The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C)

“God’s Grace is with You”

Paul tells the Corinthians, “I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

This past year through so much change, our little church has worked so very hard.

Martine, our Senior Warden has worked tirelessly not only to help keep our church up and running during a time of such change, but she has also  made the extra effort to nurture our community and keep our spirits joyful and even merry during such a dark period. The Senior Warden is really Priest’s Warden and this year Martine has truly stepped up to support me and the church. Martine helped lead our church as the Diocese changed the responsibilities and tasks of part-time priests. Then as most of you know I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease in October. Martine supported me throughout the whole ordeal encouraging me to take the time I needed to recover from the many tests and hospitalization. I know that I could not have weathered that storm here without her compassionate support and expertise. I had every confidence that Martine would continue to lead our Vestry with expertise. But Martine was not simply a Warden for the priest.

Even as Senior Warden, Martine continued to call and check in on parishioners to offer support, meals, and comfort and she even brought a bit of cheer into our community life this past year. She helped us host three summer gatherings with the generous donation of a brand new grill from a very humble and giving parishioner. Together with the Foggies, Martine has continued to bring beauty to our gardens and this year Martine also helped install a sprinkler system in our gardens. In addition, thanks to Martine, Todd, and others’ ongoing efforts, the upper croft is nearly complete and absolutely stunning. Thank you Martine for your hard work as Senior Warden in 2021. In the Spring, we will be planting an English Garden designed by the Friends of the Garden in your honor.

The Junior Warden is the people’s warden and John Holmes has gone above and beyond for all of us this year. The internet in the sanctuary was not working. For many services John or Jessica would come and use their hotspots and trouble shoot and even then services would still shut down. Even though John is not a computer technician by trade, he worked hard to make sure our internet was properly installed in the sanctuary and had it all up and ready right when we needed it the most.

The treasurer ensures that the church remains financial stable, that all the finances are handled correctly and ethically, and that our accounts are in order. Margaret and now Mark have managed our finances brilliantly through all of this often think one or even ten steps ahead to ensure finances and projects runs smoothly. Without their support, it would be difficult, if not impossible to provide all the incredible ministry that we provide here at Christ Church.

The clerk documents our meetings and makes sure we are all on the same page. John Goepfriech has helped us take clear and concise notes for our vestry through a year when nearly every young parent has been stretched thin.

Maryanne, Matthew, and our altar guild have shown such dedication as we have switched from remote to outdoor to indoor, with and without communion. Pat and Bev helped us reach out pastorally to those 70+ in our congregation. Jackie helped us promote our church on social media for the younger set in our community. Carol and Howie and Jackie have led our children with such energy and grace. Every week the kids in our church have been eager to tune in to PJ Church, to share stories of their lost teeth and learn about God’s work in their lives. Ginnie and Peter have continued to help lead our meditation and prayer groups. People who attend these meetings have reported physical, mental and spiritual healing as well as incredible support and fellowship at a time when so many of us have been disconnected. Ginnie and Mark and many others have also come together to provide morning prayer and incredible preaching for this community. This is no small task, and I am so encouraged by commitment to lead and the beautiful worship that is coming from this community.

Our Diaconal Intern Dinushka has given us all so much encouragement and direction. I cannot imagine making it through this Fall in particular without her. I am so thankful that we have her for another four months, and I look forward to celebrating all her hard work in May.

I need to say a particular thanks to everyone in the church since my diagnosis. The whole community has really surrounded me with so much support. And this is the characteristic of this church that really drew me here. This community cares for one another deeply and will surround those in need in our community.

Our church is a solid little community, but I remember someone wondering what could come out of our tiny little parish that would really change the world. I am so happy to share that indeed our little parish has not only been a strong support for one another, but we have also indeed been a strong support for the world.

Our Anti-Racism Alliance has continued to write incredible monthly newsletters and give talks around the diocese. This world changing force that has risen up from our little church has won two grants from the diocese totally $27,000 which will help fund four fellowships.

In addition, Ginnie has led a preaching class that has guided many of our parishioners and gained support and recognition from our diocese. When people take her course, they dig into scripture and learn more about their own insight and courage.

In September, Lisa helped us plan an ice-cream fundraiser to collect funds for blind children in Kenya. The event caught the eye of the Trumbull Patch and although we had to make the fundraiser virtual, we raised over $1,000. I recently received letters from the school children in Kenya. One boy wrote,  “I was so sad when I realized that I had lost my sight. I dropped out of school. Life at home was so hard. I am so thankful for your support. Life has started to be better since you stretched out a helped hand to me. My parents were able to send me to a school for people with special needs. Indeed service to humanity is service to God. May God bless you for your continued support.”

Betsy and Susan, our outreach coordinators have helped us organize our outreach efforts and put together a wonderful workshop on volunteerism last Summer. They have helped our community continue to give to so many local organizations that support the homeless and the hungry.

Our church is small, but we have been world changers this year. Every single person in this community has done so much to help one another and the world and together we have followed in the apostle Paul’s footsteps. We have worked indeed harder.

The danger for a group of hard workers such as ourselves and at time such as this is that we can begin to push and work and strive in such a way that church can become more of a source of stress than a source of nourishment. It is sometimes hard to know when to go the extra mile and when to pause for nourishment.

Today in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives us some direction to help us discern when we should continue the work and when we might pause. After Jesus finishes teaching a crowd near Lake Gennesaret, he turns to  fishermen at the shoreline and says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

One weary fisherman responds rather exasperated saying, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”

I think so many of us feel this way right now. It seems as though we have shifted and changed and tried so hard and yet this pandemic is still here. The world is exhausted, and if we are honest with ourselves, I think many of us are exhausted too.

The fisherman tells Jesus that he is exhausted, but he does not stop there. He says, “I’m weary, yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke tells us that when he and the other fishermen went out again and let their nets out one more time, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break.

Notice that the weary fishermen were not on the shore alone, looking out on the lake thinking, “Well, we just have to just push ourselves more. If we just work harder, if we just work longer, we will catch fish.” No, they went back out on the shore only because Jesus stood with them and told them to go out once more. The fisherman pushed themselves beyond their limit because Jesus specifically asked them to. It was not just an extra hour of work that gave them the abundance of fish, it was Jesus that gave them a net-breaking catch of fish.

As we push on into 2022, I want to encourage all of us to notice our own weariness and pay attention to it. Church must not become a place of stress for all of us or even a few of us. It must continue to be a place that refreshes, nourishes, and grows us in our faith as we continue to follow Jesus.

So, what does this look like in the year ahead? It means that when we notice our weariness and stress and we do not feel a call to work, we pay attention. Practically speaking this year, this means that we are not going to have a formal Senior Warden and Junior Warden. Martine will speak more about this, but the tasks of these two positions have been delegated to many people on the vestry. It also means that vestry as a whole will only meet every other month.

These are adjustments that we have made to Vestry, but I am sure there are other worn-out fisherman on the shore. Some of you may have been answering the call for a long time and may need a break from time to time. I encourage you to reach out to me to talk about how we can ensure that your ministries continue to run while you take a break for a few weeks or raise up other leaders to help support your ministry.

Others of you may feel weary, but you hear a strong call from Jesus to engage in a ministry. Do not fear, as Paul says, he worked harder, but it was not him,  “but the grace of God that” was with him. If Jesus is standing on the shore with you and encouraging you to go out one more time, he will sustain you for this journey and he will bless your ministry with abundance.

It may seem scary to take a break or go the extra mile when we feel weary, but when we pay attention to our weariness, rest, and respond only to the call of Jesus, I truly believe that we will set our church community up for nothing short of God’s heavenly abundance.

So, in the season ahead, notice your weariness and look for Jesus’ word and command in whatever you do. Let go of pressure and striving and go out to the waters only when Jesus directs you and watch as you find yourself refreshed and your nets overflowing.