Hancock Church Sermon
Rev. Dana Allen Walsh
January 20, 2013
Our Scripture passage begins with Jesus’ return to Galilee after spending 40 days in the wilderness. To announce the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaims the “good news” by using a metaphor that appears 66 times in the New Testament, “the kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s gospel, we hear the same metaphor with slightly different language, “the kingdom of heaven” which is used an additional 32 times. #
One reason Jesus used this metaphor is because he sought to contrast the goals of his ministry with the goals of Herod’s dynasty. Herod the Great wanted to prove himself as King and give legitimacy to his dynasty by building grand structures and modern cities. He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and he built two cities in honor of Augustus Caesar.
However, the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed would not be bolstered by the construction of monumental buildings and great cities. God’s kingdom would manifest itself in the human embrace of justice, compassion, and love. Jesus’ mission was to call people to a total reorientation of their lives – one that was built on equality rather than dominance.
Jesus’ mission was not a solitary one. He calls four men—Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers—to follow him. Later he commissions them and eight others to preach and spread the good news. They become his twelve disciples.
I often wonder what that day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was like. Were others volunteering to follow Jesus? Or were Simon and Andrew, James and John the only people foolish enough to say yes? Were they down on their luck and tired of pulling in empty nets so they decided to try something different? Or were they legitimately inspired by the words that Jesus was preaching and sought to build a different kind of Kingdom on earth?
We don’t know the exact motivations of these new disciples, but we do know that their response to Jesus’ invitation was prompt and complete. The texts says that they stopped their work, dropped their fishing nets and headed off with Jesus.
In fact, James and John left their father, Zebedee, alone on the seashore. I wonder how it felt to be Zebedee. Was he angry that his two sons would abandon him so quickly? Or had he taught them to strike out onto unpredictable seas? Was he proud of them for seeking their own way in life or did he expect that they would follow in his footsteps rather than those of a stranger?
This is a fitting text for exploring the faith and spirituality of youth and young adulthood as part of our monthly sermon series on Faith Across the Generations. The late teens, twenties, and early thirties is a time for listening, discerning, and deciding which life path to follow. Sometimes big life decisions are made with lots of thought and deliberation, other times they are made in haste and come about with more luck than planning.
In a NY Times article from early December, the writer discussed how the “pain” of parenthood sometimes increases as the child gets older because parents have less control and less ability to protect their children from the difficult experiences of life. One phrase from the article that summarizes the feeling, is: “When they’re little they sit on your lap; when they’re big they sit on your heart.”
I remember that as a teenager, I caused my parents a lot of angst and worry by seeking out churches. I would try a different church each week. My parents feared that I was too naïve and would get sucked into a cult. I’ve now told my parents that if their biggest concern when I was a teenager was that I wanted to read my Bible and attend church, they had it pretty easy.
However, the former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs had a different story about his teenage years.
Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents. At age 13, he asked the pastor, “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”
The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”
Jobs then pulled out a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Africa and asked his pastor, “Does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”
The well-intentioned pastor answered, “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
Jobs declared that he didn’t want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.#
As youth and young adults wrestle with big questions about their own life and about the life of faith, they need a safe place where their ideas will be listened to and they will be taken seriously. Research from the Fuller Youth Institute shows that young people who ask tough questions about God in church and are told by well-meaning teachers and church leaders that their questions aren’t appropriate rarely develop a faith that stands the test of time. While many don’t storm out of church like Steve Jobs, they end up believing that the church is not big enough to handle their tough questions and neither is God.
I am grateful that Hancock has had a long tradition of embracing the questions and wonder and thoughtfulness of our youth. The Hancock Youth Group strives to present a safe place where everyone’s beliefs and opinions can be held and processed together. And Theology on Tap for young adults has become a monthly conversation without the presumption that there is a right answer or a right way of being in this world.
I can’t speak to the anxiety of watching one’s own child become more and more independent – yet, I know the value of being able to question and choose and have influences beyond my family that were positive and caring.
Maybe Zebedee felt proud that his sons James and John with their friends Simon and Andrew were questioners, were independent, and were free thinkers. As the disciples follow Jesus and witnessed miracles, and healings, and his teachings, they had many questions. Oftentimes, when we read the gospels, the disciples consistently sound like Dumb and Dumber, not really understanding what Jesus is doing or why. They ask lots of silly questions and Jesus often responds with a story or parable. He does not tell them directly what to do or how to act or what to believe, but he guides them through narrative and then lets them decide for themselves.
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
We have a lot to learn from these four young adults, these disciples who are willing to drop their nets and follow Jesus. They follow without a guarantee of what will come next or what their lives will be like. In youth and young adulthood, we often have the courage and audacity, to take a risk and take a first step. Sometimes we lose that spontaneity and desire along the way as we become more cautious and money conscious.
Stories like this one give legitimacy to spontaneity, acting on impulse, trusting in the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We remember and prize those rare moments when, in the midst of life’s prevalent ambiguities, choices suddenly become clear.
Even for Simon and Andrew, James and John, we know that this is not the end of the story. This is just the beginning of “the beginning” Ahead, for them and for us, there is much to learn, much stumbling, misunderstanding, and wrestling. Becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime.
It can be challenging to reconcile the seeming paradox that giving ourselves to a God of love and mercy does not always protect us from heartache and suffering; in fact, it sometimes does just the opposite. Called to engage the world, we find ourselves drawn more deeply into the pain and despair present there—along with (thank God) the delight. In each place Christ calls us be the Kingdom of God here on earth, to transform our world through our words and actions.
My husband Sean tells the story of when his very Catholic father bequeathed him the family car – his dad walked him out to the 1995 Chevy Lumina – and before handing him the keys, put a rosary around the rearview mirror, a medallion of St. Christopher in the cup holder, and two books in glove compartment – the car manual and a book of Catholic prayers – “if you are ever on the side of the road, one of these books will surely have the answer.”
Even though Sean’s father is right about many things, we’ve both experienced life when we are on the side of the road, the hood is up, and there aren’t any answers in either manual. But never once did we debate giving back our license. As Christians, the life of faith is a sweet, necessary mix of stepping out boldy in faith, following Jesus, and trusting that there will be others to lend support and help when the breakdowns and accidents occur.
Let us have the courage and conviction of the four young disciples, let us follow God’s call not to create monuments to our own prestige, but instead to live out a vision like that of Martin Luther King’s:
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. “
May it be so. Amen.