Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011 - Making Light of the Darkness

Making Light of the Darkness
Matt 4.12-23

    In the world of computers, there are APPLICATIONS and there are APPS. APPLICATIONS are the software that turn your computer into something amazing: like a Word Processor A spreadsheet turns it into a mathematical genius. An APPLICATION like Microsoft Access can organize a Fortune 500 company. Most of us already know how to use a few APPLICATIONS and figure that we will learn others as we need them – all the while hoping that we never need them. In the old days, companies delivered APPLICATIONS with 2" thick books filled with instructions. In the old days, Geeks were the people who really read those books. Everyone else learned just enough to do our work; it was enough. The learning curve is steep, but the payoff is high.

    APPS, on the other hand, are little programs that do one task quickly and elegantly. They are supposed to be so simple that all they require is a feature list. Those of us with smartphones live in the world of APPS. If an APP requires a book, no one will buy it.

    With this mindset of APPLICATIONS and APPS, we approach the Christian faith. It comes with a Bible that is thicker than the user-manual for DOS; therefore, it must be an APPLICATION. But, in Bible School we teach our children to sing their faith, so it must be an APP. Which is it? Complicated beyond the reach of ordinary people? Or “user friendly” so that we can lose the book just like we lost the book that came with DOS?

    The saving grace of the Christian faith is that it was first understood by storytellers. So, maybe there is a lot to learn, but most of that learning comes in the stories this faith tells.

    12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. This is hardly a powerful beginning for the Son of God. Instead, he “withdrew” – he slipped out of town to get out of sight. And worse, he withdrew to Galilee.
    Galilee was the untamed section of Palestine, a wild, unruly place with bandits and terrorists wandering the countryside. The population was considered by the pure religion of Jerusalem to be uncouth and religiously semi-literate because Jews in that area had to tolerate pagans around them. It was called "Galilee of the Gentiles" because there were Roman towns among the Jewish ones. From the Greek and Roman ruins still to be seen in Galilee, the Jews had been reduced to a remnant. They were not the dominant culture or religion, and they had to put up with a lot that Jews in Jerusalem did not.

        Before moving back to Knoxville, we lived in Cleveland, which is the county seat of Bradley County, Tennessee. While we lived in Bradley County, I learned that the boundary area, where the county line lies along the Georgia state line, once had a lawless reputation. In an area called Buck’s Pocket, bootleggers were common. At a time when the law in Bradley County was little more than a Sheriff and maybe a deputy, people in Buck’s Pocket could go a long time without seeing the Sheriff, who kept himself mainly in Cleveland. The locals talked about their lawless past with some affection. Despite the bootlegging and such, they generally considered the people around them to be good neighbors. They found ways to get along.

Such was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. When he heard that John had been arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee.

    [B.] But, he did not go there to hide out; he does begin.  Jesus’ first words are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (4.17). Then, his first official act is to call to discipleship two fishermen, Peter and Andrew, (4.18-20) and then two more fishermen, James and John. They are the sons of Zebedee (4.21). Two of these fishermen were pulling their nets from the sea while the other two brothers were mending their nets, along with their father. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

    It all happened quickly. Jesus comes along and suddenly the fishing careers are over. And by the time poor Zebedee can look up and figure out what is happening, he has lost his entire fishing crew! Such was the compelling authority of this Jesus. There was no time to look into fringe benefits, work hours, and surely not time to say, “Well, let me think about it, and I’ll give you my decision by tomorrow by noon.” There was no time for that, nor did they apply for the job of “disciples” as other Rabbis might expect. Jesus summoned them, and they responded in obedience.

I.  Jesus did the calling: “Follow me!” “Come here!” says the Greek text. There is almost a stern, “You’d better hustle it” quality to it all. In Jesus’ case, He always takes the initiative when he calls people into discipleship. Someone has said of this calling by our Lord that “There are no applications for this commander’s army. Discipleship was – and it is to this day – a gift, a sheer act of God’s grace.”

    Be certain, God does not run a draft lottery where only certain numbers get selected. Jesus said, “I call all persons unto myself.” Jesus does the calling, and his call goes out to every living one of us. He does it through the Gospel, and the very fact that you are within hearing at this moment is a gift of God’s grace to you. Discipleship is not an offer we make to Christ. His call creates the situation.
    Paul says it well: “You are the people of God; He loved you and chose you for His own.” (Col 3.12a).

II. Most of us were not called to Christ and to discipleship in a dramatic fashion.

    Instead, most of us came to faith much as James and John, Peter and Andrew did. They were busy, productive people. They were not worried about the hereafter; they were not misfits; they were not deep depression. Like us, they had a living to make, and they were busy making it. As it happened for the disciples, Jesus comes into our busy lives and interrupts our plans with a call to set all that aside and make his calling the first loyalty of our lives. Following Jesus is going to cost us something: our neatly planned lives, our comfortable prejudices.

    B. I find that most, if not all of us, will hear Jesus call us to some task, some ministry, some new direction. Curiously, Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew, then to James and John, was not for them the call to faith. Instead, theirs was a call to follow him as disciples. The understanding will come after they have been taught. The faith will come after they have seen. At this point, Jesus calls them simply to follow as disciples.

    [C.] There is an old saying: “JESUS DOES NOT CALL THE QUALIFIED; JESUS QUALIFIES THE CALLED.” Think about it: If Jesus can use the help of a fisherman, he can use us!  To a fisherman he says, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Still, the point is not, "Help wanted - Fishermen Only!" Any of us will find places of services in God’s kingdom. You and I were meant to become a part of the work of Jesus Christ to bring light to a dark world right whoever and wherever we happen to be. 
        +The carpenter's invitation reads, "Follow me and I will make you build up people." 
        +The accountant will hear it as, "Follow me and I will make you help people know they count."
        +The teacher will hear, "Follow me and I will make open the eyes of children to the great thinking that people have done about God’s ways.
    +The physician will hear, "Follow me and I will make you a healer of people's souls."

III. These disciples left their nets and their boats to follow Jesus. And the greatest adventure the world has ever seen began. In the years that would follow these four disciples will see far more than they could hold:

        1. Other disciples were called, two more, then one from his tax table, and still another was called along the road. Before long, there were twelve men. There were women, too – women who heard something that burned within them, and so they followed.

        2. They will hear him teach. Much of his teaching is recorded in the gospels. I love to imagine what it was like to walk with Jesus along the road and hear him teach. Imagine sitting among the crowds that came wherever he stopped – the crowds hungry to hear a Word from God.

        3. They will be witnesses as Jesus heals the sick. The blindman was given his sight, lepers were cleansed of their disease, demons were cast out. Imagine the stories these disciples could tell when they were old and still so excited about Jesus that their eyes filled with tears at the memory:
        +of disabled people dancing,
        +of a little daughter restored to life,
        +of Lazarus called from the tomb.
        I believe Jesus calls us to be healers, too. Do you think that Jesus expects us to touch lepers? Jesus believes that in his name we have the power to raise up the Gabby Giffords of this world to walk again.

        4. They will be there when the Temple leaders come to discredit him – to put him in his place:
        +Trying to catch him in his words;
            +Trying to prove that he does not keep the Holy Law of God as he should. They are quick and well-practiced at dispatching pretenders. But, they have never dealt with the Son of God before.
                What they fail to understand is that he has no interest in beating them if beating them is just an attack on their faith and their convictions. They fail to see him watching them for some sign that they are truly getting it when he speaks of God’s love which seeks out its own. They fail to see that he is the most disappointed that they cannot hear the invitation offered even to them.

        5. The disciples who were called that day will still be there when he breaks the bread and shares the cup at his Last Supper. They will hear the Son of the Living God address them as: “Friends.” They will sit in dumbfounded wonder as he shoves the wash basin along the floor to wash their dusty feet with his own hands.

        6. And they will be there:
        +when they think they can go no further.
        +When they deny to the crowd at the High Priest’s house that they know him.
        +When they run for their lives when his life is being beaten out of him in Pilate’s dungeon.

The truth is that the life of those disciples was not so remarkable:
    +they were not unusual preachers or leaders,
    +they could not work miracles very well,
    +storms rattled them so that they feared for their lives.

The disciples were not so remarkable on the day they began – except that they heard the call of Jesus. And, when Jesus’ life among them was over, and they were utterly defeated, they reacted the way any of us would have. They were no better and not particularly worse. Watching from a distance, it appeared that the story was over and the dream was finished.

    But, when Jesus’ life among them was over and they had run in fear, Jesus, who called them at the beginning, met them again. And there he said, “I call you again, and now I send you to all the world in my name.

    Called! Christians are called – sometimes at the beginning of their journey of faith, long before they understand much and long before they can speak with eloquence. It is along the journey that they find the understandings and the words to give voice to all that Christ has done in their lives. Other Christians are called far along in their life of faith. Perhaps they have begun to wonder if they will ever be called to any more than being Sunday faithful or to singing in the choir. Often it is late, when we have given up expecting a task that it comes. A need appears. A wrong must be righted. An evil must be challenged. And we are called to step forward, sticking our necks out in the name of the Savior who risked his life for ours.

    One more thing: the calling is not always ours to receive and carry. Sometimes, our task is to recognize the calling in those around us. Imagine the possibility that people around you in church this morning are called to the service of the Lord. In their witness and in their service Jesus is among us. Wherever the followers and disciples of Jesus are found, He is here – in the witness, the service, the love that they bring in Jesus’ name.

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