I’d like to share a story with you this morning about a guy and his call. I’ll call him Ed because, well, that was his name. Ed was a retired army colonel. When he joined our church years ago, he told me straight away that he had been on vestries before and had experienced a lot of conflict in that and so he just wanted to be a member and leave it at that. I said fine - with the caveat that he do what Jesus called him to do.
He wound up on our vestry, wound up being the senior warden, then wound up being the chair of the building committee, overseeing a $1.33 million project. He watched every nail and every penny that went into that building.
When all that was done, he came to me and asked about becoming a deacon. Ed was 70 at that point and it took 4 years back then, so I said it didn’t make any sense because he’d be past mandatory retirement before he could be ordained. I told him to take six months off from parish leadership to just relax. He couldn’t do that.
A few weeks later he came to me with a brochure about The Verger’s Guild of the Episcopal Church. I thought to myself, cathedrals have vergers. Why would we have a verger in little old Belleview? But I felt compelled to not say that, and instead I said, “Sure. Look into it.”
Immediately Ed was taking his classes and preparing outlines of every service we did throughout the year. These outlines, or customaries as we call them, included detailed descriptions and instructions for everyone from altar guild to ushers to acolytes to lay readers and lay ministers to the priest. So, if you were doing a wedding or a funeral Ash Wednesday or Christmas Eve, everyone had a reference for setup, movement, lighting, etc.
And the Verger supports – not directs, supports – literally every ministry in the church that way.
To be honest, Ed was every inch a retired Army colonel when I met him. I figured he was very much at least a party to the church conflicts he described. When he began as verger, it took a little coaching to help him embrace that it was a support – not director but support – for all these other ministries. He didn’t tell the altar guild what to do, he trained with them then made sure they had what they needed to do their ministry.
And as he developed that ministry, two very important things happened. One was that we were able to adjust very smoothly to our new sanctuary. All the traffic patterns changed, but Ed made sure we adjusted to the new flow. The other was the change in Ed. This hard charging Army colonel became a bundle of joy, beloved by everyone from the kids on up.
And his faith went from a sense of duty to a vibrant, active relationship with Jesus. His wife and children would regularly mention the change.
You see, Ed had been listening to Jesus’s teaching. He had been following him faithfully most, maybe all, of his life. But there was an absolute transformation that occurred when he responded to his call.
In today’s Gospel we find Jesus still at the start of his ministry. To this point, Peter is on board with Jesus. Jesus has taught in the synagogue in Nazareth, he has taught to crowds and they nearly tossed him off a cliff. We don’t know for sure that Peter was with him then, but John says they met at the River Jordan and Luke does say that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s home and healed his mother-in-law of a fever. Jesus also healed others right after that. And we see Jesus teaching from Peter’s boat. (It may well be that the boat enabled him to get better acoustics.)
So, Peter is hearing the teaching and seeing some miracles. He’s fine. Then Jesus tells him to put out into the deep water. Peter argues, “Been there, done that!” But when he obeys Jesus, when he answers The Lord’s command and sees the result, he suddenly sees Jesus more clearly. He’s not there yet, mind you. Peter has a lot more epiphanies coming. But this is a huge moment. This fisherman is going to become the first great leader of the Church.
But first, and just like Isaiah when confronted by God’s holiness said, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips!” Peter responds with, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man!” And just as God wipes away Isaiah’s sin to prepare him for his mission, Jesus absolves Peter and affirms his call.
You are unique. You are known by Jesus. He’s calling you out to the deep water. I cannot predict what that call may mean. Many in this room have responded to him already. Some are on his speed dial. Ask them how they knew, how they responded and what came of it.
As I said, Ed became a verger and in that role supported every other ministry in the church as well as the church overall. He did lead the procession several times a year, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc. He had a big mace, like a drum major, which was different for Belleview. But it was great. He was beloved.
One night Ed had a heart attack and was taken from us very suddenly. The entire church was devastated. A number of our kids were at Camp Wingmann that week and they all ministered to each other. Ed’s funeral was – in the middle of summer – the largest service St. Mary’s ever had aside from Easter and Christmas Eve. It wasn’t because he was such a good guy – which he was. It was because he had listened to Jesus, cast his net in deep water and hauled in the catch. His faithfulness brought Jesus to dozens if not hundreds of others while it shaped Ed’s own gifts into a most satisfying ministry.
The best part of Ed’s story is that wasn’t his end. I’ll close with this reminder from another life completely transformed by an encounter with Jesus. Here Paul reminds the church at Corinth why we are here in the first place.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
Listen for your call. Let’s talk about it.