Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
Matthew 4: 12-23
January 22, 2017 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
The gospel reading we just heard demonstrates why we should be extremely careful when making important decisions in life.
Jesus had only twelve choices for the disciples who would assist him in proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near. If you had been in his place, wouldn’t you have exercised extraordinary vigilance in picking your dream team?
Professional football teams do that. They spend enormous amounts of personnel time and money studying which players to choose in the college draft. Character, speed, strength, agility, intelligence—these are carefully analyzed before any player is picked. Teams have high hopes of assembling the next Super Bowl team so every choice on their fifty-three-player roster matters.
Jesus didn’t have a fifty-three-player roster, his was composed of twelve. Given that, you might be surprised how he went about selecting his disciples. Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee and, from all appearances, chose the first guys he came across. Matthew makes no mention of whether Jesus had a head-hunting firm conduct advanced interviews but I doubt it.
Perhaps Jesus should have been more judicious. He came up short on all twelve of his selections; they all ended up being clunkers. His first choice, Peter, was a compulsive liar, denying ever having known Jesus when push came to shove; another pick, Judas, sold Jesus up Calvary’s hill for thirty pieces of silver; and the other ten disciples, well, they were nowhere to be seen when Jesus breathed his last. Losers, cowards, reprobates…you name it. Quite candidly, Jesus’ choices do not come off as particularly imaginative or insightful.
And how astute were Peter and Andrew, James and John? When Jesus said, “Follow me,” they dropped everything and followed immediately. Admittedly, the swiftness of their decisions sounds awfully holy, but honestly, would you really have followed Jesus the minute he snapped his fingers? Wouldn’t you have analyzed the job description first, talked to people whose judgment you respected, and asked about the compensation and benefits package? For goodness sakes, the disciples were being asked to turn their backs on their boats and nets and family and to follow a quirky Galilean rabbi…Wouldn’t you have said something like, “I am flattered, Jesus, but give me a few days to study this whole thing and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
And yet, that’s not what happened. There was a sense of urgency. The kingdom was near and Jesus had to act decisively and swiftly. There was no time to dilly-dally.
We all want to be successful, don’t we? We listened to our parents who counseled us to count the costs, to be certain we are doing the right thing before jumping in head first.
The Christian life is no different. We have our questions about our faith and want to get them answered the best we are able before we say, “I do and I ask God to help and guide me.” Maybe we should read one more book, attend one more class, have one more meeting with the pastor, make certain we don’t do anything we will regret later. And, as citizens of this nation, we want to listen to all sides before standing up for the poor and vulnerable. We fear that one error in judgment will ruin the day. Give it all time, see how it all unfolds—really…not exactly eager for the kingdom of God.
The church is no different. We engage in painstaking research before acting. Study, study, study…count, count, count…discuss, discuss, discuss. When you called me as your pastor, you did exactly that as far as I can tell. You spent a year-and-a-half in an interim process before choosing your next pastor. You analyzed Holy Trinity’s strengths and challenges and pondered how best to move forward. The Call Committee invested an enormous amount of time reading candidates’ exhaustive bios, parsing our in-depth answers to questions provided by our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, interviewing us face-to-face, and calling our references to make certain we were telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You flew Dagmar and me all the way from California to New York—not once, but twice. You watched carefully to see which of the three forks we used to eat our entrées; you listened to my chanting with high hopes I could carry some semblance of a tune. The entire congregation had the opportunity to “meet and greet” on a Saturday afternoon and to ask any pressing questions you might have. You listened to me preach to see whether I kept you awake or immediately sent you to Lalaland. And then, with fingers crossed and heads bowed, you voted…This all didn’t exactly occur immediately.
Most of us have a million and one reasons why we should be patient and prudent: resources our limited and rash decisions will be costly for years to come. We worry about making a mistake we will regret and yet, in some ways, Jesus made twelve flagrant ones. None of his disciples stood out in a crowd and none stood up for Jesus when his life was on the line.
The disciples must have felt like they had made a mistake as well, especially when they saw Jesus hanging on the cross. Why had they been so impulsive, why had they dropped their day jobs to follow the abysmal failure named Jesus? Maybe they should have listened more carefully to their parents and exercised more patience when making such a significant decision.
Perhaps that is why today’s gospel reading is so useful for us. Just as he called the first disciples, Jesus calls us now to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. There is an urgency to act, not tomorrow or next month or next year, but now…immediately…on behalf of all God’s children.
Our decisions, of course, will be filled with ambiguity, even fear; that’s why they are called leaps of faith. Finally, we must trust that God is leading us and guiding us and will excuse our errors in judgment due to our eagerness to act in this suffering world on God’s behalf.
Oh, and by the way, God calls us, we don’t call God. God knows we will stumble or our all-knowing God wouldn’t have called us in the first place!
And so, let’s get going and believe that God supports us every step of the way.