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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Friends of Little Galilee, Trust God - 01/26/2020

A few weeks ago I talked about “remnant theology” and how I thought we smaller groups of people who continue to worship regularly and provide the bread & butter support the ministry of church, locally and more broadly then that – how we are very much like a remnant today. I said, in part:

Those of us who have remained active in our communities of faith struggle and worry over how to be God fearing and faithful people when the Church is no longer at the center of our community life. We don’t always grasp how to uphold the Law of Moses and care for each other when everyone is scattered in so many directions in our world of endless opportunity and distraction.

We panic and feel anything but peaceful over declining worship numbers, fewer offerings, aging congregations, rising costs, including the costs of keeping a pastor and keeping our physical church in good condition.

We are remnants of a version of Christ’s church that is no more and I suspect what panics us and steals our peace, what causes our distress and maybe even terrifies us, is that we know, deep inside somewhere –we cannot go back. (Pastor Ann Gonyea, For Us Remnant Theologians, [audio] preached 1.5.2020)

It’s a daunting reality, to be sure and we are reminded of how daunting it can be even more as we prepare for our annual meeting next week. We have a mixed bag of news as we reflect on 2019. Mostly it has been good. There has been so much good ministry taking place in and of this faith community. AND we have significant and challenging issues to tackle, particularly in terms of our financial management of this congregation – the money we spend, the money we receive and how we use it to support our ministries and this place of worship.

I will confess to you that I have my moments of panic and doubt. And then, typically, God will send someone my way who will say something like, “We’ve been through this before,” and “We’ll get through this again.” It is always just what I need to hear and I am reminded that I need to surrender all that toxic panic and guilt-ridden doubt to God and remember that God is in charge and God loves us very much and God does not break the covenant we share in the body and blood of the crucified and risen Christ.

That is another element of remnant theology, I suppose … another element of being part of the remnant ourselves … we relearn in some of our deepest and darkest valleys how to surrender what weighs on us to God and start looking for the ways God responds to those to prayers that rise to God’s divine ears like wisps and gasps of smoky incense.

I now have a mantra for when those moments of panic and doubt hit. It boils down to “trust God,” but in my impatience with myself it often sounds more like “if you’re gonna preach ‘trust God,’ you’d better start practicing it more, Ann Maria.”

So trust God. (Take a moment of silence to surrender?)

This mash up of remnant theology and remembering to trust God has set me to thinking about the disciples in a different light too – Simon-Peter and Andrew, James & John the fishers, who Jesus calls in our Gospel today. And the ones who come later in the story too .. Matthew also called Levi, Philip, Bartholomew aka Nathaniel, Thomas, the other James, the other Simon, Thaddaeus sometimes called Jude, and Judas Iscariot.

And I was thinking about those I am convinced were also Jesus’ disciples in his earthly ministry, who are not specifically labeled disciples in our religious traditions: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Mary mother of the other James, and Mary mother of the Zebedee boys. (I have to say that when I go home to God, I will be VERY surprised to find that Jesus did not consider these women to be disciples as well as those our patriarchal traditions have chosen to hold up for edification and inspiration.)

This unexpected assembly is also like a remnant. They came about in a different way than we did. We are the remnant of something that was once larger and have remained while so much of us has torn and fallen way. They are more like a remnant piece of the curtains of the temple in Jerusalem that has been torn away from the larger piece and cast off.

But in the end, a remnant is a remnant.

And just consider that for a moment this remnant. This small group of people who we tend to sanitize and think about as glorious saints, which they are, but only in death.

First of all, and as a bit of an aside, let’s look at our beginning … let’s look at what Jesus is doing here. It is helpful, I think, to know something about education in Jesus’ day. Only boys went to school, and most only for a while. By the time they got to the age of what would be our upper elementary students, most were done and went home to learn he family trade … fishing, tent-making, carpentry, tax collection, farming, etc

A few of the boys would show promise for excelling as students and so they would be sent to the temple to live much of their childhoods, maybe all, as rabbinic students. There they would learn to read and study God’s scriptures deeply and full time. It was likely Jesus was one of these boys. It is one reason some think Jesus was actually a Pharisee. A well-educated, devoted, typically humble priest and teacher of God’s chosen people.

And he was good! He was a great preacher. He appears to have been a people-person, very outgoing. And on top of that he had these healing powers and a palpable authority. Jesus is a spiritual magnet. Jesus is God. He could have assembled the brightest and most righteous of all the rabbinic students like him and gone to Jerusalem to usurp the corrupted priests. He could have called the ultimate band of warriors for a revolution against Rome too. He could have called any band of disciples he wanted … and he did.

He called men who did not get singled out in the community square as rabbinic scholar of the week. He called Matthew and the other James, who may have been his brother, and their mother Mary. They came into this Jesus-led remnant from a despised tax-collecting family.

Bartholomew may have been of royal descent and so would have been educated as such and maybe had access to resources the others did not.

Others were nationalists, extremists and zealots who, at least until they met Jesus, thought the only answer to Roman oppression and the corruption of their leaders was violence and revolution and a shift human-held power. One of those, Judas Iscariot, would ultimately betray Jesus to his executioners.

We don’t know as much about some of the women disciples who make up this remnant and are mentioned in the gospels. We do know that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, at least not according to any biblical accounts, and that she did experience great healing at the hands of Jesus. Studies of recent archeological finds in Magda, on the Sea of Galilee, where she came from indicate she was a very wealthy woman and may have served as one of the primary benefactors of Jesus’ ministry. Kind of like Lydia who we hear about in acts.

Joanna is said to be the wife of Herod’s steward, so they are like government employees.

It is with this rag tag and unexpected remnant of God’s beloved people that Jesus sets something in motion that changes the world, eternally.

That is astonishing. It should prompt us to dream and act boldly.

And, perhaps this is just what we need to hear at this point in time as the remnant people worshipping and doing ministry here at Eden on the Bay … a bay that looks very much like the Sea of Galilee.

If God could do so much through this odd and diverse assembly of people who at times probably thought the only thing they had in common was their call to follow Jesus …

… if God can come into this world as Jesus and usher in the kingdom of heaven and then build upon that new world order with and through them …

… What can God do with and through us … with this little remnant?

So I don’t think we should fall into that trap of believing that the church is dying or that God can’t and won’t work with and through our smaller numbers, our odd and diverse assembly of god’s beloved people to continue building up the kingdom of heaven Jesus has drawn us all into.

Friends of the remnant from the shores of our own little Galilee: Trust God. Follow Jesus and he does make us fishers of people. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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