Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
1st Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
None of our readings for this morning use the word “calling” but especially the Gospel might make us think of times that we felt “called” by Jesus to follow him, as the Disciples were called as they cast their nets into the sea. “Calling” used to be a word that was used just for the ministry. Priests, pastors, monks, and nuns were thought to be called by God and everyone else just did their jobs. But Martin Luther, through his reading of scripture, came to the conclusion that we are all called by God. This Gospel supports his idea.
During Jesus’ time, Rabbis all had followers and students, and he was a Rabbi. They would have selected the cream of the crop to be their Disciples and help them carry out their ministry. It really says something that Jesus goes to these fishermen. They aren’t students. They don’t know their Bible. They aren’t special or holy in any way. They are just regular guys doing their jobs. Jesus invites them to follow him and they become his Disciples. This says to me that God calls regular people like you and me.
Maybe I should explain that before I worked here, I was a receptionist in an optometry office, I processed fraud claims for a bank, I worked in a lab testing food at National Frozen Foods, and have also done some babysitting and blueberry picking. I was the first in my family to go to college and none of my grandparents even graduated from high school. At my house we said “warsh” and “crick” and always ate better when we were receiving food stamps. So you see my point, that God calls regular people to all kinds of ministry.
We each have a call story, like these Disciples—a story about when we first began to know that we were a child of God. Some of us might start with our baptism. Others have had a mystical experience in which we saw God or felt led to do something or felt God’s peace. Others refer to friends and family that taught them about God’s love or demonstrated it through their actions.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in our church brochure on the front page it says, “Ministers: All God’s People.” Did you know that you are all ministers? We are all Jesus’ Disciples. We all have been called by God into faith and service. Some of that service is done at church and through church. Some if it is done in our family. Some is done in our day job or housework. Some is done in the wider community. Does that mean we are all day spouting scripture and inviting people to church or to invite Jesus into their hearts? Maybe some who are called to that, but for many Lutherans it doesn’t mean that at all.
To be called by Jesus, means living and working in such a way that our lives give glory to God. Martin Luther said this, “What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God…We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.” He affirmed that we are all called, that our work is useful to us and to others to make our society work. When society works well, people have food and shelter and the basic necessities of life that are gifts from God. Can you see how sweeping a floor might give glory to God? What would it mean to sweep the floor as if it was God’s floor or to prepare food as if God was going to eat it or to fix the screen door as if it was God’s door? You know the satisfaction of work well-done. Maybe that is the presence of God making God known in our every day lives, maybe that is God’s calling us to see God in each situation.
We also, hopefully, learn and grow from doing our daily work and that is from God. I don’t know if I learn something every time I sweep, but if I am paying attention I can appreciate something beautiful in that moment—the sound of the broom, the thankfulness that we have food to eat that then falls to the floor, the amazement at that little spider that is inevitably trying to escape the pile. God is there if we pay attention. Martin Luther affirmed that through our work we encounter Christ in our neighbor if we’re open to it, if we look for him there. Our work brings us face to face with other people, some of whom we find an affinity with and it is easy to see that we are encountering Christ. Other times, it is more like this reading from 1 Corinthians where the people are arguing and division are causing chaos. People are taking sides and making allegiances. And Jesus calls us in those instances, to look for Christ in the other person. Paul, who is writing this letter, who established that church in Corinth, reminds them that their first allegiance is to Christ, who unifies all of us and makes us into one family. There are people that we come across that we don’t necessarily have a lot in common with, who we might not like very much. But we are invited to look for Christ in that other person, to have compassion on them, to look for the best in them, and to treat them like we would treat Jesus.
We’d love it if to be called meant to be around a bunch of nice people and do a lot of nice things that always made us feel good, to be wise and eloquent and graceful. But here is Jesus who is beginning his ministry, and he is called away from the home is used to because of a threat that ended the life of John the Baptist and threatens him too. You’d think he’d be called right to a big city where important people live and work, to a big religious center like Jerusalem where he can gather the best of the best. Instead, Jesus is called to a border-land, to Capernaum by the sea. Here, Jesus has access to all kinds of regular people and they have access to him. His ministry does not discriminate. He’s just there ministering to people. And he isn’t going around asking everyone to welcome him into their heart. He’s out there healing and sharing the Good News that God’s reign is not about following a bunch of rules, and the divide between the holy and the regular people, but that we are all God’s people and that God is accessible to regular folks. He’s bringing healing and hope, building relationships, feeding people and caring for them. Sometimes I think of this as an assembly line where Jesus is healing 60 people in an hour. But this time, I pictured Jesus sitting down with people and spending the time getting to know them, showing them tenderness and attention, really breaking down barriers to get to know people. Healing is so much more than mending a wound on the skin. It can be a very deep process, and I have the feeling that Jesus was doing this deeper kind of healing.
Jesus stands in those divides, the lines we draw between us and other people, and straddles the line. We sometimes draw the line between church and the outside world, as if those were separate. Jesus says that is a false line. What we do in church ought to impact what we do in our everyday lives and the world ought to have some effect on what we do here. That is partly why we brought in the newspapers last month and put them all over the walls, to remind us that the world is part of everything we do here. And we always include in our prayers people and places that need God’s love and grace, not that our words would be enough, but that God would turn our prayers into actions that would actually bring practical help to these people and places. These kinds of exercises help weave the two strands of church and the world together the way God sees them. We draw lines between the holy and ordinary, like I was talking about the calling of a pastor and the calling of anyone else—God calls us all to ministry. Jesus welds those together when he walks among the people and goes to the outlying areas. Jesus shows us that smelly, rowdy fisherman can be better Disciples than holy men set apart for ministry, like the priests and Levites, who are always trying to trick Jesus into saying something they can arrest him for. He’s saying that the divide between darkness and light isn’t as clear as we thought. “Those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” Those who experience darkness in their lives are promised God’s light. The divide between foolishness and power isn’t so clear: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Jesus is called to straddle those borders and sew them up, join them, bridge them. We are called too, whether we are pastors or bus drivers or housekeepers or teachers or engineers or camp coordinators or students or grandparents. We are called into ministry to bridge those gaps with Jesus. We are called not to draw lines, but reach across them, to erase them, to forget about them.
We are called by God into ministry in our daily lives, to follow Jesus. This calling happens throughout our lives. God called us in our baptism to follow him and even before that. God has called us every day since. What would it mean to listen for and consider God’s call every day? What would it mean in every situation, or at least more often, to ask ourselves what it would mean to erase those lines and bridge those gaps? What is God calling me to in this situation? Where is God in this? As we leave the sanctuary, who do we talk to, who do we sit with? As we leave this church, do we say hello to our neighbors and find out how they are doing, build relationships? Do we exercise and eat right and take care of this body? Where do we buy our food and how does that impact people around us, how does that draw lines or erase them? How do we plan our week in such a way that we can more clearly see Christ in our midst?
Jesus lived his life and gave his life to erase the lines between us, to erase the lines between those who have abundant life and those who live in want, between the holy and the ordinary, between us and them, between heaven and earth. That’s a free gift of God in Christ Jesus. As a thankful response, we are called to live in the new reality he created, rather than bend to the lines that the world would have us draw that are so damaging to so many people. We are instead invited to become nets of grace, gathering people to Jesus and sharing the deep healing and hope that Christ has shared with us.