Jesus Calls Ordinary People

Matthew 4:12-23

If you carry away just one thought with you this morning,let it be this one:
Jesus calls ordinary people,
right in the middle of their ordinary lives,
to do extraordinary things,

A study conducted by Fuller, Duke and Princeton theological seminaries concluded that most parishioners don’t see what they do outside of the church as worthy of God’s attention and interest. In short, they don’t feel called by God. We gather in this place looking for a foundation for our beliefs, looking for a community where we can live out that faith in learning, in fellowship, in service. Praise God! However, most of that happens within the confines of the church. The reality is that none of us have stood in front of a burning bush, or hear the voice of God calling us in the night, or saw a dove descending upon us during our baptisms. I’ll reinforce that I never did either. Even a few bells on the hills would have been nice when I was called into ministry, but nope, nada, zip, nothing. So, although we intellectually understand the precious idea of having been called and named by Christ, we believe that pertains to the church: i.e. what we do in the church is our service to God.
The rest of my life, well, that’s over there some place. The study reveals that there is a divide. Consequently, we don’t feel that intimacy with God that called other ordinary people, like the fishermen, in their ordinary lives, to do extraordinary things. Just haven’t felt that word, that voice, that nudge from God.
George Bernhard Shaw wrote these words in his play Joan of Ark. “How else can God speak to us, except through… our imaginations?” So, based on our scripture for this morning, I am going to ask you to join me in imagining just one way, just one of the many ways all of you may indeed be called to do some extraordinary things in your lives.
When Jesus called the disciples, what was he calling them to? He wasn’t calling these men standing in water halfway up their calves, with the noon day sun dancing like diamonds in the waves around them, gutting fish, mending their nets, to become ‘emissaries of the Kingdom’, or ‘heralds of God’, or even ‘witnesses of the divine.’ Quite frankly, none of these men had it in them. Jesus didn’t see any unharnessed leadership potential within any of them. Any one of you who is sitting here today could have done what they did, maybe even better. These men, standing there with fish guts on their clothes and windswept hair, were uneducated, illiterate, tough as nails, sun calloused, a cursing, spitting bunch of guys who probably heckled the women who passed by their worksite. Jesus didn’t choose them for their sophistication. He chose them because when Jesus gathered people together, the people he gathered would look at these disciples and say, “They’re one of us. They know what we live with every day of our lives.” Jesus chose them because fishing is a relational activity between you and the fish.
A little history helps here. Today, in our scriptures, we find Jesus retreating into Galilee. And retreating is the right word. It is safe to assume that if Jesus had one ounce of sense, he would have been afraid at this time. Herod had just arrested John the Baptist and it would not be long until his head would be on the chopping block. Jesus had been spreading the same message as John, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It was only a matter time that the soldiers would be coming for him. So, Jesus flees into Galilee, the crossroads of the middle east where a man can lose himself very quickly. But even here Jesus cannot hide from the evidence of Imperialism. Even here, 70 to 90% of the people live in poverty while the Romans sucked the wealth from the land.
As you are well aware, poverty is bad for your health. There was a very limited understanding of hygiene, social stresses were high, water quality was poor and food insecurity was of low quality and limited quantities. This all led to widespread diseases like blindness, cholera, loss of muscle mass. And when you work in a society that depends on your ability as a physical labourer, all this was just a signature on your death certificate.
This is the world Peter, James, John and Andrew knew. Jesus entered into this darkness as a light telling these fishermen that life doesn’t have to be lived like this, nor does this need to define your worth as a person. What Jesus preached was clearly an anti-imperial message. Lifting the heel of Rome from the throats of these men, Jesus said, “Blessed are you poor. You are not cursed or lowly. Blessed are your poor spirits because yours will be the Kingdom of God.” Can you imagine what these words must have meant to a group of men standing there with a fish knife in one hand and holding fish guts in the other? To a people who believed they were born into oppression because somewhere or somehow they were sinners, the scum of the earth whose only value was their ability to work like pack mules. And if you couldn’t do that, out you go to beg on the streets. In astonishment, these people heard Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are mourning for a day of comfort is coming. Blessed are you who are meek because it is not the Romans who shall inherit the earth, but it will be you.”
So why is this so exceptional? When people began to understand the message Jesus was spreading, they began to gather to him. This uplifting, reinforcing, healing and feeding ministry tore at the very fabric of Roman Imperialism. Here is the thing. After all the years of Roman conquest, of the Roman military machine marching through the known world devouring everything in its path, Rome could not, even at the height of its power, stop this Jesus movement which came to be known as ‘The Way.’ They tried. They had killed its leader, this Jesus Christ.
They had scattered his disciples to the ends of the earth. They fed many of them to the lions and crucified many of them upside down on crosses. Even the church was rounding them up with the help of Roman soldiers, locking them up and throwing away the key. Yet, they could not stop them. As far as I know. this was the first non-violent resistant movement in the history of the world. It just proved what Jesus said, “Nothing, nothing in all of creation is stronger than the love of God.”
So, tell me that what these ordinary fishermen, farmers, slaves, servants, publicans, prostitutes are more, did, wasn’t exceptional. But it was only because these ordinary people heard the call of God and took that call into their ordinary lives and did something exceptional because of it.
I don’t need to go into the fact that the shadows of imperialism still haunt us today. In fact, it is my belief that they are being resurrected. We see it everywhere. The closing of borders, the assumption that wealth equals power, the assumption that a few have the right to dictate to the many; residential schools, land rights, the comfort of a few destroying the earth’s resources for others. We need to be aware that the values of this colonial, imperial society have a way of sinking into our own mindset, so we end up holding our beliefs, our culture, our wants, over and above the needs of others.
Jesus is calling us all to repent. Jesus is calling us to re-examine our own lives and then turn them around, not just in the church but out there in the world. If we walk the walk of Jesus, talk the talk of Jesus, then we will be the living spirit of Christ in this world. Jesus is calling us with our computer keyboards in hand, our engineering minds, our retail experience, from our places on the assembly line, with the tin cutter in our hand, from the chalk boards to the super boards, to the check out counters at the grocery store, from our city’s council chambers, to our neighbourhoods, to be fishers of people; from our ordinary lives to witness the Kingdom of God, an anti-imperial Kingdom of God, where all are gathered to a table, where the lowest sits at the places of honour where we are one. It is when people begin to experience this that the salvation of their souls becomes possible. It is the only light that will reach the dark places of their souls that makes them accept the lie that they are really nothing, that they are just a cog in the wheel run by others who pull the levelers. That will allow people like Weinstein, Trump, Putin, the massively rich 1% of the world to believe they hold all the power and can do whatever they want.
So, please don’t tell me that any one of you is not capable of doing something extraordinary in this world.

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