Notes for a message based on Matt 4:12-23 and 1 Cor 1:17; “A”–Epiphany 3

Readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

You can find these readings here:  NIV  //   ESV   ///    NRSV  // The Message

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I am always surprised and fascinated by responses from my Christian sisters and brothers to a simple question, “How did you become a believer?” Each story reflects God’s love and grace; every story is unique in its simplicity and richness of human experience; every story reflects the individuality of a person; every story reflects that person’s understanding of what God is doing in the world, in their life and through their life. Some stories are stories of dramatic suddenness; others of slow and painful struggle. Although some men and women do not remember a time when they were unbelievers, most have experienced an encounter with [a distinct event when they faced] the divine and were transformed by that encounter (Eugene Boring).

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There is however, a common thread in all these stories: people become followers of Jesus because he touched their lives. People become followers of Jesus because he called them and has spoken to them. Although not everybody describes that experience in these exact words, when Jesus talks to us, his voice is gentle, genuine, intimate, and authoritative. That voice fills every crevice of our souls and every fiber of who we are.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to break through the noise and busyness of our lives. Isn’t it just like Jesus to engage us through whatever we are preoccupied with, whether it is mending “nets,” dealing with the crisis du jour, or our simple desire to be left alone.

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That common thread of God breaking through the busyness of our lives and through whatever we are preoccupied with is so universal. It is told and retold on all continents and in all languages and in all socio-political environments. I’ve heard similar stories coming from the old country, during mission trips to Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Kentucky.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was ministering around the Sea of Galilee, and that he invited Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him and become “fishers of men and women” instead of being commercial fishermen.

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Becoming “fishers of men and women” meant something to the fishermen from Galilee. I suspect that when Jesus was ministering to the farmers, he probably challenged them to plant the seeds of the gospel; carpenters and stonemasons were probably invited to build the community of faith (Hare), while blacksmiths were challenged to forge the ties and connections with God’s people around them.

Today’s Gospel reading challenges and calls us to evangelism because it reminds us of the times when we experienced God and how we responded to these experiences. Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians reminds us what – or rather who – is in the center of our message. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:17 (The Message):

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God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.

Paul reminds us that we follow Jesus not by building a following for ourselves. Paul reminds us that we follow Jesus by living his message.

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Today we talked about fishermen, farmers, carpenters, stonemasons and blacksmiths… Those were common professions in Jesus’ time. Here is the kicker though… We are not living in Jesus’ time, we live in the beginning of the twenty-first century. We are not living around the Sea of Galilee, we live near the Susquehanna River, and half-way between Wilmington, DE and Baltimore, MD. We do have some farmers, but we also have engineers, teachers, accountants, artists, salespersons, office workers, nurses, and stay-at-home moms.

For today’s readings to be meaningful to us we need to ask different questions because we live in a different time and place than the recipients of Paul’s letter or the first followers of Jesus.

· How will Joe, who is recently unemployed, hear this account of the call of the disciples? What does it mean to him when he hears Jesus say, “follow me,” and how can it help him to imagine his future and to reinvent himself?

· How will Sandy, who recently lost her loved one, hear an invitation from Jesus “follow me,” and how will it help her to heal her emotional wounds and face the loneliness ahead?

· How might the members of our youth group, who recently shared in the experience of the “Dead? Or Alive!” Youth Rally, imagine themselves to be called by Jesus? What would it mean in terms of their education, in terms of their interactions with each other, in terms of their future jobs, in terms of them building their own families sometime in the future?

· How will today’s readings inspire Lisa, and how will she envision God using her talents in the future? What do the words “follow me” mean to her in her retirement?

We all experience God differently. There is a story of three workers who were hired to build Westminster cathedral in Medieval England. They were digging a ditch for the footing of the foundation for the new cathedral. When asked what he was doing, the first worker said that he was working in order to provide for his family. The second worker said that he was digging a ditch between two stakes in the ground. The third worker said that he was helping to build a magnificent cathedral to the glory of God.

What we accomplish in life depends to a large extent on what we choose to see and how we understand God’s presence in OUR lives.

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Jesus is calling us to action. It is time to ask ourselves whether our church building is just a place to gather on Sunday morning, or… are we willing to follow Jesus and seek ways to bring the message of God’s grace, love and salvation to our neighbors? How are we willing to change and adapt to make sure that we bring the message of Jesus in a way that is effective and meaningful today?

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Jesus is calling us to follow him and to imagine the ways we can share our faith in a way that is meaningful in 2011 and in Cecil County. Great American author and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote once that “an average church is filled with people doing jobs. A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.”

I would like to paraphrase that by saying that a great church is filled with people who are living their lives to the glory of God because that is what ministry is. Jesus is calling us to greatness that comes from being his hands and feet in our world.

Works Cited

Boring, M. Eugene. “The Gospel of Matthew; Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” Boring, M. Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible; A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Vol. 8. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995. 12 vols. 168-171.

Hare, Douglas R.A. Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.

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