Sermon preached by
the Reverend John E. Kitagawa at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, on
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark -20
In today’s Gospel, Peter, Andrew, James and John immediately accept Jesus’ call, “Follow me” (Mark 1: 17a). They put down their fishing nets and leave everything and everybody to follow.
There are no assurances of where they will be going—or when, if ever, they will get to go back to their present lives. Yet they follow this man who offers no guarantees—but is himself full of Promise in his person, [which is] his credibility.
In other words, the four fishermen
responded to Jesus’ call first, then asked questions later.
The story of Jonah is a favorite of mine. It offers a different view of human response to God’s call. Today, we only get a snippet of the story of Jonah. The text says, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time …” (my italics). I like the story of Jonah because I and we can identify with him. One commentary offers this:
The world beats us down and
tells us that you can’t change the big picture, so just fall in line and make
the best living that you can for yourself and your family. Our values may tell
us we need to head east to
But, then, as we learn in today’s passage, Jonah gets in touch with God’s call, gathers his courage, responds affirmatively, and goes to Nineveh as God’s agent. The story of Jonah is about second chances, about trying to do God’s work in the face of internal resistance, difficult conditions, and low odds for success.
Both of today’s call and response stories share a common characteristic. God’s call is a call to action.
God calls us not just to believe and to have faith, but to act. “Faith,”[as] they say, “Is a Verb”.
In Jonah’s case,
God’s call is to go to
We are here this morning because, in one way or another, we have heard God’s call, perhaps faintly, perhaps more clearly. We want to follow Jesus. Some of us are spiritual kin to the four fishermen, ready to set aside personal priorities in order to get into action for Jesus Christ. Others are spiritual kin to Jonah, our values pointing us in the direction of God’s call, but uncertainty or fear hold us back from being “all in”.
We gather in community because we
intuitively or instinctively know that solo discipleship is too hard to
navigate and too small to change the big picture. We sense that we need each other, and that we
can draw inspiration and strength from one another and the community as a
As flawed as the Church and this parish may be,
The Church [and parish are]
God’s instrument[s] in the world to show the world what the
God is at work now pulling the whole created world toward a Kingdom in which justice will prevail. As the Church we demonstrate and announce that Kingdom to the world. In the sacraments we anticipate that Kingdom and are empowered to share in realizing it.
At this morning’s Annual Meeting, Part I, we will hear reports from the Commissions on Outreach, Stewardship, Worship, Education, Evangelism, and Pastoral Care. Please listen attentively to the speakers and view carefully the PowerPoint presentations about the diverse, numerous and energetic ministries of this parish. Try to get beyond the sheer number and scope of these ministries. Ask yourselves these kinds of questions:
1. Who is being touched, marked and blessed by these ministries, by our efforts to make God’s love manifest in the world.
Do these ministries point beyond themselves the
3. Who makes these ministries happen, and what do they do? If you are a member in good standing, do you realize that you have something to do with making these ministries happen? It really takes the proverbial “village” to do what we do.
4. Do you perceive a calling in these ministries to more fully live out your core values and faith? Find out how you can become a stronger participant in that particular aspect of God’s work in the world.
The point of Annual Meeting Part I reports is not to show off and call attention to how wonderful we are. [We actually are quite wonderful.] These reports are part of an exercise of transparency and thanksgiving. These reports are stewardship exercises, trying to inform you how your investments of time, talent and treasure have born fruit; they are brief and partial testimonials to the diverse ways the lives of members and neighbors have been touched and transformed. Finally, the reports reflect how we have lived our Faith in Challenging Times—how we have embraced our spiritual center to help us serve the needs of the world.
There is a sense of having come full circle
this past year. Our parish was
envisioned and born in the Great Depression.
Seventy five years later, again in difficult economic times, we have
lifted up our history and celebrated a rich heritage of accomplishments. We have grown to appreciate deeply rooted and
effective ministries. In the process, we
have seen our responsibility to be stewards of this heritage. As we steward our heritage, we must also see
ourselves as midwives of St. Philip’s future.
We must hear anew Jesus’ call, “Follow me” in a city and culture vastly
different than 75 years ago. We must
renew our commitment to a vision of discipleship and service beyond the
boundaries of the parish. We have much
to celebrate and to be thankful for, but there is a growing awareness in parish
leadership that we must set goals and strategize to grow this parish in order
to fulfill our potential and our high calling.
Our spiritual ancestors heard the call and responded with zeal and a
deep sense of purpose to grow this vibrant parish from the dust of the
desert. May we be contemporary
expressions of that tradition, honoring our past and building anew to serve the
At this time, I want to thank so many parishioners who step forward to lead and to do whatever necessary to keep ministries touching and transforming lives. Together, you have done more than cushion the negative impact of staff reductions; you have injected new creativity and life into our ministries. In the process, I hope you have found deep meaning in what you are doing, and discovered something new and exciting about your vocations in ministry. We are greatly blessed as we do our best to be a blessing to those we serve.