Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 22, 2017

2017.01.22 “God’s Call: That For Which We are Made” – Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Central United Methodist Church
God’s Call: That For Which We are Made
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 4: 12 – 23
January 22nd, 2017

seaofgalilee

When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills.  This move completed Isaiah’s sermon:

Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
road to the sea, over Jordan,
Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up.

This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.

From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.
(Matthew 4: 12 – 23, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

 

Week by week as I prepare sermons on what are – after 43 years of preaching – familiar texts, I look back through my files to see what I have said in the past. Thanks to electronic file storage I have almost two decades of services and sermons in my computer, and another 20 years worth in paper files before that, including sermons written on typewriters.(Anybody remember typewriters?) How many of those sermons are worth repeating? Not many, because while the substance may remain the same, the context has changed.

What I am often amazed at is as I approach a text, an idea or title will come to mind, only to discover that it was an idea or a title I used 15 years ago; somehow those neural pathways are still intact; how much longer I don’t know. How crazy is that; I can’t remember where I left my phone, but I can remember a sermon title from 15 years ago?

What I find most humbling is this: while the texts are the same; the people and the congregations and the contexts continually change. As we hear the scriptures week by week and year by year, babies are born, children and youth grow up, marriages are performed, and funerals are held. Us preachers change congregations; looking out upon a new set of faces, all of whom remain in our minds, along with those old sermon titles. Celebrations are held (Cubs win the World Series); tragedies and wars happen (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sandy Hook). And this: Presidents and administrations come and go; inaugurations are held and Presidents get on Marine One and fly away. Michele and I got married on Inauguration Day 2001, the inauguration of George W. Bush. Yesterday, on Inauguration Day 2017, the inauguration of Donald Trump; we celebrated our 16th anniversary. Every four years I wish we had gotten married on a different day.

Through all these changes we carry on; sometimes joyfully, feeling like we are making progress; at other times sadly, feeling like we are regressing. I have always liked what a pastor said years ago in his retirement speech before Annual Conference: “I’ve served under 10 presidents, thank God I’m still an American. I’ve served under 6 bishops, thank God I’m still a Methodist. I’ve served 5 different congregations, thank God I’m still a Christian.”

Through all this – through whatever happens – as the ancient prophet Isaiah said, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God abides forever.” And so – in all contexts and in every circumstance of the vicissitudes of life – we sit in the pews to consider the call of God upon our lives, to ask what God is calling us to do next, in changing contexts. This is the case today, as we hear the familiar story of Jesus calling his disciples – and with them, us – to follow him, wherever it may lead.

Note that this development in Jesus’ life occurred after a downturn; when John the Baptist – who baptized Jesus – was arrested. Undoubtedly, that did not bode well for the future of the mission. So Jesus left Nazareth, his hometown, to move to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, perhaps where he could “lay low.” Maybe it got him to thinking, “I can’t do this by myself; if what happened to John happens to me, where will the mission be?”

And so, walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon and Andrew – fishing. Despite their lack of qualifications, Jesus called out: “Leave all thing behind, and come and follow me.” Just down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were as quick to follow, abandoning both boat and father.

For most of us, the most obvious question raised by this story is this: How could they ask no questions, and drop everything and follow? Does that make sense to you? If a car pulls up and offers you a ride, do you get in, no questions asked, even if Jesus is driving?

It’s possible we may be missing some details, such as that they already knew Jesus. But maybe it also had something to do with the dissatisfaction they had not only with their jobs but also with their lives. As St. Augustine famously said: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

It is not unusual – especially in today’s economy – to find ourselves in the same situation. We may be looking for a job, or we may have a job, but what we are really looking for is what we call a Job with a capital J: the real work of our lives, that which we are called for and indeed, made to do.

I have always appreciated how author Frederick Buechner’s expressed it in his book, Wishful Thinking:

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.  Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p. 95)

In light of this, as we consider our lives, this gives us three possibilities:

(1) We have a job in which we have found and are fulfilling the call of Jesus to us. I think, for example, of my teacher at the University of Chicago, Martin E. Marty, who used to say, “I can’t believe they pay me to do what I’d be doing even if they didn’t pay me.” Blessed are such people’ who – in my experience – are few and far between.

(2) Our job is not fulfilling the call of Jesus for us, and in fact, may even be inhibiting it, and it’s time to look for another. These are the people who come home from work each night, tired, complaining, and unhappy. If this is the case: life is too short to live this way; make a plan to move on!

Or, finally (3) What we do for our job is one thing (our job and not our life), and so we fulfill the call of Jesus in other ways.  This last category includes those retired from a “job”, at last free to make your life count in the way of your choosing; and I’m not just talking about golf.

In the new political context, this may become more important than ever. If the government is not going to protect the environment and save the planet, not going to protect the immigrant and the stranger and the refugee; not going to work toward an affordable system of health not as a option but a human right; then it falls to us, the people, to take these causes to heart. It may well be that while we have always believed these things to be important, we were too busy earning a living to do anything about it. Now would be the time to heed the call and stand up for what we believe. As Gloria Steinem, the feminist icon said yesterday to the Women’s March in Washington: “Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are; pressing ‘send’ is not enough.” (Susan Chira and Yamiche Alcindor, Defiant Voices Fill Nations Cities, the New York Times, January 21, 2017). Despite all the pessimism I have felt recently, what we saw yesterday with the Women’s Marches around the country and the world is one of the most encouraging things I have seen in a long time; people power at its best. And just to demonstrate what happens when it’s run and done by women: 500,000 people in Washington, D.C., and not ONE arrest.

steveharveytrumpIt’s like this: everyone, I presume, is familiar with the comedian and talk show host, Steve Harvey. Just last week he was invited by both presidential transitions teams – President Obama’s and President Trump’s – to visit Trump Tower and talk with Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Both teams want to enlist him to help address the need for urban renewal in major cities across the country, like Detroit and Chicago.

As you might expect, there were a lot of questions about him being there, and he was asked about it. In response, this is what he said, “There are two things in your life: ‘Your career is what you are paid for, and your calling is what you are made for.’” Steve Harvey is doing this, not because of any political allegiances, but because he experiences it as a calling: he feels like this is what he was made for. Preach it, Steve Harvey! (CBS News, January 13, 2017, (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/steve-harvey-on-his-meeting-with-donald-trump/ 

Whatever we are doing now, whatever we are being paid for, Jesus calls us, to that which we are made for. Whatever that turns out to be at the varying ages and stages of our lives, may prove surprising, even to us.

In my last church there was a man named Paul Woodward, a lifelong member of the First United Methodist Church of West Chicago. Paul was a Korean war vet, awarded the Purple Heart, and the town funeral director, so over the years he had served and taken care of many people. Paul just died last September, at the age of 86. (Paul and his wife Eileen’s anniversary was the same day as mine and Michele’s.)

In 1997, we had just completed a study of our old Church building and found it would cost a million dollars to get 30 more seats, which would not solve any of the problems of invisibility, inaccessibility, or parking. We couldn’t imagine how we would ever find an alternate site around West Chicago we could afford, so we were discouraged about what to do next.

One day my phone rang, and it was Paul. Excitedly, he excitedly said, “You have got to come and see this property!” It was at 643 E. Washington, one of the best locations in town. At that time, the entire back half of the lot was wooded, and there was a house on the property, so – driving by – nobody ever noticed it or imagined how large it was, 5.5 acres. It was for sale for $600,000, and – upon investigation – we found it was owned by a former church member, who would sell it to the church for $220,000. The church voted to buy the property and build the new First United Methodist Church, which is located there today.

Paul often told me, that despite all that he had done in his life, he thought it might be the purpose of his life to have found that property. Upon his death in September, I told this story to Pastor Nancy Rethford, and she shared it at Paul’s funeral.

We may know clearly, or we may not discover until late in life what God is calling us to do, that which we are made for. But I know this; it is never too late to discover and to answer the call to adventure: the call of God upon our life.

albert-schweitzerEvery year when I preach this sermon, I end with the words of Albert Schweitzer, one of the most famous and respected people of the 20th century. Schweitzer, who lived from 1875 to 1965, was an accomplished organist, philosopher, and theologian. As if that wasn’t enough, he gave it all up at the age of 30 to train as a physician and go to Africa as a missionary. In his most famous theological work, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer said this:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, p. 40.) Amen.

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