3rd Sunday After Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who makes us into disciples. Amen
Today we have the familiar story
of Jesus calling his first disciples,
it’s a story I think we usually approach
with both extreme familiarity
as well as suspended disbelief.
On the one hand
we know where this is going before it even starts,
Jesus is walking along
and sees some guys fishing
and when he tells them to follow him,
they drop everything,
their whole lives and livelihoods even family
and follow him.
on the other hand
while we’re amazed at their response
we are also a bit disheartened
because we think if that’s what it looks like to become a disciple of Jesus
then we probably don’t have what it takes,
the contemplation of that much sacrifice is too much for us,
good for you Simon and Andrew, James and John
but our lives are too complicated
to just up and leave like that,
we must not be disciple material,
we’re tempted to give up before we’ve even begun.
And if we look at the story this way
through the actions of the disciples,
sure it seems highly unlikely
that many of us could live up to that level of action and dedication,
but here’s the thing,
when we focus so much on what the disciples do,
we miss what God is doing.
God is the one whose action matters.
As our psalm for today reminds us:
“Put your trust in God always, O people,
pour out your hearts before the one who is our refuge.
Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath; those of low estate cannot be trusted.
Placed on the scales together they weigh even less than a breath.”
God is the one who is of consequence,
the strong rock and refuge full of steadfast love,
God is the one
on whom our focus should be,
not the disciples or other humans,
who if they were weighed on a scale with God would barely register.
Now when we return to this story,
looking for what God is doing,
we notice that Jesus’ call is less of a command
and more of a promise
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
I will make you
Jesus is the one who promises to transform these fishermen into disciples
and will do so in a way
that will draw on the skills and gifts they already have.
At the beginning of his ministry
Jesus is looking to gather people together,
these first disciples
have lifetimes of practice gathering fish together,
from long observation and wisdom passed down the generations
they have learned what kind of fish to seek out,
where in the lake those fish like to stay,
in what weather, at which time of day it is best to catch them
all these skills can be applied to people with help from Jesus
he will teach them
what people to seek out
where they can be found
what message to share that will bring them to Jesus.
Most importantly perhaps,
these first disciples
have also learned the hard lesson
that even if you do everything right,
some days you won’t catch anything
and the best thing to do is to try again the next day.
That's what being a fisherman is about,
that’s what being a disciple will take.
Jesus promises to take the fishermen as they are
and make them into disciples,
just as Jesus promises to make each of us disciples
using who we are,
which means our journeys probably won’t look exactly like those first disciples.
“Follow me” Jesus calls out to us, “come and see,”
it’s the simplest part of this whole disciple business
that is up to us,
and yet we still get hung up
on that simple task,
the act of following,
of getting moving,
sometimes we even go in the opposite direction
and yet, God doesn’t give up on us.
Our first reading was from the book of Jonah
who is the poster child for struggling to follow God,
in fact he runs the other way at the call of God,
yet God still manages to work through Jonah,
the sailors on the ship Jonah boards to flee the Lord,
believe in the God of Israel
by the time Jonah leaves them,
albeit over the rail of the ship
and into the belly of the whale
where Jonah, humbled by the grace of God
gets back on track.
When the big fish belches Jonah up onto the beach
he goes to Ninevah as God has asked
but as Author Eugene Peterson observes
“Jonah obedient turns out to be as much in violation of the word of God as Jonah disobedient.” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 29).
Jonah does what God calls him to do
but very reluctantly,
hoping that it won’t work,
Jonah wants to see the city of Nineveh,
enemy of his people
destroyed by his God,
he even goes out and sets up in prime view
to watch the fireworks,
the people listen to Jonah’s message and repent
and God decides not to destroy the city
much to the displeasure of Jonah.
God worked through Jonah running the other way,
God worked through Jonah obeying the letter of God’s command
if not the spirit,
imagine what God can do with willing partners,
people who upon hearing the call of God
agree to try their best,
people like you and me.
sure our path to discipleship
may not be as dramatic as Simon and Andrew, James and John
up and leaving everything,
but God already has Simon and Andrew, James and John
God needs something different from us
and even if we don’t have exactly what God needs right now,
because God will make us into the disciples God needs,
our job is to listen for God’s call
and follow where God leads.
And yes we will not be perfect,
we will make mistakes,
we will be reluctant at times,
we may even run the other direction
and there’s grace for that.
Grace that God can work through our reluctance and mistakes,
grace in the offer of forgiveness
and growth in our repentance,
grace in the renewal of the call to discipleship,
God still wants us
and God promises to make us into the disciples God needs.
This goes for communities as well as individuals,
today after church is our annual meeting,
it’s a time to reflect on how we as a community
have answered God’s call to discipleship this past year
and to consider
how God might be calling us to be disciples
in the coming year
we make these considerations
all while trusting that God will work through our imperfections
and make us into the disciples God needs in this time and place.
“Put your trust in God always O people”
God is the one of consequence,
the strong rock full of steadfast love.
Come, let us follow. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.