Heaven’s Reach

Epiphany III – January 25, 2015

Annual Meeting Sunday


Heaven’s Reach

 A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

Their lives were never going to be the same….   It may have been that the men who were casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee knew who Jesus was.   They may have seen him walking by the water’s edge and possibly heard about him from others who shared their curiosity.  Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, had been driven by the spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and be waited upon by angels.  The prelude is over. John the Baptist had been arrested. His work is complete. The curtain now truly rises on Jesus’ ministry as he walks up to Simon and Andrew and James and John and extends an invitation… not a command. He says: “Follow me.” They could have said “no,” but they didn’t. The four fishermen drop their nets. James and John even leave their father Zebedee in the boat, with the crew. And a new chapter begins in their lives… all would be different…. and they hadn’t the faintest idea about what was ahead for them. What they did know is that they had experienced a deep sense of calling. This was not some ethereal or “other worldly” experience.   God’s presence in Jesus walked right up to the fishermen and told them heaven was close… meaning that heaven’s justice and peace and wholeness was intensely yearning to be realized on earth… and the four fishermen experienced this holy yearning deep down in their bones.   And so…. they stepped onto a new path filled with all possibility and containing no promises of an easy journey. Their new chapter begins as they enter an unknown future that would be filled with challenges and struggle, grace and heartache, and LIFE writ large. David Cooper describes it this way:

 The Sacred Call is transformative. It is an invitation to our souls,

a mysterious voice reverberating within,

a tug on our hearts that can neither be ignored nor denied.

It contains, by definition, the purest message and promise of essential freedom.

                                                           It touches us at the center of our awareness.[1]

In her memoir “Wild” Cheryl Strayed writes about this moment of turning in her own life… a life that had been spiraling wildly out of control. The grief over her mother’s death had ripped her open and she sought to escape the pain through sex and drugs and simply checking out. The vision, the moment of calling into healing, led Cheryl… literally… to step onto a new path as she was to begin a long, painful and life changing journey. She was to hike the vast the Pacific Coast Trail whose end points are the borders of Mexico to the south and of Canada to the north… It was to be a trek that would take her across a barren deserts landscapes and through the high Sierras.

Cheryl’s journey began even before she donned her ill-fitting hiking boots and overloaded backpack. She says of the initial experience:

 There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision actually to do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time. There was the driving across country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the Trail crossed the highway. At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected it would be… And then there was truly doing it.

Cheryl did do it, and there was healing, and her life was forever transformed…

Heaven is dogging us… heaven seeks to take root and grow and fill the earth… In the words of Bennett Sims:

Heaven will not leave us alone.

Heaven will continue to come to earth

Until heaven and earth are one.

Heaven will not leave us alone until

Love’s work is done. [2]

Each and every day we are invited, once again, to respond… as individuals and as a congregation… we are invited to participate in the holy work of building up the Reign of God.   The fishermen were called to fish for people, a carpenter’s work of discipleship might be to help build new hearts, a gardener’s work to tend the new life of heaven’s reach taking root in the richness of the earth. A church is called to care for souls, to be a place of nourishment for the faithful, and a safe place for the seeker and the doubter… that all may be reminded of the great story of belonging… of God’s yearning and heavenly vision…   As church we are to gather and as a community to be fed and sent out into the world to live the Good News.

To continue to be church in this place requires that the gifts of each member of the community, no matter how large or small, be brought together… The work of building up of God’s reign on earth is akin to a barn raising…. in which children tote water while others prepare food… and some carry wood, and others pound nails, and together the wall frames are lifted and the corners joined and the frame of roof settled into place…. Such work is accomplishes more than the construction of a building… and those who can no longer participate physically participate with their presence and support. The work of the community deepens bonds of connection.

The work of this community is to nurture and deepen the bonds of faith that we continue to be strengthened as members of the Body of Christ as we listen, learn, share, laugh and then leave through those doors after worship to go out into the world to share our gifts and to live our knowledge and experience of God’s love working in us… an experience of God that is the foundation of our discipleship in the world.   We are to be nourished in Word and Sacrament and then to go beyond the walls of this church, and invite those in our midst to the great party of belonging that is beyond the Episcopal Church and, dare I say it, beyond any one faith tradition.   Our times are challenging and fear tries to nip at our heels… fear that what we have to offer is not enough… the task is too overwhelming.  What we must remember is that we do none of this work alone. We belong in the deepest meaning of the word. Our discipleship is in Christ.

This Sunday we are having (have had) our Annual Meeting. Some changes are going to be (have been) announced. Administratively we are reorganizing. We are not simply going to be doing more with less. We are going to accomplish the structural work that supports the life of St. Paul’s by redesigning and reworking. Next week we will have a congregational conversation between services that I hope all of you will attend. At that time we will be offering a variety of opportunities to contribute to the rebuilding and maintenance of our parish infrastructure. There will be a buffet of tasks and responsibilities from large to small. If you have other ideas of what you can bring to this building party I encourage you to offer suggestions. This is all for the sake of supporting and better enabling mission and ministry… that as a well supported community of faith we continue the essential work of gathering for worship, extending hospitality, community building, and service… that we may continue the good work of participating in the building up God’s Reign on here on earth.

Fishing was one of the most prevalent occupations in the region of Galilee. The curtain went up on Jesus’ ministry in the world and he called those… who were in his midst… to follow him. Simon, Andrew, James and John said “yes,” and their lives would never be the same.   The course of God’s yearning was taking root by at that water’s edge. Even today we continue to participate in the harvest that began in the consent of those first disciples. The invitation to join in the grand party continues in our time. Today, and indeed everyday, is yet another a pivotal invitation to say “yes” and to begin, again, the adventure of discipleship to live and share the Good News…challenges, blessings and all.

… and How do we share Good News?

How do we spread God’s Light?

We make friends.

Do good.

Break bread.

Risk and pray till others ask the source.[3]


This is the holy work to which we are called.



[1] David A. Cooper, Parabola, Volume XIX, Number 1, February, 1994, The Call pg. 11

[2] Bennet J. Simms, Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millenium, Cowley Pub., Boston, 1997, pt. 177.

[3] Adapted from a poem by Kent Ira Groff, “Doing Good News – Matthew 5:14-26”, 1999.