Monday, January 27, 2014

Ordinary people….extraordinary things: a sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

Grace, peace and mercy are yours from God who is the light of the world.  Amen.
All four Gospels have a version of today’s text, Jesus calling his disciples. It’s a pretty important story, how Jesus selected the people who would accompany him in his ministry.  While each Gospel account has its own details, they all emphasize Jesus interrupting the disciples in their work and these men dropping whatever they are doing, and following Jesus. No arguments, no protesting, not even a single claim of, “Well, I have a few loose ends to tie up at home. I’ll see you in a couple days.”
I think we’ve all heard this text in sermons many times. It’s a favorite of preachers attempting to exhort their flocks of parishioners to get out into the world and DO something. And it’s a favorite of Sunday school teachers everywhere because of its fun imagery (fishing nets! boats! Jesus!) and simple message: When Jesus comes calling, say “YES!”, drop everything you are doing and follow him.  You just have to DO it.  Easy enough, right?  Yeah…I don’t think so.
Maybe this message isn’t so simple after all. I think that the disciples are often cast as these models of piety and religious observance and we are told that we should do everything in our power to emulate them. James and John didn’t seem to take issue with leaving their father behind, we are told that they “immediately left the boat and their father and followed Jesus.”   And we don’t hear about these disciples packing a U-Haul, so we can assume they left behind the comforts of home and most of their possessions. Simon Peter and Andrew were hard at work using the tools of their trade, and they “immediately left their nets and followed him.”
It’s really tough to imagine giving up the comforts of home for the unknown, and leaving behind loved ones, so we are thankful that someone else is doing it.  We don’t have to consider ourselves disciples.  Aside from the practical concerns of whether or not it would be possible or desirable to devote one’s life to being a disciple, we wonder if we would ever be qualified. If Jesus really knew what we were up to, like our doubts about faith or that decade when we didn’t go to church or our youthful indiscretions, would we make the cut? We think we can’t possibly be good enough or religious enough.  Which is why we would prefer that someone else do it. A professional.  Like missionaries or pastors.  But, I will let you in on a little secret, even pastors don’t always feel qualified to be disciples.   Because every single one of us in this room is only human.  We all make mistakes.  We are often wandering around in the darkness of this world and running into walls and tripping over stuff. We will continue to do so.  And if we focus only on the “should’s” and “ought’s” of being a disciple and put ourselves into a punishing routine of morality, we miss what Jesus is up to.
But what is actually happening in the text?  Jesus is walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee when he encounters these men who will be his disciples.  We don’t really hear if he has interacted with Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John in the past.  However, what we do know is that the disciples were not plucked out of some seminary or discipleship training school. There was not a job interview or a competency exam.  Jesus came to them right in the middle of what they were doing.  Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things.  They were not called based on their stellar qualifications.  And as the Gospel of Matthew moves along, we hear that the disciples are just human.  They repeatedly fail to notice that Jesus is the Messiah.  They just cannot seem to get their heads around the fact that he is a different kind of King and isn’t going to take down their enemies in some show of force.  They fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks them several times to stay awake.  Simon Peter, one of the first disciples called by Jesus as we hear today, will go on to deny Jesus three times.  Another disciple, Judas, will actually betray Jesus. 
If Jesus was using accomplishments to grade the effectiveness of the disciples, they would have failed.  But they were NOT called to DO.  They were called to BE.  To be in relationship with Jesus and with all people in the kingdom of God.  Just as we are called to be in relationship with Jesus and with those whom Jesus loves. This is not the sort of personal relationship with Jesus Christ where Jesus is your best friend or your therapist or your fairy Godmother who gives you everything you want if you just pray for it in the right way. This is the sort of real and raw relationship where you die to yourself and what you think you want, and that space of self-determination is filled with Christ.  When your hardened heart is broken and is replaced with a new and tender heart of God’s own, which feels the pain of the world and is moved to love in spite of itself.
We are not called to DO, we are called to BE.  We often want to equate vocation, one’s call to be of service to God in the world, with occupation.  I remember around the time I was graduating from College, when I was looking for the dream job which would be my vocation, my younger sister Katie said something that I will never forget. Katie did not go to college right away.   She went to cosmetology school and at the time I was looking for what I considered my dream job that would change the world, she was working in a hair salon.  It was not a fulfilling job.  It was long hours, grueling work, and often thankless. Katie told me that your vocation was not what you do for work, but how you are connected to other people.  So after many hours of cutting hair and standing on her feet, Katie would volunteer at a nursing home to cut and style the hair of the residents.  She would make residents feel special and beautiful, in a place where many people feel forgotten.  Katie taught me that vocation uses your gifts and qualifications, but more importantly, it uses your connectedness to other human beings. Katie has since moved onto college and graduate school and has taken this understanding of vocation into her career as a speech pathologist, but I will never forget what she taught me. 
            So all of us gathered here are called to different vocations in service as disciples.  Some of us have occupations that match up with our vocations.  Some of us do not.  But what we have in common is a sense of connectedness with the people of God.  So how are you being called into relationship with others in the name of Christ?  How is God inviting you to use your gifts as a disciple? 
But, we all protest, what if I am not useful enough?  Let’s entertain a metaphor.  This quilt that I made ten years ago,  , this was my very first attempt at such a complex sewing project.  As you can see, the squares don’t match up.  The colors don’t exactly align.  This quilt is not perfect.  But its imperfections do not render it useless. Despite the fact that it doesn’t look quite right, it’s been on my bed or on my couch or accompanied me on dozens of picnics for the last decade. 
            People of God, we are like this quilt. We have lots of little pieces that make us who we are.  Sometimes they are messy.  Sometimes they are broken.  But they make up one splendid whole that God uses for good in the world.  We all have a vocation to be disciples. So...go and do likewise!

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