Monday, January 24, 2011
Calling Disciples, He Qi
Isaiah 9: 1-4; Matthew 4: 12-23
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
January 23, 2011
Boyd Packer, a prominent leader in the Mormon Church, tells the story of Dr. Faun Hunsaker, who was visiting their Southern States mission. Dr. Hunsaker was invited to stay at the home of a member, arriving after the children had gone to bed. He was given the parents’ bedroom to stay in.
During the night he heard the door open and the sound of little feet. A little boy frightened by a bad dream had come to his parents' bed for comfort. Sensing that something was different, the little boy felt Brother Hunsaker's face. So he spoke quietly to the child. The startled youngster said, “You're not my daddy!”
“No, I'm not your daddy.”
“Did my daddy say you could sleep here?”
“Yes, your daddy said I could sleep here.”
With that the little youngster crawled into bed with Brother Hunsaker and was soon asleep. 
We are soft-wired for connection and trust. We come into this world trusting that the people around us will take care of, love, feed, and comfort us. Through our relationships with our families and later on, with other adults and peers, our ability to trust becomes more complex. We adapt what we’ve learned, gauge what we can say and do with new people based on previous experiences, and choose whether to renew trust with someone who has broken it. If we’ve experienced any kind of abuse, it can be very difficult for us to form connections, to feel like we belong, or to trust ourselves, let alone anyone else.
I Will Make You Fishers of Men, Joey Velasco
Interestingly enough, we are hard-wired for caution and fear, and with good reason. These innate characteristics have saved human beings from becoming the next meal of a grizzly bear or African lion all the way to keeping us from making friends with every person on the street. Caution and fear are what keep us alive some days. They wise us up, saving us in our foolish and reckless youth to living to be older and levelheaded adults.
In fact, we’re so hard-wired for fear and caution that it’s possible to be born without these qualities. It’s called Williams syndrome. Children born with this disorder are biologically incapable of distrust. Yes, most children are friendly, conversing with strangers in public, waving, smiling, mimicking others’ faces, mannerisms, and words. Imagine, though, if during the course of an innocent conversation, your child then said to an unknown adult, “Will you take me? Can I come home with you?”
Children with Williams syndrome are unconditionally trusting and loving. They have no social fear whatsoever. The boy in the previous story was startled, scared to find someone else sleeping in his parents’ bed. He asked questions. He wanted to know if this unknown person had permission from the person he trusted the most, his father. Children with Williams syndrome must be taught these behavioral lessons over and over again, often living very sheltered lives.
However, in this morning’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus’ first disciples behaving as though they are unconditionally trusting as well. They ask no questions. Jesus does not say by what authority or training they will be doing this ‘fishing for people’. Thus far he hasn’t preached any sermons, healed any people, or performed any kind of miracle. Yet Peter and Andrew, James and John immediately leave their nets and boats, their families and community to follow Jesus. What would induce them to trust this unknown and as yet, untested rabbi?
Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew, James Tissot (1886 - 1894)
The author of Matthew himself gives Jesus some geographical credentials by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.”
The territories of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the lost tribes of Israel, to listeners in both Isaiah’s time and in Jesus’ would be like us hearing about places like Mogadishu, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Vietnam—places where war and its atrocities had made a living hell for those who live there.
So when Jesus moves into this neighborhood, he is saying in no uncertain terms that he has come for the lost, for those who live in the shadow of death, for those who have been forgotten. Jesus and his disciples would not be fishing for converts but for those the world has left behind. They would be doing God’s work of gathering in those still in exile: the poor, the outcast, those considered unclean. For this reason, these first few disciples trusted Jesus with their lives.
Think of the people you trust, with whom you can be your most vulnerable self. What is it that makes them so trustworthy? What qualities do they possess? Usually these are folks we can believe in, that is to say, they have integrity, their insides match their outside—they are authentic.
When we say we believe in Jesus, what we mean is that we believe, we trust that he is the authentic, utterly faithful image of the fullness of God. For some Christians that means Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, who came to take away our sins. For others this is not necessary in order to believe in Jesus; rather there are Christians who look to Jesus, his actions, his teachings, his authenticity as one who fully embodies God’s law and love.
Because of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the words ‘trust’,’ believe’, and ‘faith’ have come more to mean to ascribe to a creed or doctrine or religious code. Actually, these words have more to do with loyalty and relationship than with any kind of test. The word ‘believe’ comes from an old English word which means ‘to belove’. When we say we believe in Jesus, we believe in God, we believe in the Holy Spirit, what we’re really saying is that we belove them. We have a relationship with them. We trust them. We trust that when a promise is made, that it will be fulfilled; that we are unconditionally loved; that when we are lost, we will be found; that the kingdom of God truly indeed dwells within us and amongst us.
We could quote Bible verses, the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, and the Ten Commandments until the cows come home. We could agree with every set of statements that exist about the Christian faith. But this is not what it means to be faithful, to trust God, to believe in Jesus. The opposite of faith and trust is not doubt but anxiety, worry, fear. Think about how often during the course of the day you are worried, anxious, fearful. Think about those times you have felt those feelings at church. Are there people here with whom you can share your anxiety, your worries, your fears? Is this a church where these feelings are talked about openly and authentically or with only a few?
Keeping our anxiety, worry and fear to ourselves is what makes us feel lost, is what drives apart community and gets us feeling purposeless, wandering—as though we are in the dark. When a community, a church operates from within the shadows, all of the decisions made, even with the best of intentions, contain within them an undercurrent of anxiety and worry. Being open and honest about these feelings takes away their power over us, bringing the light of God into that shadowy place. Believing in one another, being faithful in our commitment to each other, trusting that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got—this is how we are found, it’s what brings us together, and gives our life together meaning. This is what makes a church feel like home.
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Said another way, “Belove one another as I have beloved you. Believe in one another as I have believed in you.” Jesus trusted these disciples, not because they were exemplary people, not because they had proved themselves in some way, not even because they might have been good fishermen. He trusted them because they said ‘yes’ to him when he hadn’t promised a thing except that they would be catching people.
At some point you said ‘yes’ to Jesus and to each other. You say it each time you come to worship, when you serve on a committee, when you put money in an envelope, when you teach Sunday School, when you bring food and help out at a mission meal and any other number of ways. But as in any relationship, when was the last time you said it out loud and really meant it? Jesus trusts you to do God’s work of gathering in the lost. If Jesus has called each and every one of us, who are we to be anxious?