Sunday, January 22, 2017

Leaving Father Zebedee

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 9: 1-4 and Matthew 4: 12-23, NT pages 3-4 Sermon title: “Leaving Father Zebedee” Preached on January 22, 2017 There are several good questions to ask when you first read this Second Scripture Lesson from the book of Matthew. I think the first one that I ask is, “what was it about Jesus?” These four fishermen – they just stopped and followed. How did they know it was him? How did they know Jesus was one worth following? There are some good explanations. We’re not unfamiliar with the leadership quality called “command presence.” Command presence is this quality, a quality that’s not easy to define exactly – it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” things. Looking back at history - George Washington must have had it. As a man over six feet tall in the late 18th Century he was always the tallest man in the room. He was known to be the best horsemen as well, and when he barked an order most people fell in line – he had command presence – and the same could be said of others like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Rev. Clementa Pinkney. Rev. Pinkney was the pastor killed in the church shooting in Charleston, SC and one of the church members there said that when Rev. Pinkney walked into the room it was like the future just showed up. What was it about Jesus? Was he tall? Was he commanding? Could he persuade a crowd with the truth of his words and the sound of his voice? Dr. Roger Nishioka thinks that it’s something more than that when it comes to Jesus. Many of you know Dr. Nishioka as he was the Spiritual Renewal Speaker seven years ago, and in a commentary on this passage he quoted his father who said, “We are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other.” What was it then about Jesus? According to Nishioka it is like those newborn baby seals numbering in the hundreds or the thousands on a single beach, these beaches are packed with all these baby seals who all look alike, but as their mothers return from the ocean with their catch the pups find the mothers or the mothers find their pups because from the moment of birth, “the sound and scent of the pup are imprinted in the mother’s memory, and the sound and scent of the mother are imprinted in the pup’s memory.” Could it be then that even before we are born we are imprinted with the memory of God, so that when we hear his voice we just know to follow? I think that must be how it is, and St. Augustine was so bold to write at the beginning of his Confession that “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. The through of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” For him, even while his childhood and young adulthood was spent wandering so far that he was at first rendered ineligible for baptism for they said, “He was a great sinner for so small a boy” – still he found no satisfaction in the pleasures of the world, but only found peace by resting in the Lord, for when we hear his voice we hear the call of home. Or to put it as GK Chesterton does in his great poem of Christ’s birth in the manger: There fared a mother driven forth Out of an inn to roam; In the place where she was homeless All men are at home. For men are homesick in their homes, And strangers under the sun, And they lay their heads in a foreign land Whenever the day is done. To an open house in the evening Home shall men come, To an older place than Eden And a taller town than Rome. To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are, To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home. What then did these men – these fishers - see in Jesus as he wandered up the beach? What did they sense in his demeaner? What did they hear in his voice? They heard a voice they had always known but couldn’t place and they saw a man they recognized but whose name they could not remember, for they had always known him and yet they hadn’t met and they knew to follow though they could not have told you why. The words of the Prophet Isaiah that made up our 1st Scripture Lesson is quoted again in the 2nd claiming that seeing him is as “the people who sat in darkness” seeing a great light – “for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” It was Jesus you see, and when you’ve seen him and when you’ve heard him you knew. Meeting him is like looking into the eyes of your new born child – she’s breathing her first breaths and yet you recognize her face somehow. You hear his voice and you don’t need explanation – for the truth isn’t so hard to recognize when you hear it. It’s like water to the thirsty, like water to the thirsty who didn’t even know that they thirsty, for in him is the satisfaction for our deepest needs. Bind our wandering hearts to thee, we sing, because our hearts find no rest until they rest in him for we are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other and when we do we will finally be at home. He found those four…. and they followed. Perhaps this is where there is sometimes a difference between them and us. I want to argue that you would have known it was him as they did, because the imprint of your creator is inside you just as it was inside them – you know his voice when you hear it, but the question, the moral admonition is in the question: would you have followed? It’s not whether you would have recognized him – you would have and so would I – but would we have followed? Think for a moment about what had to be left behind? Don’t just think about hearing the Gospel and accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, think about the cost of discipleship. In becoming his first disciples, what were they willing to give up? Verse 18: “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” What were they willing to give up? What did they leave behind? Their nets, their livelihood, all that they had known, their trade, their heritage, their people, their home, their family – and poor old father Zebedee is left in that boat. I say that when you hear the voice of God you know it, but are we able to get up and follow? That’s a big part of the challenge of being a Christian today – preachers like me make it too easy. Someone will ask me what are the requirements of church membership and I’m just so glad they’re interested I don’t ask them to do a thing – “Just join the church, please!”. But here’s the truth – if you want a new life in Christ, you must leave the old life behind. In Chapter 10 of Matthew he says it himself, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” What then is the cost of discipleship – what do you have to give up to really follow him? Everything. You must be ready to leave that old life behind. We sang about it last Sunday night. So many of you were there with me at Bethel Chapel AME for our third joint worship service, and the service began with a song that was easy to learn but profound in its message. Our Music Director, Marcy Lay and I pick hymns out of this blue hymnal of ours and the hymns state the truth in the lyrics – the only problem is that sometimes you need a master’s degree to understand what the song is about and you sometimes need to be a professional musician to follow the tune. It was nice then to sing at Bethel AME. Our girls memorized the song and we sang it so many times on Monday that Sara finally made us stop. The hymn went like this: Victory is mine Victory is mine Victory today is mine. I’ll tell Satan Get thee behind Victory today is mine. We sang that until we got it, then the Music Director at Bethel AME changed the words a little bit and we sang: Happiness is mine Happiness is mine Happiness today is mine And the part that I want to emphasize here that struck me so profoundly – for happiness to be mine I must “tell Satan, get thee behind.” To inherit the gifts of God To have the joy he intends To follow where he leads, we must leave our nets, leave our old life, maybe even leave our father behind. And perhaps, when you consider how clear Jesus is about the cost, how upfront this story is about what must be left behind, you’ll see that those who are worth following never gloss over the fine print. You remember well the words: “It’s not what this country can do for you – it’s what you can do for this country.” There’s a cost. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Now that’s a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And he died in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Why? Because following Jesus is risky. It costs something. Some things must be left behind, for do not forget that the promise of our Lord is not a Cadillac but a Cross – and should anyone promise you a Cadillac for nothing, they are not worth following. What have you been asked to leave behind? Nets. Fathers. Bad habits. Old dreams. Whatever it is, know this – “this present time [is] not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Do not cling too tightly to the present, to what you have, for we have been called by the Savior to something better. Go tell Satan – get thee behind – for I have heard his voice and I want to follow where he leads. Amen.

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