St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
Whatever else the disciples might have been, bumbling, impulsive, foolish, confused, or frightened, they weren’t indecisive.
Jesus is walking along the sea of Galilee, he sees a couple fisherman out in their boat and calls out to them that they should follow him. Unlike John’s account last week, in Matthew there is no indication that either Simon Peter or Andrew has ever heard of Jesus before. They aren’t disciples of John here, they are just fisherman out doing what fishermen do. Along comes Jesus and suddenly their life is changed completely. It makes for a great story, but it raises some questions.
How did Simon Peter or Andrew know that Jesus was someone they should follow? How did they possibly discern that this was something worth leaving behind everything they had and knew and starting their lives over? There’s the easy answer of course, that Jesus basically walked around with a spiritual neon sign over his head that read “GOD’S ANNOINTED” but that’s a bit problematic given how wrong so many people got his message, and the whole eventual crucifixion thing. And it’s does no good to use today who don’t have a dude walking around with that conveniently supplied and visible neon sign.
Today’s gospel is partly a lesson about discernment. How do we discern the voice of God among all the competing voices of our world? I wish it were as easy as bobbling neon sign over a scruffy Palestinian’s head. It’s pretty common for folks to ask “how do I know what God wants me to do?” Just about everyone is ready to say that they know what God wants, that they are doing God’s work, and that their ideas just happen to align perfectly with God’s ideas. It’s handy if you are an overly confident demagogue, because let’s be honest. People like surety and confidence.
But I tend to be wary of anyone who’s got easy answers and a bullet point mission from God. If you’ve noticed, the answer to “what does God want me to do” often comes back pretty fuzzy. For most of us, it’s about feel and listening in prayer and all sorts of other things that leaves great deal to the imagination. How do we as a parish know where God is pointing us? How do we as individuals make hard choices about how we live our lives, the choices we make, the policies we support, the candidates we vote for, and how we donate our money? How do we sort out the voices that just say they speak for God from those that actually do?
If you turn on the news, or pull up the internet it seems everyone has God on their side of whatever issue you care to chose. And all of them are pretty clear that their side is right.
I’m here to tell you it might not be complicated after all. That Jesus indeed had a big sign to make it obvious who he was and what we was about, but it might not be the sign we expect. Quite simply it’s in the last sentence of our lesson this week: “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.”
What Jesus did showed who he was. Jesus did not live by proof text. He did not pick certain versus of the Bible and apply them like clubs to those around him. Beware straight away anyone who has a Bible verse answer to complicated questions. What Jesus did do is live in such a way that was in sync with the whole, complicated witness of scripture and the wise teachers who had come before him.
Jesus took a complicated canon of religious experience and (because he looked at it with the heart of God) saw what mattered. He heard echoing through the psalms the grand love affair that God holds for God’s people. He heard in the words of Genesis and Exodus the tender care God has for creation, and for the people God named good. He heard in the ringing words of the prophets that the heart of God rests with the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.
Jesus lived the scriptures. He lived good news for the poor offering them dignity and hope. He lived the healing of the brokenness of the world as he made whole broken people and communities. He lived the inclusive love of God as he welcomed the stranger, the outcast, the sinner and the other into the circle of God’s family. Jesus saw the inherent dignity in the people around him, people who had been thrown away by the rest of their world.
Wiser people than us have distilled the witness of thousands of years of scripture and spiritual teachers into the simple words of our baptismal covenant. How do we know that something is of God, or is aligned with God’s desires?
Our covenant gives us as clear an answer as Jesus’ actions gave to the disciples. God’s will is striving for justice and peace among all people. We must ask: does this thing about which I am torn respect the dignity of every human being? We just finished a week that began with the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told us “peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” This is the neon sign of the baptismal covenant. Justice, he could have gone on to say, is the lived respect of the dignity of every human being.
Dr. King would have been encouraged and joyful to see the first black president of the United States finish his second term. But for anyone who thought that the work of justice was over and finished the last few months should have shown the bright light of truth on the dark voices that still seek to lead us down a very different path.
There is work yet to do brothers, and sisters. And those who have taken up Dr. King’s torch and still work today will remind us that Jesus is still calling us out of the boats of our everyday lives to do the work of God in the world. That work was not finished by Dr. King. It may not be finished in any of our lifetimes. But Jesus did not call the disciples to do some simple job and go back to what they were doing before. Jesus called them into a whole new life, to found a new world that would be the defining work of this present age.
When we are called to discern between the right and the wrong, the easy and the hard, between the many voices that clamor in our ears; it is Jesus’ voice we must listen to, and it is our baptismal covenant that shows us the way Jesus is going. In all things sisters and brothers: do not lose heart. Strive for justice and peace among all people.
Respect the dignity of every human being. Accept nothing less every day of your lives. It will not be a short journey, and Jesus never promised it would be an easy journey. But Jesus did not leave us alone. Continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship for it is in these thing we find guidance, in these things the Holy Spirit moves through us, and it is in the breaking of the bread and the prayers that we receive over and over again the food that Jesus has prepared for our journey.
Jesus is calling.