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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Epiphany 3 – Year A

For Christmas I got fly fishing lessons. Yes, teen girls do enjoy clothes, iTunes, and manicures, but I also love to fish. My family and I are into all kinds of water activities- sailing, windsurfing, wake boarding…so fishing is just another family activity, especially in the summer.

A good fisherman is patient, committed, and sensitive. Other than the patient part, I figure I have commitment and the sensitivity to try to catch anything that is lured to my hook. The main reason I like fishing—other than the results—is the surprise of what is on the other end of the line. You might be fishing with a flounder tackle but reel in a croaker. Though the minute to 15 minutes (depending on the fish) is an exhilarating experience, fishing is fun, peaceful, and a chance to relax from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t catch something. Fishing is a utopia, an oasis, away from the piles of homework, high school drama, and pressure to succeed.

I enjoy all types of saltwater fishing; in particular, fly fishing has hooked me. The principle of it is to have the smoothest form—without any error—with a ten o clock to 12 o clock motion. It’s an art form. But I am a klutz, and the technique that should be pristine usually ends up in tangles on the bottom of the boat, leaving me to untangle lengths and lengths of fishing line. What I really needed were lessons.

Thankfully, my Christmas present was an “intermediate” course at Orvis, where I will strip my technique of any flaws and become the Orvis woman: no fish is safe from me. The instructor will be my one on one coach, and without his help I will go nowhere. He’ll show me the right way to cast. He can answer my questions on the spot. He can tell me where to go for answers in the future, so I can continue to refine my technique. Maybe I’ll even learn how to tie flies. And when I’m good enough, I will be able to teach my nephews the art of fly fishing. And someday I can teach my children, too.

Today’s scripture focuses on Christ asking us to be fishers of men. Christ is asking us, as Christians, to serve Him by witnessing, serving, and letting our joy of knowing Him shine through all we do. Christ is asking us to support and nurture others in their Christian lives. In the spirit of St James’s, He is asking us to be doers. Christ is asking us be good fishermen, to be patient, committed, and sensitive—a demanding request.

Fortunately, Christ has conveniently arranged “fishing lessons” for us —with the Bible as the perfect teaching manual. He also has given us specifics if we become interested in more instruction. We have the Book of Common Prayer, and with it the prayers and creeds we recite together. These lessons unite us with others in the Anglican community throughout the world.

We are blessed with an abundance of lessons available to us here at St. James’s. We have our church services, Christian education programs, , and the countless activities noted each Sunday in our Chimes. The Parish Resource Guide is another reference for us. It lists ways to serve the church and the community, ways to help others and to “put our faith into action.” We have numerous opportunities for servant ministry and fellowship, to learn through involvement with other faith communities in Richmond, like Caritas, Crossover Clinic, and Habitat for Humanity. Along with those opportunities, there are numerous mission projects through our church and diocese, among them the projects in Honduras, Haiti, and the Sudan. For me and my peers, our Episcopal youth group is one way to practice and refine our skills through service to others. Christ also gives us our own personal fishing instructors through our clergy and others in our church–readily accessible, with their phone numbers and email addresses. But, most importantly, Christ is always on call 24/7 with fishing instructions for us. We will always be striving to be better fishermen and He will always be there to help us. And He knows how to reach us.

One of my favorite “fishing” experiences was the Alaskan Mission Trip last summer. Our group consisted of 12 teens and four very tolerant adults. After sitting in airports or in planes for over 24 hours, we finally arrived in Alaska. Our goal was to help build an Episcopal retreat center near Manley Hot Springs, right in the heart of Alaska, a good 150 miles from the Fairbanks airport- and the last 75 miles are not even paved road. Did I mention there is no cell phone service, too?

Here in Virginia we have wonderful retreat facilities like Roslyn and Shrine Mont. This is not the case in Alaska, but someday the now rustic center at Manley Hot Springs will be a place where families and youth can come for church retreats. But, for now, it is a work in progress. For several summers groups like ours at St James’s have spent time there trying to make a dent in the construction needs. We became carpenters and builders, extending porches and adding to common areas of the main building and clearing space for later work to come in future summer visits. What we lacked in skill we made up for with enthusiasm. The retreat center, built on a solid foundation, will serve as a focal point for future groups’ spiritual activities.

We also had the opportunity to help the local residents. Long ago the hot springs at Manley attracted tourists but those days are past. It has a tiny year round population, one general store, and probably more sled dogs than people. Residents live in the shadow of the Alaskan pipeline but prosperity has passed them by. To help the locals, we cleared common areas in this isolated community and even did some minor home repairs for residents.

At the end of our trip we were rewarded with some time hiking, rafting, and camping in Denali National Forest, home to Mount McKinley, the highest spot in the United States. It is impossible to be in such a majestic place, of such natural beauty, and not feel Christ’s presence.

Overall the Alaskan mission trip was a “fishing lesson” of sorts, helping us become better fishers of men. The experience moved all of us beyond ourselves and, through our small efforts, gave us an opportunity to do something for others. Literally, we left a foundation in Alaska. The retreat center, built on a solid foundation, will serve as the site where others can strengthen their faith. Our outreach projects in this isolated Alaskan community were a way of helping others, reflecting a spirit of Christian charity.

The Alaskan mission trip was a way for us to strengthen our individual faith through working with others. While all of us knew each other through our involvement with EYC, we were teens from different schools, in different grades, with different activities, but with a shared commitment to St. James. During our trip we not only learned to work together, but we became more cohesive and learned how we could support each other in our common faith in Christ. We also benefited from having time to get to know our adult leaders and our rector in a different context. It was important for us to know that they had experienced some of the same challenges we were facing as teens. They shared with us their experiences as Christians, examples of how we might become better fishermen.

But to be good fishers of men we also need to strengthen our individual faith and nurture our personal relationship with Christ. After hiking miles of steep terrain, the spectacular summit views were a time to be quiet, to be prayerful, and to allow Christ to speak to us through the beauty of nature. He’s always there for us with His lessons – sometimes we just aren’t ready to listen. But, on those Alaskan summits, His lessons could not be ignored.

So my fishing lessons continue. Later this year I’ll make the transition to college and with it a new setting, new friends, distance from family, and all sorts of other changes. I hope I can continue to share the lessons I’m learning with others. Where ever I go, whatever I do, whomever I meet, these experiences will help me continue to grow in Him and become a better witness of my faith to others. These lessons are a part of who I am – and who I hope I become.

Christ asks us all to be fishers of men. This is a huge task! But if we open our hearts and lives to Him, He gives us the lessons we need.

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