Sunday, January 29, 2012

Calling Disciples

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B January 22, 2012

People often ask me why the cycle of readings doesn’t follow the chronological course of the life of Jesus---I mean, Christmas was less than a month ago, and already we have the story of Jesus calling the disciples. The short, overly-simplistic answer is that the Gospels aren’t biographies of Jesus---they aren’t about His life story as such. A few personality details emerge---and one gets the sense that there is more to Jesus than what is on the page. The 3rd Sunday of Ordinary time marks the preparation for public ministry, next week, on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the ministry begins in earnest. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t linger on anything, and it’s clear that it’s not a biography.

The Gospels are about His identity as being sent by God and an attempt to tell this story in a particular way for a particular audience or community. Mark’s Gospel, which we read every 3 years, doesn’t even have the story of the birth of Jesus—it begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, followed by the Baptism and Temptation of Jesus, and then the beginning of His ministry in Galilee with the call of the first disciples. The Gospels focus on that crucial three years of public ministry -- there isn’t a chapter in any of the Gospels entitled “Jesus, the Hidden Teen Years.”

The way that our culture ‘does’ Christmas continues to make us forget what it all is really about—everything about Christmas, including the music, should point us to Easter and everything in between. The Gospel today invites us to consider what it is we should understand after the Christmas rush is over. A few years ago, I ran across this wonderful quote from Howard Thurman, who was an early mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve used this on my Christmas cards.

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone

When the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks

The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”

That’s what happens in today’s Gospel---Jesus begins the “work of Christmas.” Jesus calls the first disciples—and us, to the ‘work of Christmas.’

Following Jesus is easy only in the ‘talking about it’ phase. If it was really easy, everyone would do this, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. The first reading is the story of Jonah, after he got himself spit out by the whale and did what God asked him to do. Our first reading is from Ch. 3---if you go back and read Ch. 1 the first thing you find out is that God called Jonah, and told him to go to Ninevah. Jonah responds by hopping on a ship and going in the opposite direction, to Tarshish. He paid dearly for that

God’s call is not something that people respond to with great welcome---because we know that it’s going to require something of us, usually something we don’t want to do or give up. In terms of calling people, Jesus fares a bit better in the Gospel reading, and I suspect it’s because the disciples didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Had they known ahead of time, I sometimes wonder if they would have dropped everything to follow Jesus. Following Jesus always leads to the Cross. Jesus somehow neglected to mention this when he asked Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him. We know about the Cross, and perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult for us to follow Jesus. We have an idea of the cost, and like Jonah, we want to jump in a boat and sail as fast as possible in the opposite direction. What we have yet to figure out is that God always catches up to us. We can run, but we can’t hide. We believe in a God who loves us so much that He comes after us.

But here’s the thing to remember---Jesus didn’t ask us to do this alone. The first thing Jesus did was to call disciples----he formed a small group. This I the model for us. We don’t ‘do’ this alone---we do this as a community. We don’t gather here every Sunday to be alone with Jesus---we join the Body of Christ around the table. We encourage, challenge and support each other. We gather with an extraordinary community—I consider myself so very blessed because I get to work with an amazing staff and pastor--and with all of you. I have the most wonderful teams, and I get to work with an extraordinary group of young people. I know who my friends are—and one of the things that we all have in common is that we all share some part of this sacred work of Christmas.

Jesus left His work for us to finish. The work of Christmas then, is done by us, and begins in us.

“To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”

Let us begin.

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