Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 23, 2011

2011.01.23 “Call to Adventure” – Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Central United Methodist Church

“Call to Adventure”

Matthew 4: 12 – 23

January 23, 2011

“Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.  This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:

          Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea,

          across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,

            the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light,

            and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.

          From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

As Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people.”

– Matthew 4: 12 – 23, The Message

       Once a year, Jesus stops by, asking us to drop whatever we are doing and follow him. According to the Gospels, that’s how it happened long ago, and through the Gospel, Jesus still summons us today.

        For most of us, such a summons would raise questions and demand answers. In the Gospel, however, one of the most striking aspects of the story is that no questions were asked. Not Peter or Andrew, not James or John ever says, “And you are exactly who, now?” “Asking us to do what?”  It says that “right away” and “immediately” they left their nets and their boats and their families and their obligations and followed Jesus, no questions asked.

        Who would be so naïve?  Do you respond to any stranger who asks? Do you give to every street beggar who solicits you? Even if you do, you certainly would not follow them anywhere. In most cities of the world, including Chicago, that’s only going to turn out badly.

        If Jesus were standing before us, summoning us to follow, what questions might we ask? In asking such questions, we will clarify who he is, and what he’s asking of us.

        The first and most logical question might be, “Who are you?”

        As those of you who here last Sunday know, The Gospel of John has a different call story, suggesting that Jesus’ first disciples may have been introduced to him by John the Baptist. 

        But according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s, this was their first encounter with him.  While they might have heard of him, nothing in the story suggests they had. So it is all the more surprising they went with him so spontaneously, without question.

        Most of us, of course, know who he is, this stranger, having have heard the story over and again.  Because we know who he is, it is hard to read the story with any original naiveté.

        And in fact, most of us, at some point or another, have regarded Jesus’ call and said “Yes.” It may not have been suddenly and blindly as the disciples did, it may have been slowly, over time.  Something in our soul said “yes”, and we began to follow, although we may have known as little about Jesus as his first disciples did, what following him would mean, or where it would lead.

        But the reality of faith is this: following Jesus is never a “one time” decision. Following Jesus is like the philosophy of twelve steps groups: it is always one day at a time.  Some days we do well; others not so much. It has been this way for 2,000 years; as we learn when we read St. Paul’s letter to those early Christians struggling in Corinth: “You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.”

        To hear over and again, therefore, the invitation to follow Christ, is always timely, inviting us to ask anew, “How are we doing?” If our answer is less than perfect, what changes do we need to make, what hinders us that we need to drop, what practices do we need to adopt, that will help us follow more perfectly.

        When my family goes to Paris, on Sunday morning we go to Mass at Notre Dame, which at 10 o’clock is a mass in Gregorian style.  Imagine if you will, coming up from the Paris Metro, to be summoned by the massive bells in the bell towers, calling us to worship.  Imagine one of the largest and most beautiful organs in the world playing the prelude.  Imagine the procession of the participants, lead by the cross and the holy Gospels, smell the incense as they pass. Imagine the female cantor singing a beautiful, ethereal Gregorian chant. It was both multisensory and transcendent, so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes and made me feel like our service is so prosaic, I might as well quit. Of course, I know that while we may not rival Notre Dame, in terms of the resources we have, we do OK. As we did Wednesday during the funeral of our friend Irv.

Such an experience for me – as a pastor, getting away – only reminds me that I too am a follower of Jesus, sometimes needing to sit in the pews, hear Jesus’ call, and recommit myself to the journey.

        The second question most of us might want to ask Jesus is this: What does it mean to follow?

        For most of us, our fear about following Jesus is that it will lead to something extreme: we just can’t see ourselves as those obnoxious evangelists we see on TV or meet on the streets. 

        My family met one Monday night, at O’Hare airport.  We were waiting for the shuttle bus to our car.  It was 11 o’clock at night, 32 degrees and snowing (after Paris’ mid 50’s and sunny), we’d been up almost 24 hours, and we’d been waiting outside for the shuttle over 30 minutes. Enter Keith. I’m guessing Keith was a homeless man, because he was soliciting offerings for the Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago. Keith took up a position about 5 feet in front of the six of us who were waiting, in a loud voice introduced himself, and started his speal.  Now, most of you know that most of the time I try to be a nice guy, but being cold and tired and distracted, if he’d only shut up for a minute, what I wanted to say, “Keith, now is not the time: MOVE IT ALONG!”  Fortunately he did that, moving on to the people waiting for the Crown Plaza shuttle instead of us waiting for the Holiday Inn shuttle. If following Jesus means doing what Keith did, most of us would say count me out.

        Such would also be the case if it means leaving everything behind, like those first disciples:  their nets, their boats, their obligations, even their families.  After all, most of us like our jobs, love our spouses and families, and do not consider abandoning them to be even a remotely Christian thing to do.  (Although we all have days when we might entertain the possibility.)

        To what does Jesus call us?  Too often, we answer that question in terms in answers too small. Some Christians might say we are called to belief; others might say to church membership; others might say service.  All of these fall short of what Jesus was about.

        In the Gospels, the goal of Jesus’ work was the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven), which Jesus proclaimed as near.  As Anglican bishop and Bible scholar N.T. Wright notes, Jesus’ references to the kingdom of God are not teachings about “our escape from this world into another one, but about God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is about living life as life would be if God were in charge.

        As high sounding as it sounds, what it is about is daily life and ordinary people. It’s about doing what Jesus did: teaching those who are seeking, healing those who are ill, whether in body, mind, or spirit; loving those who are loveless, practicing the kingdom of God. These are things all of us – ordinary people – can do. Those first disciples, I remind you, were not cultured people, educated people, ordained people, they were fishermen: ordinary people just like us.

        The last question we might ask is this: Where will it lead?  Truth is, it’s impossible to say. 

        Joseph Campbell, who did groundbreaking work into the archetypal stories found in cultures around the world, spoke of such moments in stories – the beginning of something – as a Call to Adventure. Campbell said that such moments signify that “destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity to a zone unknown.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.)

        Many stories begin with such a Call to Adventure.  For two modern examples, in the movie The Matrix, Neo is sought out by Morpheus, who joins others in telling Neo that he is called to change the world. In both the movie and film versions of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins is urged by the wizard Gandalf to leave behind his comfortable existence and set out on a quest.  In both cases, the characters are confronted with a call that will change their lives completely.

        So does this call to follow Christ; it is for all of us no less than a Call to Adventure. The German Lutheran pastor martyred by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says that Jesus’ call to “follow me” is a call to “absolute discipleship,” and that only in surrendering ourselves to Jesus’ command can we, paradoxically, know our greatest joy. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 1959)

        Each year when I preach this story, I quote the words of musician, theologian, and missionary, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), one of my absolute favorite quotes, which we used as our call to worship.  This year I felt particularly close to Schweitzer (who died when I was 14), having just visited St. Sulpice Church in Paris, where Schweitzer once studied organ. 

Noted preacher and storyteller Fred Craddock was twenty when he read Albert Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus. He says he found Schweitzer’s Christology woefully lacking – more water than wine.  So he marked in the book, wrote in the margins, raised questions of all kinds. 

        One day, he read in the Knoxville News-Sentinel that Albert Schweitzer was going to be in Cleveland, Ohio, to play the dedicatory concert for an organ in a big church up there.  According to the article, Schweitzer would remain afterward in the fellowship hall for conversation and refreshment.

        So Craddock bought a Greyhound bus ticket and went to Cleveland.  All the way up there he worked on this Quest for the Historical Jesus.  He laid out his questions, even had them on a separate sheet of paper, making reference to the page numbers: “You said . . .” Because he figured, if there was a conversation in the fellowship hall, there’d be room for a question or two. 

        So he went there, heard the concert; rushed into fellowship hall, got a seat in the front row, and waited with his lap full of questions. 

        After a while, says Craddock, Schweitzer came in, shaggy hair, big white mustache, stooped, and seventy-five years old.  He had played a marvelous concert. He was a master organist, medical doctor, philosopher, biblical scholar, lecturer, writer, everything. He came in with a cup of tea and some refreshments and stood in front of the group, and there I was, close.

Dr. Schweitzer thanked everybody: “You’ve been very warm, hospitable to me.  I thank you for it, and I wish I could stay longer among you, but I must go back to Africa. I must go back to Africa because my people are poor and diseased and hungry and dying, and I have to go.  We have a medical station in Lambarene.  If there’s anyone here in this room who has the love of Jesus, would you be prompted by that love to go with me and help me?” 

        Says Craddock, I looked down at my questions; they were so absolutely stupid.  And I learned, again, what it means to be Christian and had hopes that I could be that someday.” (Craddock Stories, Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, Editors, pp. 125 – 126.)

        When we hear the call to follow Jesus, maybe our questions are just stupid.  Maybe we just need to learn what it is to be Christian, to follow Jesus, and set out on the adventure, hoping to be Christian someday.  Amen.

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