Sermon preached by the Rev. Roy Almquist at all services
February 13 & 14, 2010, The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Our Gospel lesson speaks to one of the great challenges we face as Christian people. On the one hand we want to enjoy life. We like to do the things that bring us pleasure and to act as if we are answerable to no one. But unless we are spiritually dead, we also experience that vague feeling that we should be doing something significant something that makes a difference in the world, something that lightens someone else’s burden or in someway indicates that we are baptized followers of Jesus Christ.
The drive to enjoy and the drive to achieve both of these desires come together in my sermon text for today and challenge us to think about what is important for us. On the surface Luke’s story is about fishing, but I think we know it is really about taking a risk, daring to move out of our comfort zone and to sail into uncharted waters for the sake of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.
The text from Luke 5 reminds us that Jesus Christ has ceased to be the defining reality for a whole lot of people who no doubt consider themselves Christians. For a lot of people there has been a slow and subtle change in their attitude. Jesus has become a friend and a hero for many, but not necessarily their Lord and the Master of their lives. For many people today Christian community is a hobby or a pastime, rather than a passion and a central source of identity. For many the Church has become a club, rather than a life-defining mission. And if we are not careful we can wake up and find that the Church is just another entry in the date-book of life, on an equal footing with the bridge club, the golf game, and the Rotary Club.
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Jesus addressed these intriguing words to a group of frustrated fishermen who had toiled all night with no success. Their primitive economy was easy to understand no fish, no food. These men were tired and the last thing they wanted was advice on fishing from a carpenter. But that is precisely what they received. Put out into the deep, Jesus said, and let down your nets for a catch.
Tradition calls this lesson … the story of the magnificent catch of fish. But in reality it is a call to the Church to move beyond the familiar and to find new ways of sharing our faith with people who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We like to fish in the shallow, familiar areas, gathering people who are very much like ourselves folks who know the hymns we like to sing, have had similar experiences to ours, and share our love for a time-honored style of worship. But today we are called to be mindful of those at the margins of society, those who are under water in their lives and often feel like they are drowning. And, of course, we must remember that when we demonstrate concern for people most at risk, our results reflect the disciples’ experience when their nets began to break.
In Luke’s account, Jesus is very clear about what he expects from his followers. On this Annual Congregational Meeting weekend, I hope that members of Washington Memorial Chapel have a good sense of why this congregation exists. Remembering the Revolutionary War is important, honoring those who have made a sacrifice for this nation is ennobling, but our primary mandate is clear – we are to feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, strive for justice, share the Gospel, and make disciples. Should we forget that mandate we will have forgotten the call and commandment that Jesus gave to his Church.
In recent years I have served on the Board of Partners for Sacred Places, an organization committed to preserving historic church buildings. In this capacity I have deepened my friendship with a fellow Board member, The Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode. I first met Wilson when he was the Mayor of Philadelphia. When he left office he went to seminary and is now an ordained Baptist minister. He is a great inspiration to me in the manner, in which he has found creative outlets of service after concluding his primary career.
In his new role as a pastor and church leader Dr. Goode has taken a special interest in the way in which congregations can lose their way in a complex world, often winding up playing at church instead of being the Church. Because he knew of my concern for congregational vitality, he shared with me his doctoral dissertation that was entitled From Clubhouse to Lighthouse: A New Approach to Congregational Transformation.
In his study Dr. Goode argues that when the church is a clubhouse, a gathering of like-minded people who enjoy fellowship, share common values, and cling to old memories, the church is at risk. But to the extent that a congregation is determined to be a lighthouse in its community, offering hope, providing rescue, protecting the vulnerable, and bringing people to a life-altering relationship with Jesus the church will flourish.
“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Our lesson is not about human accomplishment but rather about what God can do through us. We are not told this morning to work harder, to pray more earnestly, or to give sacrificially. No, the lesson tells us what God can do when we simply make ourselves available.
The miracle is not in what these fisherman gave up, but rather in how the power of God, present in Jesus Christ, could get them to walk away from their nets, from everything that had defined them, and to assume a new purpose for their lives: serving Jesus Christ. Luke wants us to see that when Jesus appeared, the fishermen fell in love with him, and, because of that love, their lives would never be the same again.
The danger we face is that we can too easily become like Peter and the others, afraid of the deep water skeptical of doing things we have never done before wanting to forever dangle our feet in the familiar. Isn’t it clear that when we play it safe What would it mean for Washington Memorial Chapel to be a church that puts out into the deep and lets down its nets?
It would mean that Washington Memorial Chapel would develop a systematic plan for attracting unchurched people, doing all in our power to make this congregation a welcome place … even if it means calling on our current members to modify their behavior, if we are doing things that might discourage people from feeling at home here.
It would mean that Washington Memorial Chapel would reject any definition of our congregation that encourages people to think of this church as a social group or an historical society.
It would mean that Washington Memorial Chapel would place a high value on the transformation of everyone who participates in the life of this congregation. This means we would expect our members to have a vital relationship with Jesus Christ and have no difficulty in talking about Him.
It would mean that this congregation would strive to be a blessing to all those who visit our campus and seek out the ministries we provide enriching people, loving children, protecting the weak, encouraging the spiritually poor, and supporting people at significant moments in their lives.
Please remember that the story of the magnificent catch of fish and the call of the disciples is not a command to get busy. There is no power in a church that wants to change the world without first being changed by Christ.
So let us rejoice that we are known in heaven. I am confident that the God who loves us and has called us through our baptism is working even now to make us a people who are capable of following Jesus. And when that happens, the Kingdom of God will be in our midst. AMEN.
our nets are empty?
For information about Washington Memorial Chapel and its life of faith and mission at an important venue of
American history in Valley Forge National Park, please write to the Parish Office,
P.O. Box 98, Valley Forge, PA 19481, call 610-783-0120,
or visit us on the web at www.washingtonmemorialchapel.org.
Eucharist Services: Wednesday, 10:00 AM; Saturday, 5:00 PM; Sunday, 8:00 & 10:00 AM