Jan. 19, 2023

1 Cor. 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23


The word “immediately” in our gospel passage today is a bit intimidating and can have the effect of making us feel that the call to discipleship is for somebody else.  “Jesus saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, casting a net into the sea, and he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,’ and immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

First, I want to say that in leaving their nets they do not necessarily abandon all of their responsibilities and leave their loved ones behind.  Second, the word immediately is intended to convey the appeal of Jesus and the compelling power of the one whose invitation comes in a very personal way to common people who have done nothing to earn it.  (It’s not some kind of standard by which we measure our own response.)  And lastly, Jesus’ words, “I will make you fish for people,” is Matthew’s way of showing how Jesus meets his followers where they are at.  He enters their world and speaks their language.  They are fishermen, so he offers the invitation on their terms.  Matthew’s intent in this call story is to convey the very opposite of the impression that I think some of us may feel.  The truth is that the call to discipleship and the invitation to follow is issued to us all.

That said, Simon and Andrew, serve also as models for us.  They encounter Christ, they receive his invitation, and they step from the familiar into what is not known.  They have Jesus, but they have no sense of where he will take them.  They go from the known of their boats to the unknown of lives in ministry.

I was speaking on the phone with a pastor whom I had never met last week about something that doesn’t really matter for our purposes today.  We got to chatting about ministry and these times the church finds itself in and she said, “Oh, have you read so-and-so’s book?  She does such an amazing job of showing how the church always occupies liminal space.”  I said, “Wow, that sounds really helpful,” and then later when we hung up I went and looked up the word liminal.  Liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that exists between two states or conditions.

Jesus enters their world, meets them where they are, and then calls them into something more.  But, that something more is unknown.  Liminal seems to be exactly the right word.  They are in pregnant space – expectant, yet so much of the journey ahead cannot be known.  The thing is, this unknown is exactly what’s my mind these days.

Jesus says, “Follow,” and what I want to know is: what exactly is it that any of us are following Jesus into?

Well, on one level Matthew tells us.  “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”  Jesus teaches, proclaims, and cures, and he does it in remarkable fashion.  That’s where this call takes them and before their journey ends they will find themselves doing some of the same.  But, prior to any of that they learn, listen, and witness.  Those are their correlating actions in response to Christ’s.  The disciples make their way to what they will become, missing the mark aplenty and sometimes getting it right.

I think that is a trait of discipleship.  Disciples are perpetually between two states, which I suppose is the way it should be.  After all, we serve our neighbors and we pray to God so often in the name of another – “in Jesus’ name.”  And, to the extent that we minister we also understand that it is not our ministry, but Christ’s.  It’s like when Paul tells the church in Corinth to stop arguing about whose baptism is better: Paul’s, or Apollos’, or Cephas’?  He says, “Who cares?”  “It’s not our baptism; it’s Christs!  I may have planted, and somebody else may have watered, but it is God who grows!”  The action is God’s, and disciples are those who wait on it and witness to it.

Every year on Good Friday I’m struck differently and deeply by the realization that Christ died for me.  Normally that proclamation is a theologically complicated one.  What could another’s suffering and death possibly do for me?  But, on Good Friday, or Maundy Thursday as the case may be, when Christ breathes his last, and the candle is snuffed, and the lights go dark, and we sit in silence, I realize again that this death is an expression of the depths of God’s love – what God would do for you and for me.

There at his death we rediscover that God really would (and did) give Godself up for us, and then on Easter we discover that the giving did not end there, that God continues to give Godself not simply for us but also and ever to us.  This is what birthed the church all those years ago and continues to birth the church now – the discovery that God gives us not a list of rules to follow or demands to complete but God’s very self to receive out of sacrificial and undying love.

So, however this call to discipleship that we receive today plays out, I think it means a patterning of our lives in a similar way.  We follow Jesus into the space between his kingdom near and his kingdom come and we give ourselves – nothing more than that, but also nothing less.

“We live,” writes my buddy Carlyle Marney, “between Christ’s death and our resurrection.”  The boundaries are broken and a new thing has begun.  It has called us and claimed us, and yet we do not know its unfolding shape.  What we must do in this context is “be.”  We must be ourselves enough so that we have something to give when we give ourselves.  And this means that the job isn’t to be perfect; it is to be real – real with God and real with anyone we’re close enough to have real, honest, authentic, “Church” with.

An important part of being real is understanding and embracing our dependence.  As the lectionary turns to 1st Corinthians for 5 straight weeks, I asked House Church what they knew of Paul’s letter.  Not surprisingly, the love passage came up – the one you hear whenever you are at a wedding.  “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious, or arrogant, or boastful, or rude.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends… Now, faith, hope, and love endure, and the greatest of these is love.”

“These” in this case is spiritual gifts.  It’s sometimes helpful to be reminded that Paul wasn’t thinking about wedding liturgies when he wrote these words.  These gifts are spiritual because they come from God and they are ours to give only because they are given to us.  Love is the greatest gift because more than any others it builds up others and builds up community.  But, it is also the greatest because unlike some of the other gifts, it is given to each of us.  We’ve all got it, and we’ve all got it to give in one shape or another, and we’ve all got enough to be kindled into more if we ask for it.

It was either Richard Foster in one of his books or Tilda Norberg in one of her seminars – or maybe both – they were both great prayers – who said that it’s not the strength of your faith that matters so much in prayer.  You don’t have to believe more or better than anybody else to pray powerfully.  It’s the strength of your love that matters.  Love is the biggest ingredient to true prayer.

Love is the biggest ingredient to discipleship for that matter as well.  The question, when Jesus says, “Come and follow,” isn’t, “Do I have what it takes?”  Or, “Am I faithful enough.”  Or, “Do I know enough?”  The question is, “Am I humble enough to do it?”  “Can I give myself in love?” “Can I offer myself and let God be God for me and in me?”  “Can that be enough?”