January 22, 2023, Third Sunday after the Epiphany. Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A.FB.3 Epiphany; 1.22.2023

Mark 4:12-23; St. Paul’s Annual Meeting

Look at this wonderful photo! If you have sat in a pew in the section of the Nave closest to the organ pipes, you might have viewed this stained-glass window. You might not have seen it right away because it is small. But I love this window for the diligent look on the faces of the apostles Simon Peter and his brother Andrew who were fishermen. And I love the work they are doing. Are they casting a net…or are they letting it go in order to follow Jesus? What do you think?

            In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the brothers who were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. He says, “Follow me. I will make you fish for people.” To drop everything and go with someone who said, “Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people,” must have been pretty compelling. Jesus’ message must have been irresistible. Clearly, his presence was loving and trusted and wonderful. One bible scholar calls Jesus’ call, a “…summons with irresistible authority, and that summons was to a relationship with the living God that they had never experienced before. That must be why the men responded with radical obedience.” Plain fishermen, responding with “radical obedience!” Wow!

            Jesus was preaching something new; that God’s presence, God’s realm is here and now.  God’s realm, God’s Kingdom is more than a promise of eternal life in another realm. It’s a strength and a love that is to be experienced while we are living.

Jesus wanted each and every person within earshot to learn God’s purpose for them. To love God and to trust God – period. He taught this purpose then. And he teaches this purpose now. Now, more than ever as we face rising hatred, falling financial markets, divided government, scandals, pollution, lying, war, famine, pandemic scourges and dying faith communities, we need to trust God with our future. Through all this uncertainty and hostility, Jesus preaches without reserve that our purpose is to love God and to trust God. Everything else follows from that.

No one can love God for very long without loving others. And so, Jesus calls each of us away from our fears into love by saying, “Follow me.”

            In my 12-step daily reader, one of the New Year’s entries was about fear and how it drives us away from trusting God’s power. I needed a reminder to “fear not.”  In these first weeks of the New Year, Nancy Whitehouse, our Treasurer was finalizing our financial reports for 2022. We could see clearly that in our parish reports, 2022 reflects the unforeseen rises in spending like the inflation rate of 8% (In Europe the inflation rate was in double digits.) None of the economic predictions expected inflation like that. Our financial report also reflected sharp rises in energy costs for our building and 65 Union Street, (otherwise known as The Barnes Building), our building that the New Mainer family rents.

            You will see that we ended the year with a deficit. And you will see that our endowment, like every other institution’s investments in 2022 declined. No one could have foreseen war in Ukraine. That also affected energy costs worldwide. China was closed down completely due to COVID fears and that led to a supply hold-up worldwide, increasing prices. Now, I know that feelings of fear are triggered in many people by financial uncertainty. That’s what happens to me when I forget to trust God.

            So, in my daily 12-step reader, the theme was about fear: to fear less and trust God more. Let me share this wisdom with you. “When we think that God cannot or will not help us, we leave ourselves open to crippling fear. However, when we are convinced that God’s power is greater than any evil that could befall us, we can live with confidence and hope…When we are sure that ‘the whole world is in God’s hand,’ we can trust our Patron St. Paul who wrote, ‘…in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to God’s purpose.’”

            And what is God’s purpose?  “Love God and Trust God.”

I want to read the first paragraphs of my annual report for 2022. I begin with an exchange Angus King initiated with me that caused me to reflect on the authenticity of our community as followers of Jesus – a community of love.  

“Recently, I received an email from our faithful parishioner and U.S. Senator, Angus King. He had attended an Anglican Church for Sunday service on a visit to Sydney, Australia, and sent me a photo of a quotation the preacher projected on the screen. The quote was by the 18th Century Anglican clergyperson Jonathan Swift, known to me in seminary as a satirist. His statement speaks to us now; ‘We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another,’ to which Angus wrote, ‘It struck me as sadly appropriate for our times.’ Elected officials surely must have a birds-eye view of religion fomenting hatred.

“And yet in our faith community, St. Paul’s embraces a mission that has everything to do with loving one another against a culture of hate. We live into the words our patron the Apostle Paul lived in the communities he founded and his letters that preached and taught the love of Jesus. Paul reminds us that the Church is the Body of Christ in this world. It is a unified body in Christ. His Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12, is a primer on how the Body of Christ lives in love. ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection…’ Romans 12:9, 10.  

“A faith community, living true to the words of our patron Paul, St. Paul’s spent the year 2022 emerging from a pandemic, with stronger hearts of love for each other and service to the community.”

Our incredible leadership on Vestry and Finance have discerned that, even in an uncertain future, we are stronger in faith, service and purpose than ever. We are a parish of abundance. We have incredible resources left by the estates of beloved parishioners. We have a very well kept up physical plant and give care to how we use energy. And we share our financial abundance with our community in need.

At our December Vestry meeting, our leadership approved a budget for 2023 that reflects our confidence in the growth and strength of St. Paul’s. We are drawing on your generous pledges, our savings and endowment interest to fund all of our budget obligations and the Cost of Living Increases for our staff, plus to begin to fully fund the position of full-time Assistant Rector as the diocese will decrease its funding mid-year. And we have planned as best we can, for the uncertainty of inflation and energy costs.

My friends, we are strong in faith, we are growing across generations, we are joyfully worshiping, loving God, each other and our neighbor, and we are a parish of generosity.

Imagine that our love of God and trust in God will be our mission all year long!