Sermon–January 22, 2017


Epiphany 3—Year A

January 22, 2017

William Bradbury

Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

At the age of 26 Michelangelo carved one of his greatest sculptures: the 17 foot tall statue of David, shepherd and king of Israel. It is said that the block of marble he used had all but been ruined by a previous artist, but that did not deter Michelangelo who is famous for saying: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” He sees the man trapped in the marble and sees it as his calling to free the man—or in the case of his Pieta, the woman too.

This is a way to understand our gospel this morning as we watch Jesus call his first four disciples. Jesus clearly sees the man in front of him called Simon—he knows he is an uneducated, probably illiterate, fisherman. Yet Jesus also sees in Simon a man he calls Peter, the rock. (You could say Michelangelo sees a rock and frees the person, and Jesus sees a person and frees the rock.) As Jesus sets Peter free, Jesus doesn’t destroy the old person, but transforms it into the person God intended from the beginning.

I’m struck by the fact that Jesus does not call primarily people with education and degrees or who have money and power. Rather, he calls ordinary, hardworking men and women who have no power or wealth. In Acts 4:13 when Peter and John are arrested, we are told the rulers “realized they were uneducated and ordinary men.”

This is meant as a putdown isn’t it which I totally understand, yet my grandfather dropped out of school in 6th grade in order to help support his family. Likewise when I was working in New Bedford I gained a new appreciation for the courage and strength it takes to be a commercial fisherman.

And here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t proceed then to turn these ordinary men and women into religious professionals, or Bible scholars. Rather, Jesus turns them into human beings who are capable of living inside the reality of the kingdom of God, so that they, like their master, can practice forgiveness, reconciliation, and non-violence.

This is what Jesus means when he says in John 10:10: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. The last thing Jesus wants is to turn us into well-educated Pharisees who hide behind a religious elitism that separate them from instead of uniting them with the rest of humanity.

Jesus chooses the people who recognize their need for God and are still capable of being a learner and a follower. He calls to himself women and men who want to be freed from the stone of their old selves.

Dallas Willard  says, “A good working definition of a disciple or apprentice is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.” Renewing the Christian Mind

You have to be an apprentice to learn to do all sorts of things, like bricklaying, hair styling, playing a sport or a musical instrument.

If you ask someone who is apprenticing, if they are in fact an apprentice, they will not hesitate a moment to tell you that they are. It is self-evident to them that they are a student of a master who is training them in the ways and wisdom of their specialty.

What may be harder for them to answer is whether or not they are a faithful or a struggling apprentice. But whether they are a rank beginner or almost ready to take on students of their own—they know they are disciples of a master.When Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave their boats and their parents to follow Jesus, it is clear they are making a decision to be his disciples. They would fail and fall in many ways, to be sure, but they remained disciples.

Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Gospels, in 1942, formed an interracial community in Americus, Georgia called Koinonia Farm. (This was not far from where Jimmy Carter grew up in Plaines.) He said it was a ”demonstration plot of the Kingdom of God.”

It is said he asked his brother, Bob, who would later be a state senator and a justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, to represent the Koinonia Farm legally.

According to a friend, his brother replied: “Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

Clarence said, “WE might lose everything too, Bob”

“It’s different for you,” said his brother.”

“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said ‘Yes’. What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.’

“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?”

“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then I don’t believe you are a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”

His brother said, “Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

“The question”, Clarence said, “is ‘Do you have a church?’”

James McClenndon, quoted by Stanely Hauerwas in the Brazos  Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 57

So there is a cost and there is a decision to be made. 

The decision to be an apprentice of Jesus is not made only once, but it has to be made at least once. We have to choose which authority we are going to let train us to be fully alive.  Then, every day we get out of bed and decide to listen and learn from Jesus, we are choosing to be his apprentice.

If we think we already know it all or know enough, then we will decide not to follow Jesus.

In John 8 Jesus says, ““If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If we want to be free of the influences that diminish our lives, then we marinate our minds and hearts in the teaching and presence of the Master Jesus.

The David that Michelangelo freed from the marble is an ideal man—perfect in every way, unlike the real David who was a deeply flawed, that is, a real human being.

The women and men Jesus frees are imperfect in every way—except one: We are perfectly loved by the One who creates us. It is this perfect love that allows us to drop whoever the world thinks we are supposed to be, and embrace the human being person set free by Jesus, the Master, who is fully alive.