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Matthew 4:12-23

“Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:22-23

On Thursday and part of Friday, I was facilitating a retreat for people who are preparing to be pastors and deacons, along with the committee members who accompany them through that process.  This time together each year gives us all a chance to connect more deeply, to laugh and pray, and to wrestle with some hard questions about the challenges of ministry.  I had persuaded my friend Anthony to do some icebreakers at the beginning of the retreat.  He’s really good at those, and pretty soon we were moving around and having fun and learning more about each other.

During one activity he kept having us form groups of different sizes and then answer some questions.  At first the questions were easier – What’s something that we have too much of in our homes that we’d be willing to give away a big portion of?  (My family will be sorry to hear that I did not say “books”!)  But as we kept going, the questions got harder, and Anthony eventually asked this question: “What would you do if you knew that you wouldn’t fail?”

I’ve heard that question before.  You probably have too.  But for some reason it caught me off-guard this time.  It’s like I was realizing for the first time how hard it is to imagine such a thing.  I crave certainty.  I want to know at the outset of any endeavor that it’s all going to turn out well, and it’s going to go just as I imagine, and I’ll feel successful and satisfied.

But we all know that isn’t how it works.  It doesn’t matter what age you are.  We don’t head out on the playground with a guarantee that we’ll never skin our knees.  We don’t take an algebra quiz with the certainty that we’ll make a 100.  We don’t enter a relationship with assurances that it will never be hard – or that it will never end.

I say all this to point to something that I always find fascinating about this gospel.  These four fishermen – Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John – drop their nets, leave behind the only life they’ve known, wave goodbye to their families, and follow Jesus.  They do this after Jesus does nothing more than call out to them: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Jesus makes no elaborate sales pitch.  He does not explain what the life of a disciple will be like or offer any guarantees that it will be easy or successful.  There’s no fancy brochure or the promise of a 401k or any details at all.  Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”  And they do, apparently with no idea what they’re getting into.

You might be thinking: “Well, that’s all well and good for four fishermen.  I’ve got many more responsibilities to juggle, and I can’t just drop everything to think about what Jesus wants me to do.  There are bills to pay and children to raise and that laundry is not going to do itself.”

True enough.  But remember that all of those things – the work we pursue to pay the bills, the caring for children, even the laundry – those are all versions of vocation, different callings – places to which Jesus summons us to use our gifts for the sake of the world.  We get a little more of a job description than the first disciples did, and we receive that call in our baptisms:  the call to trust God, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace.  Whatever we do each day – the work for which we are paid, the relationships we form, the care we give and receive, the civic engagement we pursue, the help we bring to those in need – all of that is a response to Jesus as he says: “Follow me.”

We are reminded in today’s gospel that Jesus fulfills some ancient promises.  Jesus shows up with the light that was promised by the prophet Isaiah – a light that breaks through all pain and suffering and brings hope to the most despairing of places.  The disciples will see it all unfold – the teaching, the proclaiming of how God wants the world to be, the healing of the sick.  They’ll eventually learn to do those things themselves, not perfectly (not by a long shot) – but even their stumbling, imperfect efforts will share the love of Jesus and will keep bringing people together in Jesus’ name.

Many years after the day that they dropped their nets and followed Jesus, when the early church was first emerging in fits and starts, the disciples could look back.  When everything seemed uncertain and overwhelming, when success seemed impossible, they could remember that bleakest of nights, when Jesus hung on a cross, bleeding and dying, and they thought it was the end of the road.  It had been a good run, but surely this was the ultimate failure.

Except it wasn’t.  Resurrection was around the corner.  New life breaking in.  A new beginning.  And in all the centuries since then – from the first Easter morning until this Sunday morning, resurrection keeps happening.  Life keeps breaking through.  Hope keeps showing up.

Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for Collins, and what a joyous day it is!  We look at her sweet face and her family gathered here to be with her – and all of us, her extended family now, ready to pray for her and teach her about Jesus and support her as she grows in faith.  We can’t help but smile.  We’re trying hard not to think about all the things we can’t be certain about.  There’s so much about the future that we just can’t know or control.  Matt and Amy, I encourage you to talk to the folks here who have had four-year-olds in their family.  Or twelve-year-olds.  Or sixteen-year-olds. Or thirtysomethings.  They’ll all tell you the same thing.  I had no idea what would happen.  There was so much that felt completely out of my hands.  There were times when it seemed like everything was spinning out of control faster than I could fathom.

When that feeling comes, remember this: In these waters of baptism God claims us and holds us forever.  God holds us in this unshakeable, life-giving love that not even death itself can change.  In a life where so much is uncertain, that promise is the most certain thing that we can name.  And some days we have to hold on to that like it’s a life raft.

Follow me, Jesus says.  And so we do, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  Amen.

 

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

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