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What Will It Cost?

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Matthew 4:12-23
January 22, 2017
Rev. Robin Razzino
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week we heard a word from the Gospel about call and discipleship. We heard in John’s version of the calling of the first disciples a story of discipleship based on relationship, and this relationship based on conversation and invitation. We talked about what it means to name and own what it is you are looking for when you are looking for God, looking to follow God in Jesus, looking to answer when you hear that still small voice calling to you, “come and see.”
This week we are again about the business of call and discipleship. In Matthew’s account of the calling of the disciples, emphasis is given not on naming or owning the answer to what it is we are seeking, but rather considering and naming what it will cost us to follow Jesus and God’s will for us, to follow Jesus into God’s dream for us.
We hear in this Gospel reading the calling of four disciples: Peter and Andrew and James and John. All four of these men were fisherman. They were all called to leave what they knew and trusted – their understanding of family and vocation – to follow Jesus. We hear nothing of their internal struggles if they had them; we hear only of their immediate response.
How is it that these two men were able or eager to leave everything behind to follow Jesus? Did they already know him? Had they heard about the beginning of his ministry? Had they been waiting for him?
Or was Jesus so compelling a figure and source of light that there was no turning away from his call?
The Gospel writer does not say why they abandoned what they knew to follow Jesus.
But the result of answering this call - the decision to follow Jesus - cost these men their lives as they knew their lives to be. Their lives were upended. Jesus called them to a new way of life, a new community and a new mission (Warren Carter, Gospel reflection, Working preacher, 2017).
They may have preferred to keep their jobs – and follow Jesus on the weekend. Or to remain with their families in their homes and just go out to meet Jesus when he came through town to preach and teach.
However, “When they see Jesus and hear his words to them, they make a different choice; they take a risk, step out in faith, leave behind that which is comfortable and secure. They choose to follow Jesus (Audrey West, Gospel reflection, Working preacher, 2008).”
When we look at these four disciples we are invited to take a minute to think about our own call to follow Jesus.
We don’t compare the call of these four men with our call, but we can gain insight and inspiration from them.
Our call is not their call. Our starting point is not their starting point. Our lives our not their lives.
Our burdens will be different. But we will be burdened if we answer the call.
All calls include sacrifice.
All calls are costly.
As I thought about this sermon, and the cost of discipleship - the cost of following Jesus and God’s call, I thought about some of the stories included in a book I was recently given.
One of the stories captured in this book - Callings: the purpose and passion of work - is the story of an African American Christian pastor from Kansas City, Missouri, Eric Williams.
Williams speaks about an incident that changed his life forever.
About twenty five years ago he learned that a neighboring church was refusing to do the funeral of a young gay man who had died of AIDS at the age of 26. Someone from the local funeral home called and asked him if he would do the funeral.
He was reluctant at first – he was a young pastor at the bottom of the pecking order and he knew he was not to go against what another pastor said or did. But then he met the family, saw their love for one another and immediately agreed to do the funeral.
The backlash in his community was fierce. Williams and those he pastored were shunned by local clergy and church goers.
But their ministry evolved and they became a source of information and support for people who were experiencing the devastating toll of the AIDS epidemic.
Williams says in his story, “I came into this work kicking and screaming. I just didn’t want to do it. But my heart was pulled. Everything good that I’ve been able to accomplish in ministry has started with some kind of burden, and AIDS burdened me...
“I’m not a real vocal or boisterous person; I was always one of those kids that would sit in a corner and try not to get noticed. But this call, these burdens, really force you to do stuff that you don’t even think you have the skill to do. And you know, in being vocal, you take hits. I’ve lost people I thought were friends doing this work. But no one should have to bury their kid; you’re not supposed to have to do that. Doing that funeral for that family was the event that rearranged my whole life (Callings: the Purpose and Passion of Work, p 239)”
I thought about this story and I thought about the story of the calling of the four fishermen. In every case, you see the truth in one writer’s comment on this Gospel narrative:
Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things … and he still does (David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014)
These four fishermen and this one preacher probably didn’t garner much attention from anyone but God. The pastor referred to himself as the one at the bottom of the pecking order. The fishermen likely had no great education credentials, wealth or social status.
We do not need to be priests, or vestry members, or confirmed Christians, or learn-ed in theology, church history and scripture to be able to hear and respond to God’s call and direction. We need only to be open to the call and open to where the call will lead us.
The call will cost us, but the burden – as Jesus says – is light.
Answering a call will require a change in us, but the change – if it results from a true call – will not be without real and lasting joy, a sense of purpose, a sense of our purpose aligned with God’s.
“In these stories of the calling of the disciples, writes Thomas Long in his commentary on this Gospel, “Jesus disrupts family structures and disturbs patterns of working and living.
He does so, however, not to destroy but to renew.
Peter and Andrew do not cease being brothers, they are now brothers who do the will of God. James and John do not cease being sons; they are now not only children of Zebedee but also the children of God (Thomas Long in Matthew, p 43).”
He continues, “The patterns of our lives are not made secure by the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of heaven rearranges them into the new design of God’s own making (Thomas Long in Matthew, p 43).”
Discernment is a spiritual practice.
Following God’s call takes practice. Listening for God’s call takes practice.
There are ways of praying that can open us up to hearing God’s call more clearly. We can read scripture daily, bringing our questions to God. We can wonder with God if the decision we are making is in line with God’s purposes for us. We can talk to spiritual friends and mentors, people we respect who center their lives in God’s love. We can listen to our heart, knowing that it is in our heart where God resides.
In his introduction to the book Callings – a collection of stories from StoryCorps, the author writes, “Listening has always been at the heart of StoryCorps’ mission. And as you’ll read in these stories, finding what you’re meant to do with your life has a lot to do with careful listening – to that quiet voice inside that speaks to who you really are.
As the writer and teacher Parker Palmer wrote in his book Let your life speak, ‘before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you (Dave Isay in his introduction to Callings, p 4).”
In order to hear God’s call to us we have to listen to our life, our heart, our joys and our fears. We have to name the costs – the burdens – of what it would take to follow Jesus. But we have to trust that God needs us – our ordinary selves – to do things we never thought we could. To bear burdens we thought were too big. We have to trust God that when he calls us out of one place and one set of relationships, he is calling us to look at these places and relationships differently – not to leave them behind so that they might be forgotten, but to leave them behind so that they - and us – and our world – might be renewed.
This was an incredible weekend in the life of the DC metro area, the nation and the world. In the midst of deep division and deep neglect, people are deeply disturbed. People are burdened with fear and unease at the direction our country is heading. People also have hope that this moment in our history is one in which ordinary people will do extraordinary things. God is calling to us in the midst of the chaos of this moment.
God is calling people of all faiths and political persuasions to be open to new calls, new work, new communities, and new relationships.
As I read this story about the first moments of Jesus’ ministry, I can’t help but feel we too are living in the midst of the first moments of a new ministry, a new era, a new beginning.
As we set our course, we have the option of following many calls. My prayer is that we can listen deeply for the call of the God of our hearts, the call to help bring about the Kingdom of heaven here on earth – the kingdom of heaven marked by the values of heaven - today, right now.
Amen.