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Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jan 26, 2020

Passage: Matthew 4:12-23

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year A (2019-2020)

Category: Epiphany

Detail:

Sermon for The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A - 2019)
January 26th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)
Annual Parish Meeting

Isaiah 9:1-4        1 Corinthians 1:10-18        Matthew 4:12-23

There was a church once that had to call an emergency board meeting so that their leaders could address an issue that was affecting the whole congregation. Because the issue was time sensitive, the pastor decided that the best course of action would be to make an announcement during that Sunday’s worship that the board meeting would take place immediately following the service. So at the end of the sermon the pastor told the congregation that the church board would meet after the service, so would all the board members please stay after to attend. 

After the close of the service, members of the Church Board gathered at the back of the church for the announced meeting. But there was a stranger in their midst — a visitor who had never even attended their church before. “Friend,” said the pastor, “Didn’t you understand that this is a meeting just for the Board?” “Yes,” said the visitor, “and after today’s sermon, I suppose I’m just about as bored as anyone else who came to this meeting.”

With this morning being the occasion of our annual parish meeting, I cannot help but wonder at the gospel reading for today. As in, I wonder whether Peter, Andrew, James, and John had any idea that when they left their fishing boats that they’d be starting something that would wind up including annual parish meetings and voting on budgets and bylaws. Some of you who have attended annual parish meetings elsewhere might be thinking, “Well, if they had known that, they might have just kept right on fishing!” But even if you’re not a fan of church business meetings, I think that this morning’s Gospel lesson gives us some things to wonder about. 

So I hope that you’ll do some wondering with me. To begin, I wonder what we might hear if we asked Andrew and Peter about how they first came to follow Jesus. 

Assuming that they were “simple fisher-folk,” as the hymn says, I imagine that they would say something like, “Well, it started when we heard about John the Baptist. We heard he preached a good sermon, and we went to see him, and we liked his message about repentance. We got to know some of the other people who went out to see him, and we made some good friends. We even got a little excited when Jesus showed up and John started talking about him being somebody special. But we never really thought much of it. We kinda figured that if we listened to John and tried to get our lives straightened out that we’d be a little better off. But we didn’t reckon on much beyond that. Besides, John went and got himself arrested, so we thought that would be the end of it. We’d repented, and we were a little more at ease with the world, so we just went back to our boats and started fishing like we always had. We figured if Jesus really was who John said he was, then he’d go on to do great things and that he’d be more interested in making friends with rich folks in the city. No point in making time for a bunch of nobodies like us.”

Do you think that might have been something that they would have said? And can you hear yourself saying pretty much the same thing? I’m convinced that most of us at least start out in our lives of faith in much the same way. We’re comfortable with church. We like the company. The sermons aren’t half bad. There’s a good message that we need to get right with God and be kind to other people, but that’s about it. Once the service is over, we can go back to doing what we’re doing, and we don’t expect our relationship with God to make much of an intrusion in our lives. Because why should it? Why should God take any interest in me? I’m not anyone important, so why should God bother to call me out and ask me to do anything special?  

If those are thoughts that have ever crossed your mind, then I want you to know that you are not alone. In Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus calling the first disciples, Peter essentially says to Jesus, “Go away from me! I’m not good enough!” And I think that many of us have the same attitude. Lord, I’m not good enough to tell others about the good news, so don’t ask! Lord, I’m not good enough to teach others about the faith, so don’t ask! Lord, I’m not good enough to care for the needs of others, so don’t ask! Lord, I’m not good enough to lead others in prayer, so don’t ask! Like Peter, we’re convinced that there’s no way God would be able to use people like us, so we basically say to God, “Don’t waste your time on me.” 

Only that’s exactly what God does. 

If you think about James and John, the other two disciples that Jesus called away from their fishing careers that morning, then you may recall that Jesus wound up giving them the nickname “Boanerges” or “sons of thunder.” The reason he gave them that nickname is because at one point, James and John wanted to call down fire and brimstone from heaven to destroy people who rejected Jesus’ message. And my guess is that they had that fiery attitude long before Jesus ever came a-calling. So I also wonder what we might hear if we asked James and John about how they felt when Jesus asked them to follow.  

I imagine they would have said something like, “We knew that the world was just a rotten place. We knew that the powerful only care about power and that they don’t care about truth or righteousness, and there was no way that we could make a difference. Our lives were a mess anyway. So we just figured that if God was going to get involved, he’d get involved in a BIG way; you know, like with lightning and hailstones and plagues and things like that. No way did we think that God would waste time recruiting insignificant fishermen like us to preach goods news to the poor. After all, wouldn’t it have been much easier just to come down with a host of angels to terrorize humanity and cow us all into submission? Since the world is in such a mess to begin with, why would God want to get involved in the mess instead of just wiping it all away with a swish of his hand?” 

Do you think that might have been something that they would have said? And can you hear yourself saying pretty much the same thing? When you look at the world around us, it’s tempting to think that there’s just so much wrong with it that the only way it can ever be fixed is through a terrifying act of divine intervention. We might even feel our own lives are such a mess that any good works we might do are too insignificant to make a difference. And we might be left with the disheartening thought that Jesus’ whole mission was nothing but a waste of time after all. 

Yes, we might be left with that thought. Unless there is something TO God choosing what is the least. Unless there is something TO God wasting time on those whom we’d never suspect would amount to much. Even us. Unless there is something TO God’s wanting even the least of us to follow because God knows where to lead us and God knows what even the least of us is capable of. Unless there is something TO the small acts of kindness and charity through which the gospel is spread. If there’s something TO that, then all of our objections about not being worthy or not being ready or not knowing how to follow or thinking we're a waste of God’s time don’t amount to a hill of beans.  

So there’s one last thing I’d invite you to wonder about this morning. As you go back to mending your nets, what will you do when Jesus asks you to follow?