a sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
When Jesus came by, Simon, Andrew, James and John were already occupied. So he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
I’d like to begin today with a question:
What do you want to be when you grow up? OR
Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were a child?
Several years ago, before I left my job in the technology business, I travelled – a lot. I’d fly all over the country, and to South America, Europe and Asia. I’d travel all the time. And it was fun! Meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, trying to figure out how to sell our widgets to people everywhere I went. Financially speaking, the job was very rewarding. It allowed me to buy a beautiful home and send my kids to college…. (and soon, weddings). But I had the feeling that something was missing. My career just wasn’t very satisfying to me.
Lately, it’s become pretty common to hear people use the language of vocation or “calling” when they talk about their job. Motivational speakers get paid tons of money to teach about the importance of “doing what you love,” or finding your “true calling” in life. But other people will tell you that true happiness comes not so much from doing what you love, as finding something to love in what we do, whatever that may be. Either way we look at it, it’s pretty clear that given how much time and energy we spend at work, an awful lot of our happiness depends on how much satisfaction we get out of our career.
Today’s Gospel reading opens just as Jesus is beginning his career. He had just returned from his 40 day retreat into the desert, the one where he is tempted by Satan, and he has just learned that John the baptist has been arrested. And so he begins, picking up where John left off, wandering around the countryside and preaching. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
The kingdom of heaven – that’s a phrase that we hear a lot in the Gospels. In fact, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, more than any other topic. This, combined with the fact that here we are at the very beginning of his ministry and he’s already proclaiming it, means that it must be a pretty important concept. But what, exactly, does it mean?
For a lot of folks, the kingdom of heaven is something in the far off future, a place of peace and calm, a place of ultimate beauty that we go to when we die. This notion of heaven is very important to a lot of people, and I believe that it, or something like it, does await us at our journey’s end. But I don’t believe that that was what Jesus is referring to when he talks about the kingdom of heaven.
Instead, I believe that Jesus was referring to something much closer to us. N.T. Wright, a noted bible scholar and a bishop in the Church of England tells us that Jesus teachings are not about “our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.'” In other words, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven could be ours here on earth right now, if only we set our mind to work on it.
This is where the idea of vocation comes in. Because if Jesus saw heaven as something that could happen in our life time, then our calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to some kind of contemporary action. Like Simon and Andrew, James and John, Jesus calls us, urgently, purposefully, mindfully, to help build the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
And how do we do that? Do we do that by lecturing everyone we meet concerning whether they’re going to heaven or hell? Do we do that by memorizing passages of the bible and quoting the exact piece of scripture to perfectly illustrate whatever point we’re trying to make? Do we do that by wearing fancy robes and holding fancy liturgies? No. We do it by doing something very ordinary. Jesus called fishermen to fish. He called them to become fishers of people. Fishers, not theologians or rocket scientists or nuclear physicists. “Be who you are,” he says. “Do what you know how to do.” But do it for the sake of the kingdom. Be fishers of people! Not of ideas, or political positions or ideologies. But of relationships, of living breathing people with real lives, real problems, who live in the real world.
Jesus called his disciples, and he calls each and every one of us, to help bring about the kingdom of heaven by living in the real world by living in relationship with our friends and neighbors and with God.
There once was a man who possessed incredible faith. He would sit at vestry meetings and listen to all the plans and dreams and proposals presented. Then he would ask searching questions. After he was satisfied, he would always say the same thing, “Why not, if it is for Christ and his kingdom?”
His words were so predictable that some of the vestry decided to see how far they could go and still get the same response. They came up with a lavish proposal, an idea that seemed totally ridiculous. No way could the parish ever work hard enough to see the proposal accomplished. But they presented it and this man listened. He asked his searching questions, and when they were through, he said, “Why not, if it is for Christ and his kingdom? If we are doing this for Christ, and God is a part of it, why in the world wouldn’t we do that?”
I believe that this is what Peter, Andrew, James and John thought that day when Jesus came by. I believe that they set aside all of their reservations and hesitations and said, “why not?” “If this is for Christ and his kingdom? If we’re doing it for the kingdom of God, why don’t we follow him?”
And I believe that this is what it means for us to be called. It is not a calling to any specific job or career – not a calling to put on a collar become a priest, or a theologian, or some kind of “holy person.” It is a calling to do our ordinary jobs the best way we know how, and to bring all our gifts and talents to bear for the sake of God’s kingdom. Our calling is to work cooperatively with God to bring the whole human family back into relationship with God and one another. It is to ensure that every project we undertake, both here in the church, in our families and homes, and in our every day lives, moves us closer to the kingdom of heaven, right here, and right now.
After all, if it is for the sake of Jesus Christ and for the kingdom of God, why would we do anything else?
Thanks be to God!