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10/9/2022 Sermon Rev. Alexis Fuller Wright

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Matthew 4:12-23

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

For the Interim Time

When near the end of day, life has drained Out of light, and it is too soon For the mind of night to have darkened things, No place looks like itself, loss of outline Makes everything look strangely in-between, Unsure of what has been, or what might come. In this wan light, even trees seem groundless. In a while it will be night, but nothing Here seems to believe the relief of darkness. You are in this time of the interim Where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you. "The old is not old enough to have died away; The new is still too young to be born." You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, Your eyes are blurred; And there is no mirror. Everyone else has lost sight of your heart And you can see nowhere to put your trust; You know you have to make your own way through. As far as you can, hold your confidence. Do not allow confusion to squander This call which is loosening Your roots in false ground, That you might come free From all you have outgrown. What is being transfigured here is your mind, And it is difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become For your arrival in the new dawn.

John O'Donohue (1956-2008) Irish poet, author, priest, and philosopher.

Next Right Step

Based on Matthew 4:12-23

Not long ago I heard a speech given by a political activist where she shared her call to the political life, which she says was never part of her plan. In fact, as she described it, she had no plan.

It all started one day when she was scrolling through Facebook on her lunch break from a waitressing shift. She saw pictures of an old friend who was organizing with the people of Standing Rock.

She reached out to her friend and said, “I would love to support you. What do you need? Clothing? Supplies?”

The friend’s response was, “We need women. When are you getting here?”

Come to Standing Rock? How was she going to do that? She had never been to South Dakota. She didn’t even have a car.

“I thought I was going to send some coats,” she said, “and instead she was asking for my body.”

The invitation scared her, so she didn’t answer right away. But the thought wouldn’t leave her alone. Later she was talking to a friend who she had done some community organizing with and admitted that she couldn’t shake the idea of going. It turned out her friend had also been feeling a pull to Standing Rock, so the two looked at each other and decided to go.

They had no plan. No resources. Just a call that wouldn’t leave them alone.

Then, as so often happens when we step out in faith, the resources started appearing when they needed them.

Her friend’s aunt had a car they could borrow: a 1998 Subaru with no heat…no working lighter to charge their phones, but it got them there. They fundraised for gas on Facebook, and friends in states along the way offered up their couches for the night.

Many friends asked, “So what’s your plan once you get there?”

“Plan?” they would respond. There was no plan. There was just a knowing that it was the right thing to do, and a commitment to following where that led.

So they arrived at Standing Rock to help defend and protect sacred land, and this woman said it was one of the most sacred experiences of her life. Being there changed her and prepared her – but she didn’t know what for.

As they left, she prayed, “Lord, do with me what you will. Let me be a vessel.” On the way home, she got an email asking her to run for Congress.

It felt like the next right thing, but she also knew it was incredibly unlikely that she would win, so she decided that if she was going to do this, she had to redefine what “winning” looked like.

So she became clear. If she could organize her community, get them educated about the issues that affected them and invested in the wellbeing of their neighbors, that would be winning for her. That was her goal.

As it turned out, her passion and commitment to the wellbeing of her neighbors was more compelling for her community than the status quo, and she did get elected. So once again people asked, “What’s your plan?”

She, didn’t have a plan. But what she did have was a commitment. A commitment to a flourishing world. A commitment to human dignity. A commitment to questioning why some people matter and so many more fall through the cracks.

Her job, as she understands it, isn’t to come up with a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan or to figure out the 7 easy steps to re-election. It’s to be clear about the principles she’s committed to, and then follow where they lead.


Peter, Andrew, James, and John were not diner waiters, but they were doing the 1st century equivalent. Fishermen were low-caste people in ancient Judaea. These first disciples provided unglamorous, menial labor, and were subject to huge amounts of taxation from the government.

The best thing being a fisherman had going for it was that it was known. It was comfortable. It was what their families had always done.

And for a lot of us – especially those of us who hate change – the known is quite compelling.

But when the invitation came to leave the known, and help Jesus usher in a whole new way of living – economically, socially, and otherwise – they didn’t hesitate. According to Matthew, they immediately dropped their nets. They were so captivated by Jesus and his message that they couldn’t help but follow.

But my guess is that Andrew, James, and John had no idea what they were getting into when they said yes. My bet is there was no plan on their part. No sense of how this would all shake out. Just a deep knowing that this was somehow the next right thing.

So often in life, we want to know, How is this all going to work? Where is this going to lead? What’s the plan? We yearn for someone to hand us the answers. There is a reason why the self-help industry has exploded over the last decade. There is nothing more seductive than the promise that the pain will stop in 7 easy steps.

Each week I speak with different church leaders, and everyone seems to be looking for the same kinds of answers.

· Will the rest of our members ever return?

· How can we move forward when all of our volunteers are exhausted?

· Can we recapture the sense of community we’ve lost?

· How do we find normalcy when things are constantly changing?

· Will the church survive this?

· What book/podcast/speaker can help us figure out where we’re going?

As Fr. John O’Donohue writes in his poem, Blessing For the Interim Time:

You are in this time of interim

Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here was washed out;

The way forward is still concealed from you.

The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.

And of course, it’s not just the church that is existing in an interim time between what is being born and what is dying away… we’re in a time of massive social upheaval. Every institution, from the church to healthcare to academia to democracy itself is being pressure-tested. It’s not clear what elements of these societal bedrocks will continue to exist in the years to come.

Everyone is looking around, asking, “What should we do? How do we fix things?” But it turns out, beloved, that that’s the wrong question.

The question isn’t “What is your plan?” The question is, “What are we committed to?”

Or perhaps, as people of faith, an even better question is, “Who are we committed to following?”

Our job, as followers of Jesus, isn’t to come up with a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan or to figure out the 7 easy steps to the future of the church. It’s to be clear about the principles we’re committed to, and then follow where they lead.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the church ever doing that was the creation of Sunday School.

Does anyone know how Sunday School came to be?

It was a product of the industrial revolution.

Children as young as 6 or 7 were working in factories instead of going to school, and it was creating an epidemic of illiteracy. A group of church women were so concerned about how they were going to help get these kids educated when they worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week – this, of course being before the days of labor laws – that they decided they would take the only resources they had at hand – the Bible and access to these kids on Sunday morning – and they were going to teach them to read. The trend caught on, and the Christian education movement was born.

So often I hear people lament Sunday morning sports as a reason that families don’t come to church any more. But Sunday morning sports is just a symptom, not a cause. What made Sunday school powerful wasn’t that children were getting taught Bible stories. They were already learning the stories by sitting in worship.

What made it powerful is that the church found a way to make sure these kids didn’t fall between the cracks.

My guess is that a hundred years ago, no church across the country ever imagined that Sunday School was going to become a staple of church life. They just thought they were doing the next right thing to follow Jesus.

And now it seems that the structure that evolved to meet a very real need is no longer functioning for a lot of our churches. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe, the most powerful thing we could do is once again ask,

What are the challenges that our communities are facing today?

Who is falling between the cracks?

How might we use the resources we already have to meet those needs?

I don’t know where those answers will lead, but my guess is that if churches keep doing the next right thing, they’ll land somewhere close to where Jesus would… and maybe even find the next transforming mission of their church in the meantime.

Because Jesus’ call is not to preserve what has been. He’s asking us to release our attachment to the things that feel safe and known, and follow.

Notice, he doesn’t say “Balance your budget, and follow me.” Or “Put together an action plan, and follow me.” He simply says, “Follow.”

It’s not that those things don’t matter, it’s that they aren’t the heart of the call. Walking with Jesus is the heart of the call.

When we walk the path that Jesus walked, and commit to the values and priorities he embodied – the next steps appear. Maybe only one at a time, but they will come.

As my favorite cross-country coach used to say, “If you can only take one step, take one step.”

At the end of his Blessing for the Interim Time, John O’Donohue writes,

What is being transfigured here is your mind, And it is difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart will become For your arrival in the new dawn.

Beloved, this pandemic has created a number of challenges in our churches. But it has also come with the invitation to rethink what it means to follow Jesus today.

Yes, the path feels unclear…and there’s a lot in our world that feels like death. But the good news is that we are resurrection people.

That process might take 3 days or 3 years or 3 generations. The good, slow work of God cannot be rushed. But it also can’t be stopped.

Resurrection is what God does. It’s who God is. God is the ultimate upcycler…making something new and beautiful out of the tattered pieces of the old. Not even a pandemic can’t stop that.

So church, may we be willing to trust this sacred process that has brought us to this moment, and have the courage to follow God into an unknown future. We don’t need to have all the answers. But we do need to have the courage to follow Jesus down some unknown paths.

If the answer is yes, then chances are, the next right thing will appear.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright

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