Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Now, I know it might be stretching it a bit to start using baseball analogies when the Super Bowl was just last week. But, I want you to imagine this situation.
You are playing in a championship baseball game and there are two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Your team is ahead by one run, but the opposing team has the bases loaded. And you are a pitcher. There are other pitchers in the bullpen with better records, but the coach signals for you to come in the game. A mixture of fear, self-doubt and determination fills the core of your being. You reach deep within yourself and throw three quick strikes. No one is more amazed than you are at your performance. But how great do you feel!?
Sometimes I think life is like that game. It’s easy to be content just playing out each inning to the minimum of what we perceive to be our capacity. But through it all, we have dreams of what we could be or could do. Perhaps I would like to be a full-time singer, but don’t know if I could make it in that world. Or maybe you have always wanted to start your own business, but the challenges seem overwhelming. Still, our inner voices keep calling us to risk it all and go ahead and write that novel or to start painting those portraits. Whenever we take those kinds of risks, we are “stepping up to the plate” to live our lives at a much higher level of risk.
I have a good friend who says that this inner voice that we hear when we consider challenges is actually God, asking us to “stretch” ourselves a bit. To give up our preconceived resistances, to forget thinking about our limitations, so that we might experience the possibilities of life.
The scriptural readings today address this issue very well. In the Gospel reading, Jesus calls Simon Peter, John and James to “step up” from their roles as fishermen and tells them “from now on you are actually going to be catching people.” And in the reading from Paul’s letters, Paul recounts his own conversion from sinner to disciple when he was called to “step up” and change. Even the psalmist speaks about how when we “step up” and face our enemies, God gives us the necessary courage. “When I called, you answered me;” the psalmist says” “you increased my strength within me.”
We’ve all faced situations of having to step up to a level of performance that scares us. The circumstances may be dramatic: like rushing to push a child out of the way of a car without thinking of the risk to ourselves. Or, it may seem so simple as to be unimportant: like finally saying hello to that officemate you’ve been dying to ask out for months.
Daily we are faced with the choice of doing the same ole, same ole, or doing something different. Remaining comfortable in our daily lives, or stretching our perceptions of what we are able to do. When we do that. When we stretch our perceptions of ourselves. When we open ourselves up to the possibilities of life, we grow. And those new experiences support us in the next reach—and in the next—and the next.
So, the question is . . . what stops us from trying out every muscle of every gift with which God endows us?
What keeps us from listening to that inner voice that calls us to make our unique contribution? It’s one, simple word: fear. It takes a lot of different forms, but the bottom line is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of ridicule. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of losing respect. It’s all about fear.
We pause at taking the risk of telling someone that we love them for fear they may not feel the same way and reject us.
We tell the coach we have a cramp in our side, for fear we will be called on to bat and will strike out.
We don’t apply for a job because we expect not to be chosen and fear the feeling of failure.
We write that novel we’ve always wanted to write, but then we procrastinate in sending it to an editor for fear that it will be rejected.
We stay in a job we hate for fear of giving up that security.
Afterall, why should we attempt to stretch beyond that fear?
Why not simply stay with the familiar, the routine, and be emotionally secure? Why on earth would we choose anxiety and discomfort and uncertainty about our future? Why not choose safety?
The answer is, that because if we don’t, we will never know our own full potential. We will never have the opportunity to experience the blessing of knowing what it feels like to contribute in the unique way that only we can contribute by virtue of the gifts that God has given us. We will never know what it feels like to fulfill the possibilities that God has planted within us.
Paul would never have known he could teach and preach and become an apostle if he hadn’t heeded Jesus’ call. Nor would Simon Peter, James and John. Or any of the other disciples for that matter.
It’s true this is not an easy thing to do. I’m not suggesting that we can merely wake up one morning and say, “by gosh, I’m gonna follow my dream today.” Forget the house payments, forget the kids, forget my spouse and all my other obligations; I’m going to go live the dream that God is calling me to.
That is not what I am saying. Because to do that would be to create an idol of our own desires.
But I am saying that we need to listen to those desires—and to let them help to guide us toward the goal of living out those dreams.
And there are actually some simple things that we can do to increase our chances of being able to strike out and follow those dreams while preserving our lives and fulfilling our obligations:
- We can gather a support group around us: a rooting section that will not only encourage us to try and who will accept our performance unconditionally, but who will help guide us in our decisions. In its ideal form, that is what a community of faith is all about. That is what we at Christ Church should be for each other. We should be that rooting section that reminds us of God’s call and reassures us of God’s presence to give us the confidence to take a chance and fulfill those dreams.
- We can visualize a successful outcome that fits within the context of where we are today . . . and by visualizing it I mean praying for it. A friend of mine once said to me, “don’t be afraid to pray for what you want.” Whether or not that prayer is answered is up to God anyway, right? So why not pray for what you want. Practice seeing yourself going from where you are today to where you want to be and pray to God to give you the strength and the guidance to get there.
- We can affirm our positive attributes with simple, repeated phrases like: “I’m going to be okay.” “I am creative.” “I will always have options.” And most importantly, as was affirmed in Bible Study this week, “I am never alone because God is with me.”
- As others support us on our journey, we can extend our hand to help others in their fearsome situations. Twelve-step programs say that “you can’t keep it unless you give it away.” Become part of someone else’s journey by being part of their rooting team and that experience will support you in yours.
- And finally, most of all, listen to the voice within you when you are called to follow. Whether it is to the pitcher’s mound, or out onto the stage, or into the pulpit or any of a thousand other venues into which God calls us . . . obey that call. Because if you don’t, you’ll always wonder “what if” and if you do, at least you’ll always be in good company.
This year, I’d like to ask every member of Christ Church to “step up” in a new way. I want to ask us as a community to consider the possibilities of what we might be or become if we begin to expand the list of who does what in our parish.
We have relied for too long on the same people to do the same things they have done so well for so very long. Although don’t get me wrong, I am by no means asking those people to stop doing what they do right now, because this kind of change takes time. But for us to fulfill our potential as a congregation, we have to “stretch” ourselves to think again about how we do things and who does them.
What volunteer opportunities at the church might need new blood and might you be being called to do? What service to our wider community needs a fresh infusion of the kind of spirit that only someone who is new to a ministry can bring? What things that we should be doing are we simply not doing because nobody has stepped up to the plate and said, “I’ll take that on.” Don’t just come up with the idea. When God plants a calling in your heart, it’s not just a calling to tell others what they should be doing. It’s a call for you to begin living into your faith in a new and substantive way.
And, importantly, when we do stretch in this way, we’ll need to remind ourselves that this process is not just about the task that we are trying to get done or the job that needs to be filled. Because in this process of re-examining how we do things at Christ Church we will be asking ourselves to stretch in ways that will move us from seeing ourselves as just a faith community that loves being together and supporting each other on our journeys of faith, to a community of people who are actually interested in listening to the movement of the spirit and growing both in our faith and in how we live out that faith in the world.
I’d like to encourage you this morning to think about the possibilities of what we could accomplish as the Body of Christ in Sausalito and Marin City. Then, drop me a note or make an appointment to come by the office and let’s talk about how you can better live out the call that God has planted in your heart. Listen to the changes that are happening at Christ Church and in your life and be open to the challenges that God is placing before you (and us). Because I believe that as a community, we are being asked to step up to that pitchers’ mound. And with God’s help, we can throw those three strikes and win the game. Amen.