Sermon January 26, 2020

“Called To Be You”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 4:12-23
January 26, 2020

“And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Matthew 4:19i

My Dad remembered sitting in Church one Sunday and hearing the voice of God. Now before you go thinking that my Dad was some sort of religious freak, let me dissuade you — a more rational mind I have never met. He was grounded in the realities of the twentieth century. Yet that voice, heard long ago, called him into parish ministry.

How I envied my father’s experience. No voice called to me. No parting of the heavens. No blinding light. Indeed, my father’s excellence made me feel less than adequate to the task. I was not him so how could I possibly walk where he had trod?

In my tradition, one’s call to ministry is an essential part of one’s ordination paper. How I wish I could tell of a voice from heaven, a dramatic life event that made my calling clear — not only to myself but to those who stood in judgment. Alas, I cannot. My experience cannot be likened to a ship tossed by a tempest only to find that Jesus stilled the troubled waters. My call was more like a lazy river upon which I floated. I was not swept into parish ministry, the river bent in that direction and I was carried into service.

And you? Has a voice from heaven spoken? Have you seen the heavens partied? Have you known the ground to rumble or been led by fire at night and smoke by day? Perhaps. My father is proof that God moves laden in wonder. But I believe most of us are captured in these lines from A.E. Housemen:

When Israel out of Egypt came

Safe in the sea they trod;

By day in cloud, by night in flame,

Went on before them God.

He brought them with a stretched-out hand

Dry-footed through the foam,

Past sword and famine, rock and sand,

Lust and rebellion, home.

I never over Horeb heard

The blast of Advent blow;

No fire-faced prophet brought me word

Which way behooved me go.

Ascended is the cloudy flame,

The mount of thunder dumb;

The tokens that to Israel came,

To me they have not come.1

And so our calling may be difficult to discern and part of the problem is found in the Biblical narrative. We meet Moses called from a burning bush left unconsumed, Isaiah who has a vision, Jeremiah who hears God’s voice, the disciples called by Jesus to a mission unfamiliar to what they have known, of Paul who is blinded by a light. We come to think that God’s call is to the exotic and the unknown.

But we may find assistance by reflecting on God’s call to Simon and Andrew. They were fishing the day they Jesus called to them. They weren’t fishing like I might fish. I think I would enjoy floating on the lake, away from the concerns and responsibilities that await me on the shore. I actually think I would enjoy those moments of quiet solitude more then mucking around for a worm to splay on my hook or having to remove the fishhook from the mouth of this gyrating creature at the end of my line. It would be a hobby, a pastime. Not for Simon and Andrew. Fishing was all they knew, and they had best be good at it or the family doesn’t eat and there is nothing to take to market. These men knew how to fish — the prime location to cast their nets, the best time of day, how to clean and mend their nets. Here is what Jennifer Moland-Kovish, writing in The Christian Century, has to say:

…what I love is how Jesus calls these brothers to follow him. He doesn’t say he’s going to make them teachers or rabbis. He doesn’t say that they’ll be preachers or evangelists or baptizers. He says, Come follow me and you will do the same thing you’ve been doing for generations: fishing. Except now you’ll be fishers of people. He speaks to them in a language they’ll understand and gives them a job they can do. They know how to fish.2

Perhaps God is calling you in the same way — not to something exotic and new, but to something you know how to do — being a parent, carpenter, accountant, clerk, husband, wife, parent, child. Maybe we have been called to what we have made of life and our task is to infuse our lives with God.

One last thing. At the time of confirmation, one is given the opportunity to affirm the gift of God’s grace given at the time of your baptism. God laid God’s claim on you when the waters of baptism were sprinkled on your forehead. You basked in that grace, you lived enfolded in God’s love. Then at the time when the church offers the rite of confirmation, you could either accept the reality of God’s gracious presence in your life or deny it. Have you been through confirmation? If so, you confirmed that God has been with you since the instant of your birth. The life you have fashioned is not outside of God’s call. It is God’s call. The task now is to shape all you do, all you do, as a living testimony to God who has claimed you. Wait no longer for a blinding light or a parted sea. You, my friends, have been called. Let us pray…

1 Housman, A.E., The Collected Poems, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, NY, 1965, p.158.

2  Jennifer Moland-Kovash, “Living by the Word,” The Christian Century, January 15, 2020, Vol. 137, No. 2.

i Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.