Sermon - 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 9:1-4 • 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 • Matthew 4:12-23
Ok. I will admit to watching just a little Sportscenter this week in preparation for the Superbowl next Sunday. Ok, I’m sorry. That’s a total lie. I have spent many hours soaking in the attention that the Seahawks and this region have received on the many programs—sports programming and otherwise—that have all of a sudden seemed to discover there is a professional football team not to mention an urban area north of California and west of Chicago. So I have this strange sense that I should be talking about Richard Sherman this morning because clearly there hasn’t been enough said already about him this past week.
And if you didn’t get that joke, then I’m afraid you may not be as “all in” as the rest of the region is when it comes to these Seahawks and their march to the Superbowl and the fanatic response of the region to their success.
Of course, if you didn’t get the joke, that may not be all bad. Football is one of the most brutal sports around. We pay elite athletes obscene amounts of money to participate in a game that is at times so violent and graphic that we have to look away when they show a replay. Us-and-them scenarios pitting one arbitrarily assembled group of people against another generate drama at best, and genuine hatred at worst. Significant season-ending injuries are a weekly occurrence. Outbursts such as Sherman’s at the end of last game shouldn’t be a surprise, no matter how poised and thoughtful these young men are off the field. Just maybe your blissful ignorance is a sign that you have better things to do.
But for a good portion of Seattle, there is something of a fever afoot. The Northwest does seem to be “all in” for this team and their success. And that is a remarkable thing, isn’t it, the way these football playoffs have created such a stir among millions and millions of people in this little far-off corner of this small country in the midst of a vast world, most of which understands football to be a game played only with feet and a little black and white ball…and a bunch of grown men flopping all over the place. Crazy, I know!
Twelfth man flags are everywhere—hanging from flag poles where American flags used to be, in the windows of one small business after another, in lighting patterns many stories high in downtown skyscrapers. It seems every car has at least one blue and neon green flag flying as it speeds down the freeway. Blue and green lights have replaced white everywhere. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch jerseys are everywhere—at $100 a pop!
And even as many of us are aware of all the problems, all the negative connotations, all the dangers of giving ourselves and our hopes to something as frivolous and fleeting as the outcome a football game, the thing is, we are all in. And I suspect that’s ok. It’s fun. And it maybe even more than that. It may say something important about our collective sense of identity as Northwesterners. It may have something to do with our well-being, our sense of self and our sense of fairness.
But it will not save us. We know this, of course. We know these things are fleeting, as much as we enjoy them and give ourselves to them, and relish the excuse it gives us to be together with a common identity. And we know, and remind ourselves that life is bigger than this.
And the energy of the thing makes me notice all them more the response of these fishermen to the invitation of Jesus as he walks along the lake’s edge and invites them to come and follow. And even though there are no football pads or no Blitz mascot or no crazy outfits, they do—immediately, absolutely! The significance of their commitment may be lost on us because Matthew so underplays it, but there is an underlying intensity to the thing as great as any post-game Richard Sherman rant.
These first disciples drop everything. They leave their jobs; they leave their families; they leave any sense of security they’ve had in order to go follow this Jesus around on what seems to be as empty and fleeting an enterprise as any sports tournament that promises another go next year. This guy they give everything for will be dead within three years. We’re not talking a torn ACL here, we’re talking an execution. And their own lives will be in danger. In fact many of them will give those up too.
Paul’s got it right in his letter to the church in Corinth: “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…”
And Matthew just seems to bury the lead with this totally understated story that just reports that Jesus called them and they followed. ”Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
I mean, come on! Where was the marketing department on this one?
But it works. They give up everything they have known and they follow. “Immediately they left their boats, and their father, and followed.”
It’s the kind of thing that starts me wondering. I mean, what’s going on here that causes these four people to turn on a dime, to give up everything they’ve known for something that will prove to be pretty dicey, and pretty painful?
Huh! Maybe this storyteller Matthew has more going on than we give him credit for. It does kind of make you wonder, doesn’t it? And maybe that’s his point. Maybe that’s what he had in mind all along.
I mean, consider this thing that we are about. We gather here together week after week. We give of ourselves in our communities between Sundays. We give our money and our time to this institution we call church that at times does a pretty poor job of serving us. We gather with these this same people for hours and hours and hours over the course of years. And, let’s be frank, as much as we love each other, there are times when we just don’t like one another very much.
Thankfully, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us we’re not alone in this.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. (1 Cor 1:10)
You don’t even have to read the next line about Chloe to get that the church in Corinth looked a whole lot less like a love-fest and a whole lot more like a Seahawks-49ers game with tight coverage in the corners and 200 penalty yards. It was plain ugly at times.
But there’s another little detail that deserves our attention. A few weeks ago we had the story about John the Baptist and his message of repentance. And now this story opens with John in jail, and Jesus with his own message about repentance, and there is a key difference. John’s message was about warning: you better turn it around, or else. But that’s where he didn’t get it quite right.
Matthew looks back to Isaiah and the memory of a nation that had been lost among the bigger players, and offers a promise of something new in the repentance of Jesus: repent, turn around, alter your course, follow me and this way, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
If you want to know something about a way of life that endures—even beyond football championships—check this one out. If you want to know a way forward that holds onto you and keeps you among a people you can trust, even when you don’t like them, this is your way. If you want to find yourself complete and full of purpose and looking back on a life well-lived, even though pain and injury is a near-certainty, this is the life for you.
And even though Matthew has only begun to tell the story, it is enough for those first disciples. How about for you? Repent, you so loved by God. Give yourself to this one who signals his intentions for you by entering into your life and your way, who gives himself up for you, who is above all, love. Give yourself to love where you are and with whomever you are with and see where it just might take you. Yes, this, my dear brothers and sisters, this Way and this One will save you.
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