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Essential Personnel

1/22/2017 Third Sunday of Epiphany The text is Matthew 4:12-23.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Well, here we are at another one of those days in which the weather report is not good for Monday.  Snow is one thing; ice is another.  And as what often happens this time of the year, decisions will have to be made regarding the safety for travel.  It won’t surprise me if schools close and events are canceled as travel becomes tricky. If the conditions become too bad, a decision may be made that not everybody should try to get to work and only those who are absolutely necessary should go in.

We call the people who must go in, “essential personnel”.  These are ordinary people, like doctors and nurses, snow plow drivers, EMTs, fire fighters, electric and gas company workers, and a whole host of other service people who are generally taken for granted when things are running smoothly.  The world just can’t seem to go on without them.  But, what about those of us who are considered to be non-essential?  Can the world get by without some of us? 

Today’s gospel answers that question for us, once and for all as Matthew begins his story of Jesus’ pubic ministry.  Matthew begins without Hollywood-fanfare or the glory of a Charlton Heston miracle.  Matthew begins by using the quote from Isaiah about light and darkness that was used during Advent, but this time, the promised light is no longer a glimmer of hope.  It has become fulfilled as the people in darkness are actually seeing a great light. 

When we are in the dark, we can hide.  We move about carefully for we cannot see where we are going.  When we are in the dark, we can sleep and take our rest.  But when the light comes, we get up and get ready to do something.  And so it is in the gospel of Matthew.  The light has come and we are called to get up, out of bed and go to work.

There is nothing passive about this passage in Matthew.  Jesus is not bestowing something upon us, like droplets from heaven.  Action pervades every verse.  Repent!  Follow me!  Fish for people!  And then teach, evangelize, heal.  We can get tired just thinking about it.  But then the Messiah has arrived.  Light has come and it’s time to work.  And he needs many disciples, helpers, fishers for the work of the kingdom is at hand.  This work is so great that everyone is essential.  No one is left out.

Jesus calls and Simon Peter; Andrew, his brother; and two other brothers, James and John leave what they are doing and immediately follow.  They may not have any training in what they are asked to do.  They are only fishermen, and catching people is not easy.  But they go anyway, trusting that the one who is calling them can give them the tools they will need.

It would be nice if that call were limited to a small band of people whom we might call “essential personnel” and we could go back to bed and let them do the work.  But Jesus call is not limited to time and place.  Jesus makes the ordinary people essential for everyone needs to grab a net and go fishing.

There is an old ministerial story of an evangelistic pastor who made much of Jesus’ command for us to go out and “fish for people”.  Earnestly, he laid upon his congregation the duty of joining in the great fishing expedition.  But, one of the older members of the congregation was intimidated by the task which he felt ill-equipped to perform. 

The pastor caught wind of this man’s discomfort with the whole thing.  So, one day, without announcement, the pastor showed up on his parishioner’s door step.  “How goes the fishing?” he bluntly asked.  “Well, pastor,” the man replied, “I’m afraid that I really haven’t caught anybody.  But I do believe that I’ve influenced a few!”

And perhaps that is all that is being asked of us – to be willing to follow Jesus where he leads us and do the tasks of the kingdom which he hands us.  The rest is up to God.  For, it takes God to mold a believer.  It takes God to make a person whole.  What we are called to do is listen and respond in faith, knowing that God can work wonders through those whom he has chosen and gifted to do the work of the kingdom.

All of us are called.  All are gifted.  All are essential.  But many will not answer the call.  We have a lot of excuses for ignoring the call to follow and serve, a call which is often mediated through the church which is the body of Christ.  We decline from serving, claiming that we are too busy or too feeble, too young or too old, too involved in other things or too distant.  Yet, we were called for a life time before we were born.  Our ears and our hearts may be closed to that call, but the call is there just the same. 

As I look back over my life time, I can say that who and what I am today is a surprise to me.  I would have never guessed that a venture in faith would have taken me so far.  As I look back over my life time, I can say that who and what I am is a surprise me, but not a surprise to others who had seen things in me that I could not see and who had heard what I was unwilling to listen to.  An old high school classmate who attended my sister’s wedding a number of years ago told me that she was not surprised that I, an agnostic from the wrong side of the rail road tracks, was a pastor.  For even in my rebellious teen years God was calling me by name, gifting me, encouraging me, and sending me out into the world to work in the light of his grace.

The same is true for each of you.  God has gifted each of you and encourages you throughout your life time.  As your guide and your helper, Christ lays the path before you.  You have been set apart.  You have been called by name to bear witness to the grace of a merciful Lord and Savior of the world.  You are essential personnel.  Are you ready to listen to his call?  Are you ready to fish for people by just being what God created you to be?

The two sets of brothers in today’s gospel are ready.  They have no idea where Jesus will lead them, but they are open to the call.  Jesus’ appearance is so brief that Jesus speaks only one sentence and the brothers say nothing.  Yet, when Jesus speaks, the call is heard and the four respond by leaving home, workplace, boats, nets, father, mother and all that they have known and follow the Lord to a new life venture.  Because of their willingness to go, their lives are transformed and are changed forever as they respond to the irresistible call of Christ with actions that make no sense to the outside world.

And, perhaps, that is what God has in mind for all of us.  For each of us, the specifics of what we are called to do are as different as our gifts.  Yet, each of us is called to be transformed, changed, and molded into a people whom Jesus calls brothers and sisters – a people who are cleansed, empowered and used by our Lord; a people active in faith who live free in Christ.  We are called to be fishers of people so that the world can share in the glory of God’s kingdom with us.

May our ears and our hearts and our minds be open to the voice of Jesus, and may we step out in faith, following where Jesus leads.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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