Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, January 26, 2014: Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4  +  Psalm 27  +  1 Corinthians 1:10-18  +  Matthew 4:12-23

So, just out of curiosity, who here has ever been part of a “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” day — either as a child or as a parent? My parents never officially took me to work with them as part of a vocational exploration program, but given that my dad works for the church, pretty much every Sunday was a “take your child to work” day around our house, and apparently it worked. I ended up in the family business.

Listening to the story of Jesus calling Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, away from their family business I’m struck by how Jesus just shows up at their place of work and says, “follow me.”  It’s like God declared a “Take Your Jesus to Work” day, which is like a “take your child to work day” except that instead of expanding your child’s sense of vocation, it expands yours.

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This feels like the perfect set-up for a “Coffee with Jesus” comic strip. If you haven’t seen “Coffee with Jesus,” it’s a web-based comic strip drawn in the style of  the old weekly drama comics in the newspaper like “Mary Worth” or “Judge Parker,” except that each strip features a conversation between Jesus and one or more other people in four panels. I imagine the strip going something like this:

Carl: I’m so glad I took my wife’s advice and brought our daughter to see where I work!

Jesus: Why’s that, Carl?

Carl: Because I got to see what I do through her eyes and to show her that how you do what you do is just as important as what you do.

Jesus: Wow Carl, sounds great. Just imagine what would happen if you took me to work!

The actual scripture defies such easy morals, and the point of the story is generally understood to be that Jesus calls disciples away from their work rather than camping out at their workplace, but I’m still struck by the simple fact that Jesus shows up where his followers work.

If Jesus showed up where you work, what would he see?

Who are you at work? Are you an employer or an employee?  Do you give the orders or take them? Do you work with your hands? Do you work with your words? Do you get paid for your work? Do other people see what you do as a job?

What skills are required in your line of work? Do you have to know how to change diapers, change printer cartridges, change lanes, change minds? Do you assemble meals, assemble documents, assemble buildings, assemble people?

Are you the same person at work as you are at home? At the gym? When you’re out with friends? When you’re with your parents, or your children, or your partner? When you’re at church?

Whether we work in the home or in the marketplace, in the system or on the streets, much of our lives are spent working. Making a living. If Jesus showed up where you work, what would he see?

The gospel of Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the baptist had been arrested, he left his hometown of Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea.  The biblical archeologists tell us that Capernaum was a town of about fifteen hundred. So, not very large by our standards. In the 2010 census, Logan Square had about 75,000 people, so that gives you a sense of scale. We’re talking about a community of people who knew each other, and since Jesus had made his home there, we can assume they knew him as well.

Jesus begins his preaching ministry among the people he knows best, not the people of his hometown but the place he settled as a young adult. The content of his proclamation is that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and that the people needed to repent. Our inclination may be to hear that phrase “kingdom of heaven” as an entirely spiritual one, but remember that Matthew’s gospel began with King Herod’s murderous paranoia over the birth of an infant messiah whom the wise visitors from the East named as the king of the Jews. Jesus’ message from the start is that the kingdoms of this world are fleeting and that their days are numbered, and he called his followers to repent.

In calling people to repent, Jesus isn’t asking them to become apologetic for their misdeeds, to be sorry for their sins, he’s calling them to change their minds. The word being translated here as repent indicates a changed mind, perhaps a renewed mind, that rejects the world as it is and dedicates itself to the world that is breaking in. The kingdom of heaven, which has come near, an end to business as usual.

What would happen if Jesus showed up at your work and declared an end to business as usual?

Consider that for a moment. If Jesus came to the place where you spend your day — whether that be giving lectures or seeing clients or casting nets — and declared an end to business as usual, what would you immediately think he was talking about? First thing that comes to your mind. What would have to change?

Would it be the hours? The billing structure? The labor contract?

Would it be the way people talk to each other? The way people avoid talking to each other? The way people talk about each other?

We live in a world, an era, a thought-regime, a kingdom that encourages us to compartmentalize. We’re told that to be successful at work we need to be one kind of person, but to be successful at home we need to be another kind of person. We’re encouraged to take part in religious life only insofar as it doesn’t get in the way of the “real” world.

But as those who follow him find out, Jesus will show up at your place of work and call you to repent, to change your mind, to reject the world as it is and be recruited to a new world order, an emerging reality, a beloved community, the kingdom of heaven. Once we heed that call, we risk being called all kinds of names. Idealistic. Unrealistic. Soft-headed. Irrational. Foolish.

Calling the community at Corinth to repentance, Paul anticipates the way our faith will be dismissed out in the world, proclaiming

“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.” (1 Cor. 1:10-18)

We will be reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for the rest of this season leading up to Lent, and for much of it he will be talking about the scandal of the cross. Far more than some variable in an equation that results in salvation, Paul insists that the cross, which is foolishness for those who prefer signs or wisdom, is actually the way God chooses to be in the world. That God’s glory is found precisely in God’s willingness, God’s preference, for the broken, bleeding places of this world, this dominion, this kingdom. The cross is God’s promise that there is no division we can create, no compartmentalization that can stand against God’s loving insistence that we are all in this together.

This is the ministry Jesus calls his followers to when he meets them at the shore, at the office, in the courtroom or the classroom, next to the crib, around the dining room table, under the bridge. We are called to repent of all the ways we imagine it to be acceptable when we set out to be one person at work and another at home or out in the world. We are called to stop that, immediately, and to be made new through Christ Jesus, before whom we are always the same person, always and everywhere, whole and beloved by God.

When Jesus showed up at their place of work, where Peter and Andrew and James and John were fishing, they stopped what they were doing and they followed him. But notice that Jesus said to them, “follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt. 4:19).  Jesus, a man they had to have known in their small town by the sea, calls to them in terms they can understand using a metaphor from their place of work. I think this signals to us his respect for what they did, and God’s intention that we have work that is good and meaningful, but not wed to the values of this world, values of profits and power over people. As their ministry together continued, Jesus and his disciples would return to Capernaum.  They would set sail again, they would fish again, they would work again, but never in the same way. They were changed.

And if Jesus showed up where you work, where you make your living, what do you think would have to change?

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