A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church in Canyon Lake, Texas
The lectionary readings for today are here.
If you were here a couple of weeks ago you might remember that we talked about Jesus’ baptism and I said that our baptism is the bridge between Jesus’ resurrection and life in God’s kingdom? Last week we heard of Jesus’ invitation to John’s disciples to ‘come and see’.
And today, we hear the story of Jesus inviting the first of his disciples to follow him. Matthew tells the story of the Unexpected. Throughout his telling of the Good News, Matthew grounds what happens in ancient prophecy and then points out how Jesus upends how most would have thought these prophecies to be fulfilled. Matthew wants us to be on the lookout for God’s Kingdom with a whole new lens.
Matthew tell us that Jesus begins his public ministry by settling in a town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. And Jesus’ message is a simple one – change your hearts and minds and come into God’s Kingdom.
The word ‘repent’ carries a lot of ugly baggage for many of us. We conjure up screaming street corner preachers or cranky Sunday school teachers wagging their fingers at us, telling us we are terrible and bad and naughty and we must give up all the things we like to do to live the austere lives of denial before God smites us. I never could figure out how that was preaching Good News, could you?
The Greek word, however, means to change our minds for the better. As Jesus uses it, it isn’t a condemnation but an invitation to live the hope-filled life of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Hope was in short supply in Roman occupied, first century Palestine.
With the fulfilling of ancient prophecy clearly laid out and a message of hope ringing in our ears, Matthew tells us how Jesus begins to build his support group with a couple of … fishermen. Fishermen! Men not from the best schools or the most admired religious leaders but from the lowest rungs of society. God’s Kingdom isn’t always what we expect, we have to change our hearts and minds to see it.
Jesus didn’t call religious leaders and theologians. He called the ‘common folk’ and the ones no one expected – fishermen and tax collectors. I’m not sure who said this first, and a Google search had lots of people taking credit, but have you heard the phrase “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called”? I first heard it from Fr. Chuck Woehler so I’m happy to give him the credit for it.
Over and over again throughout scripture we see God calling those we wouldn’t consider. God’s qualifications are a teachable spirit; people who are willing to change their hearts and minds for the better; people who are willing to follow the way of Love putting relationship above all else. People who are looking for hope and a sense of belonging.
The life of a fisherman in first century Palestine wasn’t an easy one. The fishing industry of the day was highly regulated. Every single fish they caught had to be sold to the Romans who then resold them at high prices. They didn’t get to keep even enough for their own families and they had to pay high taxes on the little bit of money they were paid for the fish, which left even less to buy back the fish they caught so they could feed their families. Fishermen were critical to the food chain of the day yet they struggled to survive themselves. They were mere cogs in an economic machine to the Romans and the lowest ranking occupation among the Jews.
It seems miraculous to us that they would so quickly drop their entire livelihood, meager as it was, to follow this wandering rabbi with such a simple message. But try to experience this invitation from their point of view. They had no hope of anything ever getting any better. The Roman occupation was a brutal one. Any plausible invitation to something better was more hope than what they had just moments before, more hope than they had their whole lives.
Jesus doesn’t show them a list of qualifications to achieve before extending the invitation, he didn’t interview them. He knew their resumes and he invited them in. It is in the following that we are transformed into Kingdom people, beloved children of God. That’s what discipleship is all about – the practice of our baptism, answering the call to be ministers for God’s kingdom.
This past Wednesday, those of us who will represent St. Francis by the Lake at our annual Diocesan Council gathered for an online pre-council meeting and Bishop David presented the Diocesan theme for the year: Go, Baptize, and make disciples. This is the last instruction Jesus gave after his resurrection. We call it the Great Commission. It is God’s blueprint for building the kingdom on earth as in heaven, made of people, bound together in relationship with Love.
The diocesan theme matches nicely with what we’ve said will be our focus this year here at St. Francis – inviting others and sharing God’s story. Inviting them to participate with us in the great story of Love. The fancy seminary word for this is evangelism, another word that has a lots of baggage with it but which simply means telling the good news. We are good at telling stories, it is instinctively how we get to know each other.
Those who have participated in one of the BibleProject small groups have read the entirety of the Bible, the written story of God’s people. If you were here on New Years Day, you heard “the highlights” of God’s written story, read in a series of 6 lessons through the scriptures. In our church calendar, we read through the story each year as we shape our worship with the rhythm of God’s story as told through our scriptures.
But God’s story didn’t end just because we stopped gathering writings into one book binding. We are not just readers or observers of the story, we are invited to be active participants in the greatest story of all. God’s Story.
Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to belong and an invitation to hope. Not wishful thinking that some vending machine style god will give us what we want if we manage to say the right words in the right order but the hope that is the confidence that God is always faithful and will set the world right as we participate with God in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven, answering the invitation, practicing the promises of our baptism, and sharing the story of God’s people to give hope to those who walk in darkness.
Hope is in short supply in twenty-first century America. And Jesus offers us the same invitation he did the fishermen of his day: follow me and I will show you how to live in the sure and certain hope of God’s Kingdom here and now. As we follow, we learn to be more and more like Jesus with every step. As we follow, we become the ones who shine the light into the darkness of our world so that others discover with whom they belong. As we follow, we live God’s story of Love for us and our neighbors and all of creation and that is very good news indeed. Amen.