Friday, January 31, 2014

Skittles for Jesus

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 lake—for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  — Matthew 4

I have to admit I don’t know much about football, but I heard so much chatter about the behavior of Seattle Seahawks fans, that I got curious.  There were stories of loud yelling and Skittles being thrown on the field.  I even came across an article about the Seahawk fans causing an earthquake. That was a bit of hyperbole; they simply stomped and made enough noise to be picked up by a nearby seismograph — very different from causing an actual earthquake. 

There was a story about how, in one case, fans from the two rival teams almost got in a fight, until one of them tried to talk some sense into them all.  He said, "You realize neither of us is actually playing on one of the teams?"  There’s a huge difference between being a fan and being an actual player. 

As people are looking forward to the Super Bowl, perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question about our faith in Jesus, "Are we just fans, or are we followers?"  You may be Jesus’s greatest fan.  You may be the one wearing the funny face paint and the colored wig, waving your flag and throwing Skittles onto the field for Jesus, but don’t kid yourself; there’s a huge difference between being a fan of Jesus and being an actual player on his team.

It is here on this ordinary Sunday, somewhere between Christmas and Easter that we read the Gospel account of how ordinary people became star players on his team — how his church began.

Fishing was tough work.  Much of their fishing was done at night, using lanterns. In the morning, the fishermen would sort their catch (Luke 5:5; John 21:3).  When the fish had been sent off to market, it would be time for the fishermen to clean and repair their nets.  Once this was done, they could sleep and get ready for the next night’s work.

In our text today, Jesus is walking along the shore early in the morning, and he comes to Simon Peter and Andrew while they are going about their morning routine.  And something amazing happens…  Jesus calls his first disciples, the first players on his team.  Renowned Rabbis didn’t go out and call followers; they simply waited for followers to come to them.  Not Jesus.  And if you know any of the stories about them in the Gospels, you know these guys weren’t ready for prime time.

I already told you I don’t know much about football, but my impression is it’s kind of tough to get on a major league team.  Kids spend their youth playing on Pop Warner teams, and then they compete to get on their high school football team.  If they succeed there, they carefully choose a college that has a great football program or will offer them a sports scholarship, and then, they fight to get and to keep a position on their college team.  And they hope… just hope they’ll get noticed by a scout for a national franchise.  And most are disappointed.

The Denver Broncos do not select their players by driving up to a couple of ordinary guys out fishing and say, “Hey, you!  We want you to be on our team. Oh, bring your brother too.”  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew...  'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.'” 

I think it’s important to notice what Jesus did not say.  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to believe in me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to love me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to be a perfect person.”  There were no preconditions in Jesus’ call to his followers.  You don’t have to have perfect faith.  You don’t have to understand everything.  You don’t have to subscribe to some list of required beliefs.  When Jesus calls, he asks me, and he asks you to step out into the unknown with him.  He asks us to follow even though we may not be quite sure of where he is taking us or whether we are up to journey. 

Peter, Andrew, James, and John must have wondered and even been a little intrigued by Jesus saying, “I will make you fish for people.”  But as they heard him preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” they learned two things about fishing for people:  One, it had to start with them.  They had to be a certain kind of people to bring in others.  It started with them wanting a new kind of life, a change.  And the second thing they knew, it wasn’t going to be too hard to get into this Kingdom of Heaven because it was nearby, right in their midst.  In one place it can be translated, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

And as they followed Jesus day by day, learning to live a new way, a way filled with hope instead of despair, and as they and the multitudes who followed Jesus saw the Kingdom of Heaven breaking out within them and among them, the prophesy of old Isaiah began to be fulfilled, “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.”

We need this light today every bit as much as they did 2,000 years ago.  Each of us has some dark corners in our lives, places where we feel hopeless, lost, overwhelmed, and alone.  But when the great light of Christ begins to shine, we move from darkness into a new day.  But that light, that change of life, doesn’t happen if you’re just a fan of Jesus, you have to be on the team.  You’ve got to get out on the field not just throw Skittles for Jesus from the grandstands.

Now, I’ll be truthful with you, it’s a lot tougher to be a player than it is to be a fan.  And there are no guarantees that there won’t be dark times in our lives.  But what we are promised is we are not alone, and darkness is never going to win.  Knowing that, with God’s presence in our lives, we can walk through any darkness without fear overwhelming us as we hold the hand of the one who walked alongside the sea that morning so many years ago.

The part about “fishing for people” was always kind of hard for me to understand because I’m a pretty bad fisherman despite my poor dad’s best efforts.  But I think maybe that misses the point: If Jesus can use a fisherman, he can use me and he can use you!  He reached out to people where they were in their lives.  To exhausted fishermen, he said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  To builders and architects and carpenters, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to build up people.”  To lawyers, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to share the law of love with others.”  To those who feel they might not have many talents to offer, he says, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how talented you can be bringing light to others.”  And he calls wives and husbands who work at home, and taxi cab drivers, and young people who think they’re too young to have anything to offer, and old people who fear they have nothing more to offer.  Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things, and he still does this morning.  You can do this where you are   In fact, Christ needs you right where you are.

Phillips Brooks was the Bishop of Massachusetts in the late 1800’s.  Most of us know him only as the author of "O little town of Bethlehem," but he was also renowned as an incredible preacher.  Here’s what he said in one of his sermons:

"It seems very certain that the world is to grow better and richer in the future, however it has been in the past, not by the magnificent achievements of the highly-gifted few, but by the patient faithfulness of the one-talented many.  “If we could draw back the curtains of the millennium and look in, we should see not a Hercules here and there standing on the “world-wasting” monsters he had killed, but a world full of (human beings), each with an arm of moderate muscle, but each triumphant over (their) own little piece   of the earth... It seems as if heroes (have) done almost all for the world that they can do, and not much more can come till common (men and women) awake and take (up) their common tasks." 

We don't need one more Superman or Spiderman.  The world doesn’t need any more Wonder Women or Xena: Warrior Princesses.  We just need more ordinary people like Mary and Joseph, like Martha and John and Mary Magdalene, and Andrew and Peter.  We need to stop merely being fans of Jesus and become followers.  What the world needs… what God is looking for in our time… is just folks like you and me living our ordinary lives, doing our most humble tasks, sharing our love and our faith and our light with our brothers and sisters as we meet them every day along our journey.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Wise Men

by Madeleine L’Engle

A star has streaked the sky.
pulls us,
Where, oh where, where leads the light?

We came and left our gifts
and turned
Time had passed, friends gone from sight

One by one, they go, they die
to now,
to us-
gone in the dazzling dark of night.

Oh how, and where, and when, and why
and what,
and who,
and may, and should, O God, and might
a star, a wind, a laugh, a cry
still come
from one-
the blazing word of power and might-

to use our gifts of gold and myrrh
and frankincense
as needed,
as our intention was to do the right?

Here, there, hear- soft as a sigh-
all that is spoken, back to the flight

blazing too fierce for mortal eye.
oh, Love, until we, too, may dazzle bright.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coffee with God

You know, I suppose I should be more proper and call it “Morning Prayer” as it is entitled in the Book of Common Prayer, but I just can’t help but think of it simply as “Coffee with God” every morning.  I do follow the readings and the format of the BCP — I’m such a daydreamer, always haring off after random thoughts, that I like how it makes me focus.  Still, although I follow the format, I still think of it as simply saying, “Good morning!” and sitting down for coffee with an old friend.  Would I look forward to it as much if it I thought of it as formal prayer?