Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Call comes in the Midst of Life

With some heavy borrowing from Rob Bell's Nooma Dust, my sermon as intended for tomorrow! May change over breakfast of course and mostprobably at the pulpit/lectern as usual!

The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

In today’s gospel we hear about Jesus call to his disciples to follow him. He walks by the sea of Galilee and seeing peter and Andrew and James and John he says “Follow me” Nowadays we have far more complex recruitment processes of adverts and parish profiles, application forms and interviews and references. Jesus However walks past and says “Follow me” sounds rather unprofessional really. Actually his words are not as simple and ordinary as you might expect. These were the words with which a Rabbi would traditionally call someone to be their disciple.
(from Rob Bell's Nooma Dust)

Education was huge in Jesus' day, and the system that Jesus would have probably grown up in and learned from was very specific. Jewish education was made up of three primary sections: Bet Safar,Bet Talmud & Bet Midrash
Bet Safar: Usually from the ages five to ten, it was a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized the Torah - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – the first five books of our Old Testament memorized by the age of ten.
Bet Talmud: Progressing on from Bet Safar, it continues from the age of ten on to fourteen. During this time, the student would continue his memorization of the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). It wasn't uncommon in that day for a good Jewish boy to have the Old Testament memorized by the age of fourteen. The student would also during this time begin to learn the art of questions and answers. In our western civilization today, we are into information transfer, but in those days, answering a question wasn't quite as direct. A rabbi might ask a student what is two plus two? Today, we would spout off the answer of four. But back then when a Rabbi would ask what two plus two was, a student might answer with, "What is the square root of sixteen?" This not only told the Rabbi that the student heard and understood the question, but was able to process it and respond with a question of his own. So you see, when we find Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve (Luke 2), we find him doing just what a boy of his age would be doing, questions and answers with the elders.
Bet Midrash: At the age of fourteen, the best of the best would continue to apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna (the earliest oral version of the Talmud), and years and years of commentary on the scriptures. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. You see, you have the law itself and then the Rabbi's interpretation of the rules required to obey the law. The Rabbi's rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you. But Jesus came and said His yoke was easy. That He isn't about endless lists of rules and regulations (Matthew 11). If we understand this we see that, when Jesus is speaking, He's not just picking words out of the air; He's speaking as a Rabbi would.
So, at the age of fourteen, the best of the best, the Oxford and Cambridge of the Jewish boys took another step. All Jewish boys wanted to be Rabbis, because teachers were the most respected people of the day. At fourteen, the Oxford and Cambridge would approach a Rabbi and request to become his disciple. The Rabbi would then quiz the boy. If the Rabbi quizzed you and determined that you were good enough, that you were indeed the Oxford and Cambridge, he would say, "Come, follow me, take my yoke upon you and become my disciple." And at that time, the boy would leave everything, (home, mother, father, synagogue, community…) and devote his entire life to being just like the Rabbi.
Now there is always the possibility that the Rabbi might decide while quizzing you that you are not the Oxford and Cambridge. He would say, "Obviously, you know Torah, but you don't have what it takes to be just like me. Go, have children, pray that they become Rabbis, and ply your trade." Go learn the family business and live a good life that your sons may grow up to be better than you. And that brings us back to the text,
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. What were they??? Fisherman…Why? Because they didn't make the cut! A Rabbi had probably told them they weren't the best of the best, and sent them to "ply their trade". Jesus goes to the losers and rejects and calls them! "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Now, how many of you, honestly will say that this has never made sense to you?
But that is what happened! There is no more. Nothing is missing. The author didn't leave anything out. You see, Jesus was a Rabbi! He is calling disciples! He thinks they are good enough, even though others did not. He's giving them a chance to fulfil their dream.
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

And the place where Jesus meets these disciples is not some specialist disciple recruitment centre or even the job centre plus. These men are going about their normal lives. To hear God’s call doesn’t require you to go out of your way. God’s call comes in the midst of life. In fact, it often comes when you are doing something at which you are talented, skilled or gifted. God sees your gift and calls you to use it for the kingdom, not just for your work. It might be that you spend a lot of time organising things or listening to people and God calls you to put those skills to organising a charity event, or listening not just to customers but to those in need of a listening ear and maybe even a shoulder to cry on. It might be that you have fabulous skills in finances or sewing or carpentry and God calls you to help as a church treasurer or run a project helping teenage mums to craft clothes for their children or fix up the cloakrooms in the local school. These skills might not be simply your work skills but the things you take so for granted; the gift of hospitality of baking of smiling and being friendly. All these things can be the root of God’s call to you.

The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

I know in the church we can often think that there are those who have a calling to ministry in the church and the rest of us just have jobs or tasks but it is so not the case and making that clear is exactly what Jesus was doing by calling the unlikely candidates such as Fishermen, a tax collector like Matthew, a doubter like Thomas and a zealot quasi terrorists like Judas Iscariot. Jesus was showing that the call can come to everyone. It’s not just about the Pharisees and all their rules but about each and every human being listening to where God is calling them and following. Paul in his letter reinforces this. The message of Christ doesn’t come “with eloquent wisdom,” but simply and with truth so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. Jesus deliberately didn’t call the usual suspects as he didn’t want to replicate the law driven religion of the Pharisees. He wanted real people and so he called real people who would not be caught up in philosophical arguments but would tell the Good News. As Paul says For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. In a climate when, increasingly the church is mocked by comedians and by newspapers, this concept is more than clear. The message of the cross can seem like foolishness, passed on by the ones who didn’t make the cut to follow the best Rabbi but Jesus teaching is not about SUCCESS but about love so his call doesn’t go out only to the top notch people but to each and every one of us. We’re not following after different Rabbis as Paul says it’s not about “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” but we all follow Jesus
I suppose the question is how does the call come? How can we her it? For some it is a clear and blinding as it was for Paul on the Road to Damascus and as daunting and clear as the call to Ananias who healed Paul’s blindness – putting himself in the path of the man who had been campaigning for the death of Christians. I have known friends who have woken one morning with words clear in their mind, calling them to somewhere. It might come in the guidance from friends, from reading scripture, from the revelation of a glorious experience of God’s creation. It might come through our own prayer or be shown through the prayer of others. For others, the call creeps up on us. Sometimes, in fact, we don’t see it until we look back and see our footprints with God’s walking alongside.
From my own life I remember frustration at two points in my life when I didn’t see it until later. Both times, I was still where had been for some time and really felt I should have moved on – I felt that God was calling me on to new things but I hadn’t yet reached them.

(personal story)

I’m sure Peter James, Andrew and John didn’t think they wanted to be hauling nets but off with some great Rabbi and yet there they were – where they needed to be, in the midst of their regular life, so that Jesus could walk by and call “Follow me”

Where are you working at your nets?

Where will Jesus come to call you?
How will you respond?
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

The texts for this morning:
Matthew 4:12-23
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


Juniper said...

over here from revgals. awesome - I love this, and I love the rob bell thing, I had not heard that before.

this'll preach, for sure!

(funny word verf = "easterco" ha!)

Terri said...

well done. thank you for sharing this.

Rev Nancy Fitz said...

Great sermon, this will preach and speak to everyone. thanks