Sunday, January 22, 2017
Maybe you heard about the recent IKEA dressers being recalled – Pastor Rich and I happened to own two IKEA dressers that were recalled, so we used it as an opportunity to get new dressers with a little bit better quality than what we could afford in our seminary days. So as we were cleaning out our old dressers to get ready for the new, my first thought was – WHY do I have so many clothes? I feel overwhelmed and a little guilty with the abundance of just that one need of mine being dramatically over met!
Then as I was sorting through all those clothes in the hopes of donating at least some of them, randomly at the bottom of my old sock drawer, I found a card. It was a card that my campus ministry students had made for me at the conclusion of my pastoral internship year with St. Louis Campus Ministry. That was seven years ago, and I don’t know how or why it had gotten to the bottom of that sock drawer, making it through four different moves over those years. I have a special encouragement file where I usually put cards like that I receive from people, reminding me of how God has called me to this work and what gifts I have to offer. It was an unexpected gift of grace to sit and read through those students’ notes of appreciation, some of whom are now married, or in graduate school, or serving on the campus ministry board. It reminded me of how transforming that experience was for me, and for those students, most of whom did not grow up Christian or at least Lutheran. We often don’t know to what extent what we do or say impacts someone else, and I’m grateful for those students openly sharing how my ministry with them affected them in positive ways. It was a reminder to me as well of how important it is to invest in relationships and share our faith, even though it might take us outside of our comfort zones.
As I reflected on my experience in campus ministry working with young unchurched people and read the gospel for this morning, I wondered, “What is so compelling about Jesus that we want to follow him?” I asked this question to our confirmation students last Wednesday as we were looking at this passage. Think about it – if a stranger walked by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” or “Come and follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” would you leave what you were doing and follow that person? Our confirmation students said you’d be crazy. They might be right. Maybe Andrew, Peter, James, and John were somewhat out of their minds to leave their jobs and their families right then and there to follow Jesus. Or maybe, there was something so fascinating and attractive about Jesus that they had a sense that following him might just be the best thing that ever happened in their lives. At the end of this passage, Matthew tells us that “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.” Hearing good news about their bad situations, receiving healing from whatever ailed them – that could have been enough for people to pay attention and want to know more about who Jesus was and what he was doing.
Matthew is clear that the Galileans’ situation at that time and place was not great. People worked hard for little pay, paid high taxes and lived under Roman rule and oppression. It was a land sitting in deep darkness – sitting in the shadow of death –from the time of Isaiah, nearly 700 years before. Matthew describes Jesus’ appearance as a great light of hope for these people who felt like God had abandoned them. So maybe that was all it took – a kind and gentle face who promised a kingdom of hope, who promised a better life in the here and now and an even better life in the life to come—who spoke of good news and also showed through his healing actions that he was serious about that good news. Who in that situation wouldn’t want to follow Jesus, even if it meant giving up life as they knew it?
I suppose part of the good news for us today is that Jesus doesn’t necessarily ask us to leave our current jobs, or our families, or where we live to follow him. We have it easy, relatively speaking. He does ask us, however, to continue to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in word and deed, to be fishers of people. Sharing our faith is not always easy, but again, as that card in my old sock drawer reminded me, sharing our faith can make a huge impact when we do. In my work with the Nebraska Synod, I talk with a lot of congregations about sharing our faith from our own experience, rather than imposing on others what they “should” believe. The “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior or else” method doesn’t work too well most of the time. But if we can answer that question, “What is so compelling for me about Jesus that I want to follow him?” we can share that with others.
That note in my sock drawer made me think back to the faith stories of some of those campus ministry students that I worked with. One young woman was estranged from her family and had grown up in a very dysfunctional family arrangement. She had attempted suicide four times, twice during the year I was an intern. She had very low self-esteem. In Jesus, she found a God who loved her no matter what, a Christian community who accepted her as she was, and could be a loving family that she just didn’t have otherwise. I would say Jesus literally saved her life and gave her a reason to keep living. That’s a pretty compelling reason to follow Jesus.
Another student came from a wealthy family and was pre-med to become a doctor like her family expected she would do. Our campus ministry did a service-learning spring break trip to Guatemala. On that trip, she ended up giving her shoes to the father of the family we were building a house with and for because he didn’t have a matching pair of his own. They happened to wear the same size. Now, that might not seem like a huge act, but I have to be honest that we had worried a little bit about this student coming with us on the trip because she could be a difficult, pretty self-involved/selfish person. That week in Guatemala among people living in extreme poverty completely transformed her life – she ended up moving to China to work among people in poverty in community development work, against her family’s expectations for her. She heard the call to follow Jesus instead of her own selfish desires, or her parents’ desires for her, and that meant serving others.
Maybe you have a similarly inspiring story of how Jesus intervened in your life, where you heard his call to follow him and knew you had to respond. Maybe your story is more about how you’ve seen Jesus walking consistently by your side throughout your life, showing up a little more discreetly, like a card at the bottom of your sock drawer. Jesus calls us to follow him and then asks us to fish for people by building relationships and sharing all that God has done for us, in word and in deed. Jesus has shown up in our lives to shine light into our darkness in all kinds of ways that we can share with each other. In following Jesus, we get to reflect that light, in how we live, in what we say, in who we choose to be in relationship with. Amen.