Old Testament Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm Psalm 27:1, 5-13
Epistle 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23
“That we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week, in the gospel according to John, we heard how John the Baptist saw Jesus after his Baptism and could not help but blurt out, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples, one of whom was Andrew, immediately followed Jesus. Andrew was so moved, he went to tell his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” And Peter also followed.
Today, in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus hears John the Baptist has been arrested, and moves from Nazareth to Galilee. In this account, John the Baptist is obviously not present, but Jesus takes up his proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus sees two brothers, Andrew and Simon Peter. They are fishermen, and they are fishing, because that’s what fishermen do. Jesus meets them right where they are and calls them with the inherent gifts they possess. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus sees another fishing family, brothers James and John, with their father Zebedee. They are mending nets. If you are fishing for people, those who can handle nets would be helpful. Jesus calls them, and they immediately leave behind the only life they have known and follow.
These two stories of the calling of Andrew and Peter seem to contradict one another. Which version gets it right? All sorts of possibilities might allow these accounts to coexist. Perhaps the disciples encounter Jesus first in the presence of John, but the commitment to follow doesn’t stick. Perhaps they struggle between following John the Baptist and following this newcomer Jesus. Perhaps only when John has been imprisoned and his ministry seems lost are they willing to take a risk. We can only imagine the details, and how it really happened.
Rather than dwell on the details of which story is true, perhaps we should recognize the truth in both stories. While it was customary in Jewish circles for disciples to seek out their teacher, Jesus takes the initiative by choosing and summoning his disciples. Often those chosen do not know they are seeking, or being sought. Jesus starts with our existing relationships, such as brothers, and transforms them into the inner circle of Christ’s body. Jesus starts with our existing vocations, meeting us where we are, knowing that all created in God’s image have something of value for the mission. When face to face with God incarnate, there is an attractiveness and persuasiveness of Jesus that is hard to resist. It compels us to leave our old lives behind to follow. Jesus bids us follow, and calls us to be part of a mission bigger than ourselves, to invite others as we have been invited. Our decision to follow starts a chain reaction that reaches through temporal, spatial, and physical realities. Despite the many wrong turns, shortcomings, and shameful misunderstandings throughout the history of Christianity, we continue to follow and invite others into the unexpected, puzzling, spectacular, unearned grace of God who loves and saves us.
The truth in these stories of calling is that discipleship and evangelism are the same call. They are inseparable. Last week, I mentioned evangelism and many clutched their pearls. On member of the congregation even clutched his chest. Episcopalians sometimes view evangelism as a dirty word, assuming it requires holding up “John 3:16” signs, preaching on street corners, or knocking door to door. This is how some perceive their call to evangelism. A man was once criticized for his method of evangelism. He replied, "I agree. I don't like the way I do it either. How do you do it?" The critic replied, "I don't do it." He countered, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
Perhaps we need to redefine evangelism, so it might be more palatable to actually do it. Tom Bracket offered one definition of evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” He then refined this definition to “one beggar telling another beggar where he just found bread.” The second description makes it personal. Any of us could mechanically offer directions. “Go three blocks down and the soup kitchen is in the big church on the corner.” Imagine one homeless person encountering another, and telling his brother or sister of the streets, “You must go to the soup kitchen three blocks down in the corner church. They invited me in and offered me a seat out of the cold, wet weather. They set a hot bowl of soup in front of me, with a warm, steaming piece of bread. Then, one of them asked my name! They told me they were glad to see me and I was welcome in this space. After the meal, they asked about my well being, and offered a hat and gloves as I went back out into the streets. I felt like a human being.”
Discipleship focuses all our efforts. All of our discerning, planning, and ministry mean nothing if it does not begin with one simple action. Immediately dropping what you are doing, all your hopes and dreams and fears, and following Christ. Evangelism is simply telling the stories of your journey, your encounters of the living God, and inviting others to come and see. Jesus told His story with His life. It started with gathering a few people together and forming a community. This is our example. This is how we do it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the call to "follow me" is a call "to absolute discipleship." Jesus calls us radically to be radical. Our call is not to a destination, but to a quest. We are not called to be solo heroes in an epic novel, but to be companions in a company of sojourners. We are called to be seekers and finders, as we are being sought and found. We are called to be story tellers.
Anglican Bishop and biblical scholar N.T. Wright notes that Jesus' message in the gospels is not a reference guide about how to go to heaven. It is not about "our escape from one world into another one, but a guide to God's sovereign rule coming 'on earth as it is in heaven'." Today's lesson is not pointing to future salvation, but to contemporary action. Today's lesson is about fishing for people.
We go fishing by telling our stories, inviting others into the loving net of God’s people. A group of Christians were holding a bible study at the church, focusing on a text about giving to the poor. A few of the people left the church with a plan to order pizza to be delivered to one person’s house. They would arrive when the pizza arrived and eat together and continue their discussion. A beggar approached them and asked if they could spare any change. Convicted by their studies, they emptied their pockets of spare change and held it out to the beggar and said, “Here, take what you need.” The beggar’s eyes grew wide, and he took all that they offered. He was only a few steps away, when they realized their plan included using a pay phone to call for the pizza and they had just given away all their change. One person, embarrassingly, called out to the beggar, and said, “Excuse me, but we need a quarter to make a phone call. The beggar turned around, held out all the change, and said, “Here, take what you need.”
What is your God story? Can you recount at least one? Do you remember a time when you were called? Did you answer? What happened? Our God stories often start with familiar relationships ... sometimes with strangers. Our God stories often happen in our everyday lives, doing the most ordinary things, when the extraordinary of the divine suddenly, unexpectedly breaks into our lives. Our time together in this community is about being together intentionally, paying attention to God in our lives, being amazed, and sharing with others. Sometimes, telling our God story is beyond words, and lies in our actions of love, compassion, and service. Other times, no words are necessary. We can tell the story of God’s abiding love simply by listening, holding space, hearing another’s story, perhaps a journey of pain, suffering, or rejection, and offering compassion, acceptance, and love. Perhaps the greatest story we can tell is to embody the salve of God’s saving love, to become for another the balm in Gilead.
We are all called to be disciples. We are all called to be evangelists. We all have God stories to share. We are all equipped to go about the mission. We are crowned and called. We are anointed and appointed. We are saved and sent. We are redeemed and refueled to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Amen.