Sermon from Sunday 26th January

Sermon                 Matthew 4 : 12 - 23

Our gospel today starts with a tale which, unless we have grown too familiar with it over the year, might seem shocking in its simplicity.  Let’s imagine for a moment – a little scenario.  Jesus, spurred into action by news of the arrest of his cousin John, has begun to preach the same simple message that John had proclaimed: “Turn from your sins, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”  He was certainly not the first to say such things, but he said it with such calm authority, and backed it us with such a simple lifestyle, that people took notice and word quickly spread.

Then, as Jesus walked along the shores of Lake Galilee, he spotted two brothers, Andrew and Simon, at work in their boats.  Jesus approached them and said; “come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.”  The brothers looked at each other, then they looked at Jesus, then looked back at each other again.  They each knew what the other was feeling, the same sense of excitement was rising within them, the same host of possibilities began racing through their minds, as the adrenaline started to course through their veins.  They saw prospect of spending more time with this man they found both inspiring and intriguing.  In that moment, they glimpsed idea of leaving behind the hard routine of a fisherman’s life to do something dramatic and adventurous, something of real significance.  In a moment it all seemed to make sense, it all seemed so right.  Yet they also began to wonder about how they would survive, living on the road, what they would eat, whether they would miss friends and families too much.  So for a few moments they pondered.  Then they said to Jesus – “thanks for the invitation.  We really do appreciate it, and maybe at another time we would say yes, but for now, we’d better stay here and get these nets sorted out.”  So Jesus walks on a bit and sees two other brothers working at their family boat.  He called to James and John, offering them the same invitation.  They also caught a sudden glimpse of great possibilities, but then they looked back at their father, and didn’t think in all fairness that they could just go and leave him to fend for himself.  So they told Jesus that they would just stay with their father, at least for now.

That retelling of the story doesn’t sound so improbable, does it?  Perhaps it sounds a bit more realistic that what the gospel does tell us.  Let’s be honest, if someone you had met only a few weeks ago approached you, and invited you to leave everything behind and go off on some venture that was only vaguely defined, how would you respond?  I for one would have a substantial list of questions.  I would have plenty of things to resolve on the domestic front before I could be so cavalier.  It is hard to imagine being able to act so impulsively.

So we might read the story in the gospel and be impressed with the faith or the commitment of the disciples, and we might even envy their sense of freedom, but that isn’t really the point.  The story is not there to impress us with the faithfulness of the disciples.  It is there to tell us something about Jesus.  The story is there to let us know that when people came into contact with him they were touched by something very special, something liberating, something life changing.  That was what was on offer to those who met Jesus, and we are left with the clear implication, that is still what is offer whenever we encounter him.

I offered my little alternative scenario at the beginning just to remind us how easy it would have been for those four men to have missed the moment, how easy it would have been for them to have had any positive visions closed off by more immediate concerns.  We know that to be true, because we know what our own lives are like, how many things we are caught up in, how difficult it can be for us to find the time for anything new, how uncomfortable we can be with anything that involves change.

There are some today who could tell stories which would be similar to those of Andrew and Simon, James and John; people who have sensed a call of God which seemed so immediate and so urgent that they had to respond and to take their lives in a different direction as a result.  We are, I suspect, unlikely to be called to do anything so dramatic, but we are likely, I would suggest, to be called to do something.  If we live in the company of Jesus, we are likely to be called to do something.  It might be to pray, or to learn.  It might be to work in a particular job, or be a friend to a particular person.  It might be to support a campaign, or get involved in a project.  It might be to do something in the church, or outside the church.  It could be any number of things that we might suddenly feel sure is the right thing for us to be doing right now.

Have you, like me, had the experience of being away at gathering somewhere, or listening to someone speak, or reading a book, some kind of experience which fills you with enthusiasm.  You start to sense all sorts of possibilities, you start planning in your mind the new things you are going to do.  But somehow a week later it is little more than a memory, as you get sucked in again to the routine and the busyness, and you are left only half aware that you might be feeling a bit unfulfilled.

How often, I wonder, are we called to do something, but somehow, miss the moment.  How easily the same could have happened for our four fishermen.  Yet that was not what happened.  Something in Jesus’ approach had touched them in a special way, and they knew this was the right thing to do.  Perhaps more significantly, once they knew what was the right thing to do, they had the courage to do it.  They fully committed themselves to the way of discipleship.  They answered the call in the most positive way, and put their future in Jesus’ hands.  Our call may not be so dramatic, but I believe, if we live in the company of Jesus, we are all going to be called to do something, because that is the pattern that we see throughout the gospels.

For the disciples, such commitment meant they must be ready to get up and go.  For the man cured of demon possession it meant going back to his home village.  For the rich young ruler it meant being willing to let go of his possessions.  For Zacheaus it meant changing his cheating ways.  For the woman caught in adultery it meant accepting forgiveness and sinning no more.  And for you… and for me… what might it mean?  Even here, even now, even with the lives we are living today, what might there be that you sense a divine call to do?

Answering the call of God means committing yourself to something more than your own comfort and security.  It might mean giving things up.  It certainly means being willing to give things up, even if you do it in the faith that such things will be returned to you a thousand fold.  It might mean giving things up – as it did for the fishermen, but it will certainly mean taking things up – as it did for the fishermen.

This sort of the call has echoed down the ages and found a resonance within many souls.  And when we recognise that resonance within us, we can feel some kind of surge of excitement.  Because in some deep, invisible inward place, we recognise that life doesn’t have to be restricted to routine and limited possibilities.  We recognise that the longing we have always been aware of but rarely able to define, might actually be urging us towards some particular purpose.  We recognise that our frustrations about the way the world is might really have a solution and that we might yet play a part in it.  We can feel the rising sense of excitement, and we will surely respond to the call.  Or will we let the beauty of the moment be drowned by the abundance of smaller concerns.  Will our fear of having to let go cause us to miss the moment - when the moment comes?

Let’s be clear, when the first disciples answered the call of Jesus so positively, they did not find instant satisfaction.  it did not bring then the reward of a calm and happy life.  They did, however, find more than they could possibly have imagined.  He called them to service, and in serving they discovered what life is really all about.  Because they were willing to lose their lives they found life that was eternal.  So when we respond positively to such calls, be they great or humble, we can expect to find no more - and no less.

And remember, we are not told why Jesus chose to approach those individuals, and not any of the others who must have been milling around.  We are not told they were more pious, or kind, or thoughtful, or brave, or intelligent than others.   Jesus did not select the elite.  The reasons for his choices remain firmly on the divine side of the mystery, not ours.  It must be enough to accept the fact that within the wisdom of God, we are called.   Our calling does not rest on any virtue of ours, but within God’s mysterious grace.

What might you be called to do, today, or tomorrow, or soon?  What will you actually do about it?