January 24, 2011

Sermon for Epiphany 3A

You can listen to it here.

I watch a lot of TV. Not my best quality, to be sure, but if its the worst thing somebody can say about me, I'm OK with that. I justify it, occasionally, by saying that my vocation requires it. As a priest I have to be up on current events and know where the culture is headed. So, I watch a lot of TV. I will watch it for at least six straight hours this afternoon cheering on the team of my youth, the Chicago Bears, and the team I chose by marriage, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A Steelers/Bears Super Bowl will kill me, but that is not for us to discuss this morning.
I brought up Television in order to share with you one of the directions in which our culture seems to be headed. If you've turned on prime-time network television or tuned into HGTV, VH1, MTV, Food Network, the Travel Channel, or countless other cable stations in recent years, you'll know that our airwaves are filled with quote, “Reality Shows.” American Idol, So You Think you Can Dance, Minute to Win It, Spice My Kitchen, the Bachelor, 16 and Pregnant, Celebrity Fit Club, the list goes on and on. Currently, 24% of the Monday through Friday prime-time slots on the four major networks are filled with “Reality Television” and that makes me sad. Not for any high and lofty reasons. Not because of what these shows say about America, though in most cases these shows are very sad. I'm sad about reality television because I love the good old-fashioned situation comedy. I grew up on Cheers and the Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Charles in Charge. I know the characters. I've laughed with their live studio audiences. I cried with 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter when John Ritter died unexpectedly. And above all else, I love their silly cliches. Two characters locked in a basement, great! The wedding where nothing can go right, hilarious! I'll even put up with a clip episode every few seasons because, to me, it feels like looking through a scrapbook with old friends.
One of the all-time classic sitcom cliches is the “relationship moving too fast.” It is great because both male and female characters can get caught up in it, and the absurdity of pronouncing love, planning wedding locations, and naming children on a first date strikes a cord in all of us as we remember just how scary those first few moments of a new relationship can be. That's what makes those cliches work so well, we can all relate to them in some small way.
Take, for example, this morning's Gospel lesson. It is ripe with the “relationship moving too fast” cliché. The passage opens with Jesus hearing of the arrest of his cousin and friend John the Baptist, and feeling the heat in his adopted hometown of Nazareth, he decides to pick up his mat and move 90 miles north and east to the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. He has just barely settled into the tiny little burg of Capernaum when, while taking a walk along the shoreline, he runs into two guys, Simon and Andrew who were hard at work. He calls across the water to them and says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Awkward! He's picking out nursery colors before these guys have even ordered their salad. A classic example of the moving too fast cliche. Except Matthew tells us that they immediately left their nets and followed him. A little further up the coast, Jesus sees two more guys, another set of brothers, James and John. Again these two guys are hard at work, mending the nets and preparing for another days work in the cut-throat Galilean fishing industry. Jesus hollers out to them, and Matthew again says that they “immediately” left everything behind to follow him. Contrary to my rather long-winded and somewhat self-indulgent introduction to this sermon, this scene from Matthew's gospel doesn't have near the humor of the “moving to fast” awkward dinner scenes of Scrubs or How I Met Your Mother.
So what gives? Why is it that Simon, Andrew, James, and John are willing to drop everything and follow a man who is clearly pushing the speed limits of proper Rabbi/Disciple etiquette? The astute listener out there will recall that last Sunday we heard a very similar story. The characters last week included Andrew, an unnamed disciple of John the Baptist, and Simon, Andrew's brother. The scene ended with Jesus telling Simon that he would be called Cephas (which is translated Peter). Then this morning we hear of Andrew, Simon (who is called Peter), James, and John dropping everything and following Jesus. Maybe Jesus isn't moving that quickly after all. Maybe the stories from John and Matthew aren't two versions of the same story, but two separate events in the life and ministry of Jesus. As Keith pointed out during Lectionary Study on Tuesday, Matthew says that Simon is already being called Peter.
Maybe these guys knew each other already. Maybe Andrew has already spent an afternoon, an evening, and a morning with Jesus. Maybe he already knew what Jesus was all about and had already run to find his brother, first-thing, to share the good news that he had found the Messiah. Maybe Jesus had already looked into Simon's soul and heard his cries of desperation, loneliness, and fear. Maybe he had already ordained him with a new identity; no longer was God to hear Simon's cries, now he would be the rock upon which the church would be established. Maybe all of that had taken place before Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. Maybe the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist was, as many scholars suspect, John the brother of James and Son of Zebedee. Maybe.
Maybe all of those past events were running through the minds of Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John as they strained to see the lanky figure on the shoreline, thinking that maybe this time it was finally Jesus coming back to see them. The text doesn't give us much to work with, and most of this comes from the fact that Simon is already called Peter in Matthew's story, but it works for me, and I hope it works for you. It is helpful to me that Jesus isn't moving the relationship along too quickly in classic sitcom cliché. Becaue it took me a long time to drop my net and follow, and maybe Jesus is doing what he does with every disciple he comes to meet.
When did you meet Jesus for the first time? Was it at a Vacation Bible School? A church summer camp? A Good Friday service? Was it in the eyes of your grandmother? The hands of your Father? The warmth of your mother's spirit? Was it at a Cursillo Weekend? Or Promise Keepers? Or a Beth Moore Bible Study?
What did Jesus say to you when you first encountered him? Did he put you to work? Or did he simply let you come to grips with your new reality as a beloved child of God? Did he ask you to be a light to the nations? Or did he give you some time to get to know him a little better?
I got to know Jesus over the course of a decade and a half in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, serving at the altar, in youth groups, on ski trips, and service projects. When I was 17 years old, he began to call me toward a new way of living, one that sought out his will and not my own, but at 17, I didn't really know what that looked like. Eventually, though, he came to me and said, “now is the time for you to really get to work.” For me, that work looked like two years of discernment, three years of seminary, and full-time ordained ministry. I wonder what that work looks like for you? Raising children in the knowledge and love of the Lord? Serving on the vestry or on boards for other non-profits? Baking pies and cakes and muffins and cooking fudge to raise funds to give away in the service of others? Running 13.1 miles to help dig a well and offer clean water to a village in Africa? Teaching the youngest and neediest in our community that somebody loves them and that knowing their abc's will serve them well in life? What has God been calling you to do?
Over the course of his three years with Andrew, Simon, James, and John, Jesus changed their job descriptions. They went from fishers of people to preachers and teachers to faith healers. Ultimately they became apostles and martyrs, all for the sake of the one who met them, got to know them, and then called them to his service. Someday, not today nor any time soon, but someday, God will walk down Pine Street and call up to my office and say, “It is time to drop your nets, I've got a new job for you.” And the same goes for each of you as well. The jobs to which God calls you will change and develop over the course of a lifetime walking with him. Some ministries will thrive and flourish. Others, well, as Jim Cutright said of our Men's Coffee group “sometimes things just run their course and need to die.”
Rest assured that God is not a character in a sitcom, moving your relationship along too quickly. If he's put something on your heart, if he's called you by name and shown you what the fruit of your labors is going to look like, then he will give you whatever you need to accomplish it. The only thing left to do then is to follow the example of Andrew and Simon, James and John and immediately drop what you are doing to follow his call. Unlike most sitcom endings, you won't be disappointed, I guarantee it. Amen.

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