Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 26, 2014

2014.01.26 “Ordinary” – Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Central United Methodist Church


Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 4: 12 – 23

January 26, 2014


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

After last summer’s trip to the Holy Land, I was asked what I had learned. I learned a lot, but after reflecting upon it, one of the most important things I learned – or maybe should say experienced – was how ordinary it was.

Here’s two examples. We stayed in a kibbutz, Kibbutz Nof Ginosar, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Sea of Galilee from KibbutzSea of Galilee w boat & pier

Due to jet lag, every morning I woke up early (before 6) and walked out a pier that extended out into the lake. Most people consider themselves lucky to take a boat ride when they visit the Sea of Galilee; I decided to go further and take a swim.  So I dove in and swam out to a pier. As I was under the greenish-tinted water I thought, “So this is what St. Peter experienced. It looks and feels just like every other lake I’ve ever swam in.”  Ordinary.

The other was when we visited the ruins of the nearby town of Capernaum, which Jesus made his home base after Nazareth.

Sea of Galilee dig site w cross Sea of Galilee dig site

As we walked around the ruins of the town and along the shore, feeling the wind blowing off the lake and through the trees, it was easy to imagine Jesus hanging out there with Simon and Peter and Andrew and his other disciples.  It made it feel not like some imaginary story that happened long ago and far away, but real: this is the place, this is what it looked like and felt like. Ordinary.

Ordinary is not a word we usually associate with the Bible, or the people and places in it. For the most part, the Holy Land that exists in our imagination is a supernatural place, where bread falls in the wilderness and water can be walked on, a place where the dead occasionally come back to life, a place where there are more saints than sinners.  What’s ordinary about any of that?

We know ordinary, and right about now, we’ve had enough of it. The dreary weather, the snow and the cold – like what’s predicted the next two days – is about to do us in.  It makes the ordinary tasks of getting up and getting dressed and going to work and to school and to the store all that much more difficult.  A swim in the Sea of Galilee (where it’s been 70 this last week) would feel pretty extraordinary right about now, wouldn’t it?

In church, we’re also in what’s called “ordinary time.” It’s “non-special” time, not Christmas or Easter, when the days are counted by ordinal numbers, as “The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany” (which today is). Indeed, Christmas seems like a distant memory (only a month ago) and Easter is three months away. We’re way past Bethlehem, not yet headed toward Jerusalem, and we find ourselves up here in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, with the wind blowing through our hair. Can you feel it? It’s a warm wind, not at all like the arctic blast we’ve been experiencing the last few days.

Up to this point in the year our story has been ABOUT Jesus – his birth, his baptism – and we have been spectators, but as of today Jesus’ story becomes about us. Because today, Jesus invites us to follow him, to be participants in his story. All of what I’ve said so far comes down to this: Jesus called ordinary people in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things. He still does, and he’s calling us today.

I know what you are thinking. Not me, not my life!  My life is boring! I get up early, I go to work or school, I do the same things, I talk to the same people. I come home and go to bed, I get up and repeat it the next day. If you’re unemployed or retired, you may not even have that routine, only the one you improvise each day. Such that you might say, “If my life were a movie, it would be so boring, no one would watch it.”  “My life is nothing but ordinary.”

If this is true, then it may be even more important to take another look at what happened, when Jesus called his disciples.

Let me repeat my thesis: Jesus called ordinary people in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things.

Ordinary people. When Jesus gets around to inviting people to share his mission, whom does he invite? Bishops? Priests? Ph.D’s? Lawyers? Educated people? Wealthy people? Blue-collar people? Nope – no-collar people – fishermen. If there had been fisherwomen, he would have called them too, because if it wasn’t for the women who followed him, the whole thing would have probably have failed early on, including the resurrection.

Usually when we read and hear this story, we express surprise at how quickly and easily, Jesus disciples’ accepted his invitation:  “Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”  Immediately?

But there seems to be a consensus among scholars that this lakeside invitation was likely a point along the way, rather than at the very beginning. Given that Jesus had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, at that time was estimated to have a population of a thousand people or so, it would be outlandish if Jesus hadn’t already met Simon, and Peter, and Andrew, maybe at synagogue (although, since they were fishermen, I doubt it), or maybe on the beach, or maybe at the Capernaum Starbucks (I understand that’s still awaiting excavation). So maybe this was the day he issued the invitation, and they accepted.

After all, isn’t that the way we do invitations?  If a car pulls up and a stranger offers a ride, are you going to get in? Who accepts an invitation from a complete stranger? And usually when we do accept an invitation, it’s because someone we know and like invites us to do something we are already interested in.

So maybe Jesus invited not the rich and the wealthy and the educated, but ordinary people, because they were his friends. They accepted, for the same reason. Which didn’t happen instantly, suddenly, but on the basis of an established relationship. What does that tell us about how it works in our lives?  Ordinary people in ordinary relationships; that’s how the Church began; that how it grows and continues.

They were ordinary people, who lived ordinary lives. You think your life is boring, what do you think the life of a fisherman would have been?  Fishing mostly at night, sleeping in the day. (How many people work the night shift? Isn’t that a lonely life?)  Not good for your social life, probably not auspicious for a job working with people. (Good with fish, maybe; people, not so much!) Yes, it would have been a life in nature, but as we have all learned by experience (especially in the last three weeks), for what Mother Nature gives us in beauty (sunrise and sunsets), she takes away in discomfort and danger (wet, cold, wind, snow, and storms). What kind of life skills did they have to offer? What kind of resumes, what “call experience” that might qualify them for the work to which Jesus called them? So whatever it is we do, compared to them, we’re looking better all the time, qualified to be Jesus’ disciples.

Did they become super apostles of Jesus overnight? Of course not. In fact, the Gospels portray them as confused and vacillating, even returning from time to time to that which they knew best, their “ordinary” life of fishing.

There is a common perception in the spiritual life – including the life of Christian discipleship – that once we turn our life over to Jesus or accept his invitation or begin meditation or seek enlightenment, suddenly everything will change and life will become inspiring, exciting, and productive. There was once a New Yorker cartoon that portrayed this well: Two Zen monks in robes and shaved heads, one young, one old, sitting side-by-side cross-legged on the floor.  The younger one is looking quizzically at the older one, turned toward him, saying: “Nothing happens next. This is it.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, p. 14)

Even as Jesus disciples, they did not understand what it mean to follow Jesus overnight, but over time, day by day as they spent time with him, and after he had gone, faithfully practicing that which they had learned. The same as us.  Ordinary people living ordinary lives.

Finally, while they were ordinary people, called while doing ordinary things, what extraordinary mission were they called to?  To become “fishers of people.”

Isn’t it great that Jesus called them in terms they could understand, even if they couldn’t foresee what it would mean or where it would lead? The day we were at Capernaum, because of the wind on the sea, the lake was filled not with fishermen, but wind-surfers. I’d be curious to see what Jesus would do with that? Wind-surf for Jesus?  “Come with me; I’ll teach you to catch men and women, not wind and waves.”

In retrospect, isn’t it kind of funny? His first disciples were not initially called by Jesus to do most of the things we associate with Church: not to build and manage buildings, not to raise budgets, not to form congregations and denominations, not to certify and ordain clergy, but to fish for – to work with – people.

According to this initial invitation to discipleship as Jesus extended it, it requires two things: One, to follow Jesus, and two, people. If you’ve got any people in your life at all, including family, friends, or the people with whom you work, you can follow Jesus and do what he calls us to do.  Because “fishing for people” is not so much about “fishing for Jesus” – in the sense of catching and converting people, as we have often interpreted it, as it is about relationships, loving your neighbor as yourself. To love people and help people and learn from people. The emphasis in the phrase is not on “fishing,” it is upon “people.”

In fact, according to Jesus’ invitation, it doesn’t even require you know HOW to fish for people. Jesus says, “If you follow me, I’ll show you.” According to our reading, Jesus lost no time in giving them their first lessons on what “fishing for people” might mean. He took them on a tour of the surrounding area, “teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Hmmm – not just seeking to make converts, but feeding people’s minds, freeing people’s spirits, healing people’s bodies. This “fishing for people” thing WAS going to be a lot more complicated than they thought.

Just as getting to know Jesus and accepting his invitation to follow, takes time, so does “fishing for people.” It’s hit and miss, trial and error, success and failure. Why? Because people – and relationships with people – are always messy and complicated, and while some people are easy to love, others are not, as we all have found.

In the most recent Christian Century magazine, Brian Doyle elaborates:

“Aw, it’s easy to love Mr. C., as he’s the guy who cheerfully lends his tools to everyone on the street and gives away hatfuls of fresh redolent summer-savory tomatoes.  He’s the kind of guy who has an extra set of tire chains in his garage for when you suddenly have to drive over the mountain to retrieve a sick kid from college, and he says ah keep ‘em until spring, son – it’s not like I need him.  It’s easy to love that guy.

It’s not as easy to love Mrs. M., who is a ferocious bitter snide supercilious gossip and lives to intimate darkly that easy drugs and easier sex are rife among the teenagers in the neighborhood.  But it can be done, if you just smile and grind your teeth, and consider that at least she is not heavily armed, or the governor, or in charge of the national Twitter feed.

And it’s just stone-cold not easy to love the guy down the street who parks all his huge vehicles in front of everyone else’s house and was caught once dumping motor oil in the creek, and who more than once has spent the night passed out cold in the moonscape of his garden. But you endure him, you say hey when you pass him in the street, and you talk a little sports, on the general theory that any flash of humanity might cool him out and maybe make him stop parking his Starfleet in front of tiny Mrs. H.’s cottage.” (Brian Doyle, Notes on Loving Your Neighbor, the Christian Century, January 22, 2014, Vol. 131, No. 2)

So, we discover what Jesus’ first disciples discovered: this “fishing for people” thing is not as easy as it sounds, intent upon it though we may be. But just as Jesus called ordinary people in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things, I think – with his help, as we follow him – even we can do it.  Don’t you?


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