Friday, January 28, 2011

January 23, 2011

Matthew 4:12-23

12  Now when Jesus  heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  13  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,  14  so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  15  "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—  16  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."  17  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."   18  As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  19  And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."  20  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  21  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  22  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  23  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.

Beloved, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, amen. 
There is no end to the amount of time that one can waste away on the internet, and perhaps this applies more to facebook than any other cyber-reality, if that is even a proper phrase.  Yes, while one can very easily get sucked into the benign stalking of friends and their posts and status updates, there is also that no small matter of quizzes which one can take.  Indeed, by one click of the mouse and the rapid fire answer of a series of questions, one can find out any number of truths about oneself that would have remained undiscovered.  Yes, if you have ever wondered which president you are most like, what sort of Christian you are or even what celebrity happens to look most like you, facebook offers a quiz that will grant you the answer to those stubbornly persistent questions. These sorts of questions, though, are not limited to the absurdity of a dorm room full of freshmen boys discovering, via facebook, what side they would be on in a rumble between pirates and ninjas.  Think, instead, about the way we look to manage and construct our futures as human beings.  Personality profiles, career interest quizzes, magazine surveys that tell us whether we are good spouses and partners and how we can be better parents, or how we can sneak more vegetables into our diets, we are all at the beck and call of such programs.  This is discernment for the 21st Century.
Why we so intently believe that these things can tell us something we need to know about ourselves is a perhaps more interesting exercise.  I cannot help but wonder if at the heart of this matter is our need know and then control who we are and where we are headed.  The future is far from given and this life is fraught with uncertainty and peril, and so the more information we can gather to bolster ourselves against the unknown, the better.   If a quiz on our diets will help us extend our life, why not take it?  If a magazine article call tell us, in three easy steps, how to improve our marriage, why look askance at such helpful advice?   In all of this, I cannot help but wonder if we are interested in these sorts of quizzes because keeping the fear of the unknown at a safe distance is a constant task.
This is all understandable work and, in some sense, probably necessary, pirate quizzes notwithstanding of course.   So, why bring it up in a way such as this?  Well, there is a tendency, I think, to assume that our life as Christian disciples, as those raised in water and Word and weekly gathered together around the Eucharistic table, that this whole enterprise we call life in Christ can somehow be fashioned after this same approach.  Yes, that the life to which we are called as disciples of this Jesus can be described by, and filtered through, a similar process of personality management and predictable outcomes.  Yes, there is something entirely tempting about approaching our lives as the body of Christ in this way, and there are strong and vocal forces that will gladly prey upon our need to know where we are headed, both individually and collectively as Christ’s church.  These technocratic soothsayers will, without any trouble at all, take our time, money and trust and give us in return the neat and tidy knowledge of our future, of ourselves, that we so crave.
The trouble, though, is that no where in the New Testament can I find evidence that Christ works like this.  Instead, it seems as though Jesus is constantly upsetting the predictable and is intent upon disrupting the usual pattern of things.  Take, for instance, the story of the first disciples we have before us today.  There is nothing predictable or manageable about it.  Yes, the genesis for Jesus’ ministry is the imprisonment and the delivering up of his dear friend and forerunner John the Baptizer.  Where does Christ go to mourn the now almost certain loss of a friend?  Well, to Galilee and this is not exactly a pristine spiritual retreat center.  Instead, it is the home of the Gentiles, that is the home of the impure and unwashed masses.  Galilee, the bastion for those despised for their lawlessness by good religious folks of their time.  To say nothing of whom Jesus calls to be his first disciples.  Here we are not dealing with the baccalaureates of Capernaum High School.  These were hard men living hard lives whose options had run out on them.  Yes, let us not romanticize these men with idyllic images of fly-fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park.   Their work was dangerous, demeaning and far from lucrative.  For a first century Jewish person, the sea would have represented chaotic and dangerous forces that lie outside of humanity’s control.  It was, then, an inherently impure place.   To go anywhere near the water was utter foolishness, to say nothing of earning your living by the creatures that inhabited the sea.  To eek out a living by fishing was not exactly ideal.  Jesus, then, does not ask these men a series of questions that will help them determine what skill set they will bring to his operation and whether their personality types will compliment one another.  Nor does he ask for their SAT scores and three letters of recommendation.  Instead, he interrupts the predictable and manageable grind of their grueling existence with an open ended invitation.  An invitation to become “fishers of people” whatever that particularly phrase might mean.   To suggest that this is a promising beginning is to excuse the story’s scandal.  As people who value predictability, competence and like-mindness, this calling of the first disciples hardly fits our criteria. 
However, when we look a bit deeper, is it really any different for us?  No matter our efforts to control and manipulate our lives, the threat of the unknown remains.  It cannot be managed away, no matter the number of personality quizzes we take.   And so perhaps it is a word of unspeakable joy and freedom that God does not work in predictable and manageable ways, but rather as St. Paul writes, in ways that appear foolish.  For, if the unknown cannot be defeated through the meticulous management of our lives, we must try another way.   Yes, what we have here is a God who will not wait for us to get our lives in order before beginning the work of discipleship in us.  We have a God who does not wait for darkness to subside but instead shine God’s everlasting light into that darkness so that we may rise from our graves right here in the present. Graves like self-doubt and self-hatred, graves like fear over whether or not our futures have that much anticipated happily ever after or whether our best days are indeed behind us. This is a God who will claim the chaos and unpredictability of this life as God’s own and in exchange will give us the joy and mercy of Christ’s presence in the midst of such circumstances. This is a God who will turn death to life not by managing its sting away, but by entering it fully and conquering its cruel embrace.  For this is the delightfully confounding news of Jesus Christ, that his work on us and with us cannot be readily predicted or anticipated, cannot be reduced to a reasonable conclusion compiled from a series of computer-generated questions.  And when God interrupts our lives in this way, we are given the vision to see that our lives, our well-being, is wrapped up in the well-being of our neighbors and that small though our contributions may be, God is present in all the ways we try and better this world.  Yes, discipleship, then, is nothing less than having our lives interrupted, again and again and again, by the grace of God who shows up in the most unusual places.  Let us, then, in the words of C.S. Lewis, be again surprised by joy. For in so doing, Christ is found in our midst.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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