Hancock Church Sermon

Rev. Paul Shupe

February 17, 2013

Matthew 4:18-22


In this passage, Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him.  We notice this morning that they pay a price for their decision to follow: they must leave their former lives behind, including their fishing boats and nets, and, in the cases of James and John, their father.

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—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.


“Into Life’s Fullness”

Here in North America, from the time we enter school until we leave it our lives are pretty clearly defined.  Classes begin at summer’s end.  We get a short break at Thanksgiving, and a longer one at Christmas.  In New England we take week during February and another in April to set our studies aside, and then we work again until mid-June.  Sometimes summer is structured: camps or sports or lessons.  Sometimes summer is untethered from anything like ritual or routine, opportunities for play seized as they arise, books and naps and ballgames and beaches all blending in a chaotic swirl of delight.  And then, it’s Labor Day again and the round begins again.
But it is not just our activities that are structured: so too is our success.  Parents and teachers reassure us: do this, learn that, and at the end of this year, you’ll be ready for the next.  Second grade follows first, and third follows second, and unless illness or crisis or troubles intervene, we know that if we do well at this level, we’ll get to try the next.  This pattern of structured success is built and well established.  We do not have to make many decisions within it.  What we do, what we study, is all laid out for us, and structured like a ladder, each rung leading to the availability of the next.
Until of course, we finish school, and whether that occurs at 18 when you graduate from high school, or 22 with that bachelor’s degree or some later year with graduate school under your belt, when you finish, suddenly you’re an adult, and you are handed adult responsibilities, and are expected to conduct yourself accordingly.  But mostly what you have at that moment when school is finished is something that they didn’t really warn you about: you have choices.  Choices.  Real decisions to make.  Where will I live?  Who will I chose to love best?  What will I do to make a living?  How can I get from where I am to where I want to be?  These are real choices, with real consequences.  We can’t live in two places at once; we must choose one over another.  We can’t be both married and single at once.  We can’t work two jobs forever; we have to choose our career path.  The choices pile up: buy a house, or rent?  Have a child now, or postpone?  One child or more?  Do I stay in this job that pays well but doesn’t please me, or take the one that pleases but does not pay?  Fix the car or buy a new one?  Go back to school or just keep plugging?  Save or spend?  Invest in the market, or something safer?  Stay with our spouse and work on the relationship, or decide it’s all over and move on?  Choices.  Choice and more choices.  We no sooner make a decision than another appears.  We make the best call we know how to make and then inevitably wonder if we’ve chosen well.  We search our past for regrets, decisions poorly made, options not chosen.  We scan the future horizons, looking for opportunities, or threats, the fruits of decisions made.
Sometimes I think that adulthood is pretty simple to define: it’s that period of life in which we are free to make choices, and are responsible for the consequences that flow from them.
When, a few months ago now, Dana and I mapped out this year-long sermon series on faith across the lifespan, I knew immediately that I would choose this story from Matthew’s gospel for this Sunday pondering adulthood.  It’s absurdly short, fewer than 100 words, and yet, here is adulthood in a nutshell.  Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen, but not likely because of any choice that they had made.  Unlike their sisters, they may have had a little bit of schooling; may have been able to read and write enough to cope with running a small fishing business.  Yet even for them early life was structured like it’s structured for us.  They hadn’t gone to Jerusalem State and majored in fishing.  But their lives were structured by something simpler: their fathers fished; so they fished.
But then along came Jesus, this wandering teacher, who had something about him that made them want to pay attention.  I doubt he just walked up and called them to follow all on the first day.  I think he hung around, talked with people; he built fires on the beach when the sun went down and the day’s work was finished, and then talked with anyone who was interested.  Peter was.  And he brought his brother Andrew.  James and John, their competitors on the lake came too, and they talked deep into the night the way young people will, trying to sort out what in the world was going on, and what they were supposed to be doing with their lives.  And Jesus had big ideas, different from fishing.  How long did he stay?  How long did he get them thinking before he asked them that question?  How long before he said, “It’s time for me to go, want to come along?  We’ll start a movement, and you’ll be fishing for people, just the way that I am now.” We don’t know how long he dallied there at Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee.  But what we do know is that when the day finally came, and he made them his pitch, invited them to come along, that day was graduation day for Peter and Andrew and James and John.  For the first time in their lives, they had an adult decision to make: to stay and fish, or to follow and see what came next.
Wouldn’t you love to know what thoughts rolled through their heads?  What doubts, what hopes, what dreams, what fears?  Matthew doesn’t tell us, but then, you know what?  If you’re an adult, you don’t need him to: you already know.  Because the same ones have rolled through your brains with every decision you’ve had to make.  Surely they weighed pros and cons, talked with trusted advisors, considered the cost of staying and the costs of going, the opportunities inherent in both courses of action.  They probably lost sleep, felt exhilarated by freedom and terrified with fear.  Likely they made a choice and then second-guessed it, only to third-guess the second one.
In the end, they followed him.  Left their nets, literally their entire net worth, and followed him.  But for James and John, Matthew paints a still more poignant moment: for they left not merely the objects with which they fished; they left their father.  They left him standing with the hired help; left the old ways entirely behind them, including their beloved father.  They left him standing there, his life in tatters, even as they left to embrace a new one for themselves.  And that too is an adult reality: our choices often have prices that others must pay, whether they want to or not.  For we cannot be al things to all people, and must become only what we choose to be.
In the end, it was the picture of Zebedee standing alone in the boat that haunted me.  As his sons left him, it was not merely that he’d lost his past; he’d lost his future, too, for who would fish for him when he was too old to do so himself?  What would Zebedee tell his wife, the mother of James and John?  How would they endure as they aged, who would care for them?  To be an adult is to face loss, too.  It is not merely that one grows into fullness of possibility; we grow into the certainty and fullness of loss, as well.  Adults learn the full truths of life: hope and despair, a growing past and a shrinking future, satisfaction and disappointment.
As Zebedee watched, he saw only Jesus’ back, as he walked away, following his call to his mission and purpose; but in our adult years, we learn to see that Jesus is walking not away, but toward us, turning his face to us with compassion, understanding and purpose.  From him we learn that our faith is not placed in youth, but in the living God, who is as young as tomorrow and as old as the ages.  As we live our adult years, may God give us the grace and the courage to be thankful for all that has been, faithful in all that is to come, and in all things, trusting the One who called it all into being.  For the opportunities that are ours, to learn the fullness of life, thanks be to God!  Amen.