Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why we Should Listen to and Follow Jesus' Call

Matthew 4:18-22 (NRSV): Being Called
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] 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.
When I was 19 and in the service, I was stationed in South Korea for a while. In the loneliness of living in an isolated, foreign environment, I felt an indescribable yearning for God and began attending a weekly non-denominational Protestant service. Each Sunday I went to chapel, and upon returning to my barracks, I would reflect on how the emptiness I once felt was gone. As each Sunday approached, I could almost hear a calling in my heart to return to the worship service. And each week, through grace, I answered that call. Once I got back to the states, however, the noise and confusion of life would stifle that call for many years, but I vividly remember the feeling of fulfillment that each Sunday brought. As I reflect 25 years later, that call was coming from Christ. He was personally inviting me to discipleship. And in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Christ calls each of us to that same relationship.
This scene from the beginning of Matthew’s gospel depicts Jesus calling forth the first disciples --  James, John, Andrew, and Peter.  But in order to understand the unorthodoxy of this, we should consider the text’s historicity. Dr. Marielle Frigge, a professor at Marymount College in South Dakota, argues that Jesus’ actions in this chapter oppose first-century Jewish tradition. The practice of the times, she states, was for the student to seek the rabbi, not the other way around. Jesus, as Dr. Frigge argues, reinterprets Jewish teaching practice and tradition. And that Matthew’s gospel was intended for a Jewish audience, a statement regarding traditional change was significant and would have a marked effect on the hearers. First-century Jews would have been shocked into listening to and considering their own call to Jesus.
The effect does not change for us today. Jesus says to Andrew and Peter, “‘Follow me . . .’”(19), and he calls out to James and John, too (21). Our Master, Teacher, and Lord calls out to each one of us as well. This is the same call I heard 25 years ago in that distant barracks room. Will we, too, answer as the first disciples did by dropping all things and following Christ? Will we, as Matthew reports, “[i]mmediately [leave our] nets . . .” (20)?
As we mend the nets of our daily lives, let us listen carefully and heed Jesus’ call, for it can be too easily drowned out in the busyness, stress, and noise of the world. And as we make the right choice to drop everything and follow Christ, keep in mind that this does not mean abandoning who we are in the world -- moms, dads, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, companions, and neighbors. It means we embrace those roles in Christ, baiting our lives with the sweet fragrance of love and self-giving to those we encounter and serve.
I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ enliven our hearts and open our ears so that we can hear and respond to his call in love, allowing us to drop our nets and follow him in all we do in this world. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How Jesus is the Way

John 14:1-7 (ESV): Jesus is the Way
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
I often find myself searching for ways that I can be a more authentic Christian. Questions often surface, mental questions, that pose whether my life reflects an authentic walk with and witness to Christ. The answer to my questions is really not that complicated: Allowing Jesus into my heart is enough. With my cooperation, he will take care of the rest. But I often get confused, as do the disciples in the above passage, and it is in prayer with God’s word that Christ provides the answers.
In John 14, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure, and he reminds them that there is a place for each of them where he is going. Jesus speaks bluntly to his disciples, and even though they are with him daily, they just don’t get his message. Thomas, speaking for all of the disciples, shows confusion and tells Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus, however, issues a clear reminder to not only the disciples that surround him in first-century Jerusalem but also the disciples that surround him in 2017. The way, the truth, and the life that should guide our every action and serious thought is Jesus himself -- his teachings, his love, and his examples of self giving. Everything Jesus exemplifies, teaches, and does is the path to him. Our lives should be spent in imitation of his love in this world. Jesus and the Father are perfectly in sync in everything Jesus does. Jesus exemplifies what it means to be in conformity to God’s will, and we, in turn, are called to be in conformity with the way exemplified by Christ.
The prolific Christian teacher and author, John R.W. Stott, writes in his final address at the Keswick Convention, July 17, 2007, about the challenge of imitating Christ in our world:
[Imitating Christ] in our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
Therefore, I return to my original musings: How can my life be offered up as a more authentic witness to Jesus Christ? What is the most authentic way to Christ? Is it in a list of doctrines, a tradition, a worldview, a mindset, or a set of practices? The answer lies in front of me on the cross. It is Christ himself, arms spread out in the ultimate offer of love. The answer is Jesus.
I pray that each of us follow the true path of Christ in our lives, doing the best we can, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to imitate his love in the nooks and crannies of the world.