3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 26, 2014
Simply out of curiosity about the unusual-looking church in her neighborhood, journalist, leftist, skeptic Sara Miles wandered into St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church on a Sunday morning. As communion was offered, a woman offered her a fresh piece of bread, “the body of Christ”. This was followed by a person with a cup containing wine, who offered it to Sara with the words, “The blood of Christ.” Sara said she was thunder-struck, as if the world had shifted, that feeling that you have when you step off the curb that you didn’t notice in front of you. She didn’t know what had happened to her, but she wanted more, she said. She came back week after week, craving more. It was the beginning of an adventure of faith that led to the opening of a food bank at St Gregory’s, and a life of faith for Sara.
Not many of us can claim such a remarkable conversion. Some us can never even pinpoint when our adventure of faith really started. Maybe you grew up in church. Maybe you were dropped of at Sunday School as a kid, and then when you began a family, you wanted church to be part of your life and the lives of your children. Maybe things got crazy for you, and you just longed for what church seemed to offer, and you showed up one morning, kind of daring God to welcome you. Maybe church let you down somewhere along the line, and you missed it and decided to try again.
Over the years I have come to believe that God is always at work, turning our hearts toward God’s love, craving the connection with something holy, and longing for a place in the universe that makes us feel as if we matter. St. Augustine says that we are created with a ‘God-sized hole’ in our hearts, a place that only God can fill, and that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.
But I guess I’m getting ahead of the story here. This morning we have the story of the first disciples according to Matthew. It reads like a Sara Miles story: Jesus is walking along and he sees these fishermen, and he says “follow me,” and they just drop what they are doing and go with him. “Immediately they left their boat….,” the story says. “I will make you fishers of people,” Jesus tells them. There’s actually a lot in this story. John is arrested, and Jesus moves to a small town on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum to begin his ministry. It is an agricultural and fishing area, and the town of Bethsaida is on the same shore. The writer of this Gospel is quick to remind us of the verses we read during Advent, about the land of Zebulun and Naphtali – the land assigned to these families when the Children of Israel came up out of Egypt. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light….” When we heard this writing in Advent, it was with longing for the light to come, and now, the Evangelist is telling us, the Light is here, the Light that is the Christ. And Jesus takes up the refrain of the Baptizer who have been jailed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repent, as in wake up to a new reality. Repent, as in put on a new way of understanding the world. Repent, in the Greek implies a fundamental change in your understanding of the world and your way of being part of it. We see what the kingdom of God looks like as we see the beginning of Jesus ministry in the final verses of today’s reading. He is teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, curing every sickness and disease among the people.
And now we meet the first disciples. It’s hard for most of us to relate to the ‘immediately’ part of this story told so compactly in these few verses. We think of the gradualness of our lives of faith. There have been times when we were fervent, and time when we were more cool. Our commitment to God has waxed and waned, sometimes more intellectual, sometimes more emotional, sometimes very present and sometimes very distant. So we think of these disciples as a different kind of animal than we are, the kinds of believers that can just drop everything and not ever look back. Well, what if there’s a back story that we didn’t hear? What if they had already met Jesus when he moved to town? It’s a small town, after all, don’t you think they’d have noticed him? What if he was a regular customer, and they had already talked to him about what he was doing here, and expressed a desire to study with him, if only they weren’t already obligated to being in the family business? And in fact, even though they did lay down their nets that day, we have other stories that tell us that they did continue to use their boats and nets, that they did have homes that they went to. I think it makes their willingness to follow Jesus more like a story that we can connect to. We too, have committed to a life of faith and the study and worship and support of the Gospel’s work that it requires. We have walked with Jesus, too, and had our share of ups and downs. We are only human, yes? And that’s why we come here every week.
We come to remember that our call to be God’s people is a gift of grace. It is not because of anything we do, it is not because we are so smart or loving or that we have earned any consideration from God by being so upright in the world. It is simply because God loves us and wants to wrap us in that love. It is because God loves the world and wants us to be part of God’s plan to spread that love to everyone. It is because our sin is forgiven and we are free to love the people God loves that we even care about others. We have been blessed to be a blessing to the world. We are also called to be fishers for people, living out of that love that lifts us so that we can listen to and lift others. You may have heard this story in the past, thinking how different these men were from your feeble attempts to be God’s people. This morning I want you to recognize that they are really just like you, answering the call to discipleship the best they can, the best you can. And willing to answer the invitation to find the place in God’s life that is yours alone. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.