[This message was delivered at Gates Presbyterian Church on 1/26/20. The lead text is Matthew 4:12-23.
Note: after preaching for 15 consecutive Sundays (the longest such stretch in my retirement), in six churches in the greater Rochester region, I am taking a sort of sabbatical. Rachel and I will head south soon and return home sometime in March. Hence, I will not be posting sermons for a couple months. I may post some other writings, but not with the same frequency. I appreciate that you take the time to read my posts and often respond with affirmation. Preachers don’t preach for praise, but they appreciate words of affirmation, and all to the glory of God alone.]
Jim Collins calls it getting the right people on the bus. I don’t read many business books, but I like to read Jim Collins’s books, because I find so many of his insights readily translate to pastoring and church life. This concept he identifies is that in building a leadership team, whether in business, sports, or church, it is crucial to get the right people on the bus. Once on the bus, people may change seats any number of times in trying to find the right seat. When I first read this concept, I was the lead pastor and head of staff with oversight of eight other people. Did I have the right people on the bus? And if so, were they in the right seats, the right places for maximum impact and effect? These were not always easy questions to answer. They were flawed people—and so am I. They had bad days—and so did I. They were ordinary people—and so am I.
Does Jesus have the right people on this bus? Today we meet the first four, the core four: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And they are a pretty ordinary group.
There is a pattern in the way Jesus calls disciples. We see it here in three steps. First, Jesus isn’t all that original. He uses John the Baptist’s script: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It is good news for preachers that we don’t have to be original. The call to repent is timeless. The word simply means to change one’s course; to make a turn from one direction to another. Repentance is not a one-time event, but a life-long discipline of turning from that which takes us away from God toward that which brings us closer to God. The kingdom of heaven is bursting on the scene, calling for response. Turning from old ways to new ways is the right response.
Second, Jesus finds ordinary people in ordinary places doing ordinary things. One cannot read the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, without seeing that God loves the ordinary. The extraordinary God of all creation loves the ordinariness of all creation. Humans once thought that planet earth was about the only body in the universe that was worth knowing about. We thought that the universe was rather tidy and this planet was at the center of it. Now astro-scientists believe that there are likely over 10 billion earthlike planets orbiting stars like our sun in our galaxy. It seems that this wondrous planet we call home is rather ordinary in the vastness of the universe. Yet those photos of our planet from space are still awe-inspiring. This blue marble of a planet is beautiful. And it has a special place in God’s design. God peopled this planet and sent the Savior to this planet for us. God delights in the ordinary.
In the case of Peter and Andrew, Jesus finds them fishing. In the case of James and John, Jesus finds in their father’s boat mending nets. For people of that time living around the Sea of Galilee, this was ordinary activity. It’s like lobstering for people on the coast of Maine. It’s like ice skating for people in Canada. It’s like surfing for people in Hawaii. Jesus finds these ordinary brothers in an ordinary place doing ordinary activity.
God’s calling of ancient Israel to bring God’s Good News to all nations was not because of anything extraordinary about Israel. Deuteronomy 7:7 says this about that: “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.” God delights in the ordinary.
In Acts 4:13, we find two of the original four active sharing the Good News. People are taking note. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” (NRSV) Hear that again in “The Message”: “They couldn’t take their eyes off them—Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laypeople with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus.” God delights in the ordinary.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul reminds a young church of God’s way of gathering a congregation.
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks … chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (The Message) God delights in the ordinary.
And we have Jesus. Though Isaiah sees him as “wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” he comes to us in such humble ways. The King of Glory comes to us in the ordinary. God delights in the ordinary.
Third, Jesus calls them to follow him. He doesn’t say to stop fishing; he changes the lake. He calls them to fish for people, people that will become followers of Jesus. I have come to prefer calling myself a follower of Jesus. The word Christian can be static, not moving. The word Christian carries baggage for many people today. They see Christians as arrogant and judgmental and, in many cases, aligned with a partisan political agenda. To be honest, churches are often guilty of projecting such images. To follow means to move in a direction, following someone one presumes to know the way somewhere. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way…”
Disciples follow the leader.
Fuller Seminary printed the results of a study of how followers of Jesus came to faith. In the tradition in which I was born and raised, all the emphasis was put on having a dramatic conversion experience. Anything less than a decisive experience about which you could name the place, the date, and the time was suspect. Here is what that study found. About 15% of followers of Jesus have had that kind of dramatic experience. About 15% have had less dramatic experience, fuzzy but still memorable. The great majority of followers of Jesus, 70% or so, have had no such dramatic point in time experience, but have had an unfolding process, a long journey of following the light of God’s love. It doesn’t matter how we come to faith in Jesus; what matters is that we are following him.
Does Jesus have the right people on this bus? Think for a moment. If you’re a Buffalo Bills fan, can you name your favorite 12 Bills? If you’re a Yankees fan, can you name your 12 favorite Yankees? (I’m a Red Sox fan; I can easily name more than a dozen of my favorites.) Can you name Jesus’ first 12 disciples? I didn’t think so. Get past the core four, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and we may be hard pressed to name any others. There Thomas, that doubter. What do we know about Bartholomew? Thaddeus? Philip? Virtually nothing, except that Jesus called them to follow him. And then there was Judas—that didn’t work out too well. These are such ordinary people—and Jesus calls them. God delights in the ordinary.
My wife read me this poem she read last week. It spoke to her; it speaks to me; perhaps it will speak to you. It was written by Matt Chandler and published in in Relevant magazine.
“What made me love Christ wasn’t that all of a sudden I started figuring out how to do life.
What made me love Christ is that when I was at my worst,
when I was at my lowest point,
when I absolutely could not clean myself up and there was nothing anybody could do with me, right at that moment, Christ said, ‘I’ll take that one. That’s the one I want.’”
Here we are this morning on this bus. Are we the right people to be on this bus? You bet. God loves to call ordinary people like us to repent and follow Jesus. God delights in the ordinary.