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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Septuagesima Sunday

“Yet, if you say so . . ..” Luke 5:1-11
Septuagesima Sunday - The Third Sunday before Lent
Epiphany V - February 4, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Some of you have come to church today thinking, “Right, it’s Annual Meeting Sunday.’ Of course, you would be correct. Others of you who may have read the latest issue of The Epistle may have come to church thinking, “Right, we’re in the Season of the Epiphany.” And, you would be correct as well.

How many of you came into church this morning thinking, “It’s Super Bowl Sunday” – and the game doesn’t begin until seven o’clock tonight? Of course you would be correct, as well, which is why we will see the return of Confession this Sunday.

(There will be special penance for those who favor the Colts to win. Listen, I lived for five years in the "Charm City" of Baltimore - long enough to know that there will never be absolution for that team.)

How many of you (except Barbara Conroy who read this sermon over my shoulder), know another distinction this Sunday brings? Don’t be shy. Raise your hands. My deacon? No? Seminarians? No? Oh, dear, how will you ever pass your General Ordination Exams?

I’ll give you a little hint. In the Orthodox Church, today is known as “The Sunday of the Prodigal Son,” as that gospel lesson was observed for centuries on this day. (Ted Pishko could have told us that, right Ted?) Okay, I’ll stop tormenting you. Today, in Catholic, Anglican (that’s us, by the way) and Orthodox churches, this is also known as “Septuagesima Sunday.”

Isn’t that a great word? Septuagesima. Sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Makes us sound so . .. oh, I don’t know . . . different. Well, if you like that, you’ll LOVE this. It doesn’t end today. Next Sunday is – ready? – Sexagesima. And the Sunday after that? (Come on, you can guess if you remember your High School Latin). Right! It’s Quinquagesima Sunday.

Now, for those of you who are not ‘cradle Episcopalians’ I want you to admit it: you know this is why you became a member. And, for those of you who are, this is really why you stay, despite the occasional ‘trouble du jour’ in the church. You get to impress all your friends with these wonderful new words.

Other churches may have ‘foyers’ but we have a ‘narthex.’ (Well, in fact, we have a foyer AND a narthex). Other church buildings may have ‘basements’ but we have an ‘undercroft.’ Others may refer to the ‘choir stalls.’ No, no, no! That might be okay for barn animals, but it would never do for Episcopalians. We have a choir ‘loft’ – no matter where it is, high or low. Other churches may claim to have ‘readers’ but we have ‘lectors’ who read from the lectern (not the ‘podium’ and NEVER the ‘pulpit’ which is reserved for the preacher who more often than not gives a ‘homily’ rather than a ‘sermon’.)

Septuagesima begins today, the third Sunday before Lent, and in the Medieval Church, signaled 70 days of fasting before Easter. (Septuagesima = seventy). To the early church, this mystically represented the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. These days between now and Shrove Tuesday are called, “Pre-lent” or “Shrovetide.” However, rather than 70 days, other pious people chose to fast 60 days; hence, Sexagesima. Others, 50 days = Quinquagesima. I don’t know why, exactly. They just did.

Well, that all got too messy – or, more exactly, not ‘catholic’ or universal enough – so the church finally standardized things by declaring 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday through Easter Day (minus the Sunday’s), in keeping with the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness and the 40 years of Moses wandering in the desert. And, that fancy-scmacy term would be what, church? Quadragesima, of course!

It’s all a bit silly, isn’t it? I mean, the way we think we’ve got it all worked out and therefore, we’ve got it right. And, if we give things fancy-enough sounding names, we might actually be convinced to believe that funny sounding names carry the weight of authority. We all fall into that trap. We’ve done things a certain way for a certain period of time, and that becomes the ONLY way things get done. That’s exactly the trap Simon Peter fell into when he met Jesus at the lake of Gennesaret.

Simon and his men had been fishing all night but they had caught nothing. Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” But, Simon protests, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” He must have seen something in the expression on Jesus’ face – something, perhaps, in his eyes, which led Simon to say, “Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.” The rest of the story, of course, is that “they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.”

On March 1, we will mark the fifth year of our ministry together in this place. Five years! It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Haven’t we always been together? Known each other? Loved and cared for one another? There have been a few changes around here since I arrived – some which have been welcomed with enthusiasm and excitement, and others which still cause a few folk to speak through clenched teeth.

I’m reminded of Bishop Michael Curry’s story of his second week at his new church, St. James, Lafayette Square in Baltimore, MD, as a new priest. Michael met someone at the door who identified himself as a member of the “Be-Committee.” When Michael looked quizzically at him the man said, “I ‘Be’ in this church before you came, I ‘Be’ in this church while you here, and I gonna ‘Be’ in this church after you leave.” I suspect the Be-Committee has branch affiliates in every church in Western Christendom.

Here’s the thing – something you may not know. You have no idea how much you have changed me in the past five years. Just ask any member of my family. They’ll tell you. (Pay no attention to that woman in the choir loft who’s nodding her head.) We have been working this part of the ‘lake of Chatham’ together for the past five years, and our catch hasn’t been that bad. Been pretty good, actually. We’ve had some good crowds, pressing in on the Body of Christ to hear the word of God. We’ve done some good work together, which we’ll hear all about during the Annual Meeting.

But, you know, Jesus has shown up in this morning’s gospel and has said to us, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets.” And that’s just what we’re going to do. Exploring the deeper waters of our faith – the deep end of the baptismal waters – will mark these next five years of our life together. Just when you think – when I think – enough has changed and that we’ve got it right now, Jesus is calling us to go deeper. Take a few more risks. Accept a few more challenges.

We’ve got a good foundation, made a good start, but we’ve got so much more to do together. The next generation is stepping up to take on the mantle of leadership. You’ll be hearing more about this at the Annual Meeting, but the first concern is to secure our endowments and make them work harder for us and for the next generation. We have plans to begin the renovation of the kitchen, and are working to make sure our building supports the special and unique work of mission and ministry to which God is calling us. We want to make sure that this building and this church are completely accessible to those whose bodily frames or eyesight or hearing has begun to show the test of time. When we sing, “All are welcome in this place,” we want to make sure everyone knows that we mean it. All. Everyone.

That’s going to take commitment and hard work and yes, money. And, yes, you do hear the first verses of a capitol fund drive. Does that make you a bit nervous? I’m sure it does. Listen. Jesus is saying, “Do not be afraid.” Indeed, whenever there is a call from God, whether it be though angels, or in a dream, God always sends the message, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s God’s part. Ours is different. Like Mary, we’re to say, “Yes.” Or, like Isaiah in this morning’s gospel, “Here I am, send me.” Or, like Paul in his letter to the ancient church in Corinth, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain.” Or, like Simon Peter in this morning’s gospel, “Yet if you say so, I will . . .”

We’ll be having lots of conversations around discernment this Lent. Seventy days before Easter is not too soon to start. We’ll be talking about our Identity, Mortality, Intimacy and Vocation. You can only find those issues in the deep waters of baptism. Listen. Jesus is calling us there. I know. It’s scary. I know it means yet more change. Change, for some of us, is terrifying. Oh, we’d never admit that. We just grumble about why we need to do it at all. Our children are growing and changing in front of our eyes. The constellation of our families is changing as kids go off to college and our parents age in front of us. Can’t church be the one place where nothing changes and everything stays the same?

Listen. Jesus is calling us to drop our nets in deeper water. We may be filled with fear and doubt. It’s not the way we’ve done it before. Yet, the faithful response, the gospel response is that of Simon Peter, “Yet if you say so, I will . . .” And the Gospel promise is that God will fill the nets of our hearts and minds beyond our wildest imagination or dreams. Amen.

1 comment:

rowan said...

This is a marvelous sermon. Your congregation is blessed to have such a challenging priest in ministry with them!
Linda McMillan
Austin, Texas