Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

On Christmas Day this past year, my family spent the afternoon watching the original Star Wars movie. It was the first time our daughter Mari had seen it. I’m not sure what she thought of it, but for her nerd father who grew up with it as a staple of his childhood, it felt like a big moment. It had been years since I’d watched the movie, and this time I was struck by just how fast the plot moves. Princess Leia moves from an imperial senator, to an imperial prisoner, to commander of the rebellion with barely taking a breath. Luke Skywalker moves from being an ordinary farm boy on a backwater planet to being a major figure in the rebellion in about twenty-five minutes. The sequence of events that move the characters along seem like a rapid series of coincidences, but of course, in the Star Wars theology, it is the God-like force that is calling and moving them toward their destiny. In an instant, an ordinary person, in the midst of his ordinary life, is called to play an extraordinary role.

The same thing is happening in today’s gospel lesson. When we read this passage at both our Wednesday Bible study and most recent chapter meeting, several of us were particularly struck by how Simon and Andrew, James and John immediately drop everything and leave their lives behind to follow Jesus. Four ordinary fishermen, in one instant, are called to play an extraordinary role. Because they responded to that call, those ordinary fishermen are all enshrined in these windows, and countless others like them around the world.

Like the movie Star Wars, the events in this morning’s lesson are set against the backdrop of a cruel and oppressive empire. The fishermen Jesus called were kept in crushing poverty by what was extortion disguised as tax law, and for the people living on the little slice of earth known as Galilee, that was nothing new. Back when it was known as the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, the Assyrians were doing the same thing the Romans. In the midst of a dark political landscape, Matthew frames Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise:

“Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali. . .Galilee controlled by the Gentiles. . .the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Jesus is the light promised to a people living in the darkness of oppression, fear, and poverty.

The rest of the lesson then shows us what that light gets up to, how it works in the world: it calls people to a new way of life, it invites people to form a new community of love, it heals those who are sick, who are desperate, who are desperately poor. God’s promised light works in the world by forming a alternative community of love and healing that will resist the world’s darkness.

In the words of one of my favorite biblical scholars, David Lose: “Jesus called ordinary people, in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things. . .and he still does.” [1]

When we normally think of Jesus’ call, we think it’s the ordained clergy who are called, or we think that maybe some people are called to a particular job or something. But Jesus calls each and every one of us, exactly like he called Simon and Andrew, James and John. He is not so much calling us to do a particular kind of job, he is calling us to be light in a dark world. Jesus is calling us, Jesus is calling you, to form an alternative community, to join an alternative kingdom of love, and work together to heal the desperately sick, the desperately lonely, the desperately poor, and maybe most of all those who are just desperate.

Jesus is calling you, ordinary you, to play an extraordinary role. Jesus is calling you to light in the darkness. Jesus is calling you invite others into an alternative community marked by love and hope and healing. Jesus is calling you right where you are, in your own fishing boat, in your home, at your office, to join God’s extraordinary movement of bringing hope where there is despair, love where there is hatred, life where there is death.

I wrote this sermon on Friday morning, just before the presidential inauguration, as a handful of people were sitting in this cathedral praying. It’s an anxious time for our nation. These past several days, everyone has seemed a little more on edge. We are deeply divided, there’s anger all around, many are afraid. The good news for us today is that the people of Zebulon and Naphtali knew what all of that was like, Simon and Andrew, James and John knew what all of that was like, Jesus and everyone he touched and healed knew what that was like. Throughout the Old Testament, in the gospels, and in so many places in the history of the church, God’s people have come together in the midst of uncertain times, in the midst of all kinds of darkness, in fearful times and in exuberant times, and formed once again an alternative community of love and light. This morning, Jesus is calling you, ordinary you, to be extraordinary light and extraordinary love, saturating and infecting the world wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever you are with love and hope and peace. Jesus stands right here in the midst of us today, and calls us again, “Follow me.” I will make you fish for people, I will make you light for the world. Land of Zebulon and Naphtali, land of the United States, land of Omaha, the people who have walked in darkness have seen, see right now, and will see again, God’s great light. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018

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