In our Old Testament reading, Jonah is to take a message to the people about returning to the Lord, and in turn, the people believe and do in fact, return. In our psalm we are to put all of our trust in God, and pour our hearts out to him who is our strength and our refuge. In our reading from Paul we are to await the end times and the coming again of Jesus. And then of course, in our gospel reading from today, we, like the apostles before us are to fish for people. Even our opening prayer, the collect for the day tells us to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the whole world. Pretty heavy commission, don’t you think?
It’s really a perfect lineup of readings for the day of an annual meeting. Today is the day when we reflect as a parish who we are, and who we are called to be. But first a story about fishing.
I don’t think I have told you this story before, and if I have, just bear with me. It’s a great story. My dad owned a beat up old cabin cruiser type boat that he kept in a boat yard in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. His boat was his joy, and most Saturdays when the weather was good, he would head out and putter around fixing various things on the boat or take it out and go fishing. Sometimes I got to go with him and sometimes my mom came too. Usually on the way to the boatyard we would stop for bait and for dunkin donuts. It’s probably why I will defend Dunkin as the best donuts on the planet for the rest of my life.
Anyway, we got out on the water, and my dad started getting poles ready, and he baited his and my hook. When he turned to look at my mother, she had her hook in the water, and she had some stuff wrapped in aluminum foil in her hand that she was tossing into the water, a few pieces at a time. This parcel of hers was filled with cut up hotdogs, leftover chicken, and the good Lord only knows what else. My dad was just flabbergasted. “What are you doing,” he asked. “Catching fish” she answered. He thought she was nuts, but she just kept doing her thing. I don’t remember what the final fish count was that day, but I assure you, my mom was the big winner… she caught more than my father and I combined. My poor dad. Outdone by someone who just gave what they had, and it was indeed more than enough.
My mom and her insane bait package of refrigerator leftovers is a modern day parable. For me, it is a vision of the church’s mission. St. Micheal’s is called to be part of the Episcopal presence in Longview and the surrounding areas. I think it’s hard for any of us in the church to imagine the ways that we are called and how we are going to rise to those occasions. The good news is that we have gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and we all have different gifts; when they are put together, wonderful things can happen. I also think that we can fall into the trap of believing we are too small a community to make a difference, that somehow we are like refrigerator leftovers that have little value except maybe to a precious few. We have to get out of that mentality both as individuals and as a parish. Like the huge catch of fish my mom accomplished with her leftovers, I believe God can multiply all sorts of things if we just have enough faith to throw it all out there, if you know what I mean. The results are up to God… but the work is ours.
In this crazy year, we have done really really well at making sure that we have taken care of each other. Phone calls, learning to use technology, keeping an eye on our most vulnerable… it’s been wonderful to see; I am so appreciative of the care that you have given each other and have given to me during a year that has been like no other. What our challenge is going to be is to look beyond our church community into the greater community of Longview and beyond; there is so much isolation out there. Community issues like white supremacy, racism, poverty, food insecurity, joblessness… it’s all out there. And I know, that we cannot do everything; but, we can do something. We can do a lot of “somethings”. We can tell people about who Jesus is. We can tell people about who we and they are. People are spiritually hungry for the kinds of things that we do here. They long to know that God loves them. We can make sure that we are feeding our own spiritual lives so that we have the strength and will to go out there and be with the least of these. By virtue of our baptism we are Jesus’s hands and feet in the world. We need to begin to dream about what it is we want to be known for in this greater community, to think without fear, so that the message of Jesus gets to others in our words and in our deeds.
It’s been so hard to serve in the ways we are used to serving; COVID 19 has made most things impossible; but not everything. What resources, what things have we overlooked, what have we been given to toss with abandon out there for others to be fed from? How might God be calling St. Michael’s to do Jesus’s work in the world? Can we spend the next while waiting and trusting that God can and will lead us to where we need to go? Throw it out there friends. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there. He asked us to fish for people, not be to perfect fishermen, but to fish for people; all people. All people from everywhere; and for us, fishing for people isn’t just about words, but about the things we do to love God BY loving our neighbor. All our neighbors.
Let us pray
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.