sunday - May 19th, 2024 - 7:30 - 10:00 pm - Tickets $25