January 24th, 2021

The Rev. Dani Gabriel

January 24th, 2021

St. Alban’s, Albany

Readings: https://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Epiphany/BEpi3_RCL.html

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

When I read this story, I imagine myself as Simon or Andrew. I imagine dramatically dropping my nets and following Jesus and becoming a fisher of people, spreading the good news far and wide. This is always how I put myself into the story. I think this is true of a lot of us: we imagine ourselves the protagonists. We’d always be loyal disciples, never Judas. We’d be the ones listening and bravely acting. We’d learn the lessons well and carry the message far and wide. And yet this is not how it happened to me.

I had just about given up. On the church, on the future, on Jesus, on everything. We were deep into the pandemic. Gone were the early days of baking and art projects with the kids, gone were the days of intensely planning our first online services. There was no more adrenaline rush, just the daily trudge through Zoom calls and occasional outings with a mask and hand sanitizer. I wasn’t feeling the spirit. Not in the almost vacant church on Sunday, and not in the rest of my life either. I was feeling empty and tired. I was going through the motions of prayer and piety because I had made a commitment, and am very stubborn. But inspiration was long gone, gone the way of dinner parties and in person school.

One day I was out with a couple of members of All Souls delivering sandwiches from All Souls’ and St. Alban’s Project Sandwich to a local encampment of unhoused folks. This group of people was living mostly in run down RVs, with no running water or cooking facilities. The street was desolate, mostly empty warehouses. They were extremely isolated, and extremely grateful. I asked “How else can we support you?” and was stunned by the emphatic answer: Prayer. Here we were on the side of the road, and I felt very much that I was in church. More than I had in a long time. I was not expecting his answer and it broke through the numbness I’d been feeling. We could be in solidarity with our friends through prayer, we could be activists through prayer. I had, in fact, been forgetting to pray very much. The reminder helped me return to the core of my faith and reframe my work. I started to see evidence of the Spirit, moving at the edges of things, still there.

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot since that day. I was not out there fishing for people, spreading the good news, as I have always imagined. No. I was the one who was caught. I was totally unsuspecting that day, as I wandered into the net. I imagined I knew what I was doing and where I was going. As usual I thought I had something to give when really I had something to learn.

I think a lot about my friend in the camp and how he appreciated the sandwich but really wanted the prayer. I think a lot about what it really means to follow Jesus, and how sometimes the road doesn’t lead where we think it’s going. We are in these gospel stories, for sure, but we’re not always the characters we imagine ourselves to be. Sometimes we’re caught, unsuspecting, on the side of the road.