+ Matthew 4:13, 18-20 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea… 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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
The sound woke me up at 5:30am.
At first I thought: why is someone mowing the lawn in January?
Reality began to set in as my dreams faded away: grass is not growing in 5 degree weather…
What was that sound?
I went from window to window, trying to find the source of that buzzing, rattling sound. Finally, as I looked outside at the white blizzard swirling around that frigid morning- I realized I was hearing the sound of a snow blower. An unidentifiable man diligently cleared our driveway, our front walk, and our porch steps.
Later that day, instead of being snowed in, I easily pulled out of my driveway on my way to my first hospital visit. The mysterious man created a path for ministry that morning- whether he knew it or not.
Moments of unexpected grace have seeped into my life every day in this transition to Northeastern Ohio.
I will never forget the chaos of moving to a new place. Hour after hour… counting tiny pieces of Ikea furniture hardware with Andrew and nearly going insane trying to hold microscopic screws in my fat fingers one afternoon- a neighbor showed up with a frozen dinner- just in case we needed it. No gift could have meant more to us that night. Our neighbor couldn’t have known that two chicken breasts in a pan would strengthen our souls. Just as we were about to crumple with exhaustion, frustration and doubt- that frozen dinner somehow whispered the assurance once more that God called us to this new place, this transition, this ministry- and we would be alright.
Sometimes the most extravagant sightings of God’s grace and mercy appear in the most mundane, ordinary moments.
CNN reminds us of this every year when it puts out a list of “CNN Heroes: Everyday People Changing the World” report. At the end of 2013, CNN recognized 24 individuals who have made a difference. So many of these stories traced back to one small, transformative moment that opened up an opportunity for impact.
At age 5, Nicholas Lowinger visited a homeless shelter with his mom. He was eager to show off his new sneakers that lit up when he walked. But when he met kids his own age who were homeless- without a pair of shoes to their name, his heart hurt. Seven years later, with this memory still in his mind- he started a non-profit called the “Gotta Have Sole Foundation”. He now provides over 10,000 pairs of new shoes to homeless kids each year.
One visit to a homeless shelter as a child, one small gesture of snow-blowing a neighbor’s driveway… any number of small nudges from the Holy Spirit to go out into ordinary places, to do every-day activities that can ignite a moment of ministry and grace.
But honestly, sometimes, I simply do not feel like going out anywhere these days.
Another shooting erupted in a public mall this weekend. Three people- shot dead. Safe, benign places turning into unexpected combat zones. Easy Saturday afternoons becoming newsworthy horror- stories…
The updates I hear from the world make me want to tune out, plug my ears, keep my head down and stay home.
The shooting outside Washington D.C. is only the latest tragedy of human brokenness to emerge. Athletes from around the world worried about participation in the Sochi Olympics this winter because of terrorist threats, rising violence and militant outbreaks in Russia.
Threats beyond human violence devastate the world as well. This week, Community Christian Church sold bowls full of spaghetti to raise money for the victims of the Typhoon in the Philippines this past November. Volunteers were motivated by images of piles of rubble that were once neighborhoods, mud rivers that used to be tree lined streets…
Watching the news and hearing about these devastating events tests my spirit and rattles my anchor of faith and hopefulness. I’m tempted to tune the news out and keep my head down…
But the scripture reading today describes Christ on the move. He invites others into action. He begins his nomadic ministry of weaving from one place to another, bringing new disciples along on this journey.
The scripture for today describes Jesus hitting his stride and settling in to his life of ministry, teaching, and preaching.
Five weeks ago we remembered Christ as a child born in a manger. We lingered in this moment of infant Jesus- wise men traveling far to bring gifts, shepherds sensing a shift in the order of things, two unwed parents beginning to understand the ways their lives would change forever.
Then… several weeks later, we remembered Christ’s baptism- equipping him and preparing him for his public ministry.
Last week, we paid close attention to Christ’s method for gathering followers and seekers: Come and see, he said. Come, explore, wonder, imagine, create, dream, be loved, be welcomed, be transformed… come and see.
In the verses before our scripture for today: Christ is tempted in the wilderness. His integrity tested, his spirit on trial, his anchor rattled and shaken…
So today, we finally begin the steady sequence of Christ’s ministry: healing and preaching and teaching and calling disciples. But Christ’s ministry is anything but steady and anything but settled. Instead, Christ is on the move: gathering disciples, drawing them into community, collaboration, relationship, and partnership in the Gospel.
Instead of standing on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem, instead of holding court in the center of urban areas and public arenas… Jesus travels to Capernaum- a fringe town of no more than 1,500 residents- minding their own business, tuning the world out around them, keeping their heads down. Jesus slips in to this sleepy community and begins to associate with a group of fishermen.
This is the fourth home for Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem. He fled King Herod and moved to Egypt as a child. He returned to Israel and settled in Nazareth. Now, Capernaum. And-he seeks the company of fishermen who work with their hands and stay out of the influential, public, political sphere.
As many teachers and preachers like to point out about this passage: In Capernaum, Jesus found ordinary people and called them to do extraordinary ministry with him in the world.
Jesus called his disciples into the work of reaching for other people, of drawing them in. He invites Peter and Andrew to drop their isolated practices of fishing on the lake shoes alone and instead, he calls them into the work of ministry: going out into the world and touching the lives of their neighbors.
Today, so many of us are tempted to believe we are not called to make a difference. The world is too broken and we are too small to actually influence change and impact our community.
We stick to our routines, we keep our heads down, and we invest in our work but ignore the call on our hearts to connect, to reach out, to draw near to one another. But just as Christ called from the lake shore to Peter and Andrew 2000 years ago… Christ calls your name in the very same way today.
If we listen carefully, we will know: Community Christian Church is full of Fishers for People- those with the gift and the call to cast a wide net of love and mercy throughout Northeastern Ohio and beyond.
The last few weeks have reminded me that God calls all of us to courageously step out into the world and live the gospel of grace. Through bowls full of spaghetti for Typhoon victims, plowed driveways for neighbors we haven’t met yet, frozen chicken breasts that can reaffirm God’s call, and more…
If the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it’s that God can work through sleepy fishing towns and draw out apostles, God can draw order out of any chaos- including a world filled with random acts of gun violence and terrorist threats and devastating storms.
But most of all, God has called you- beloved, made in the image of holiness, to transform the world on earth as it is in heaven. So put down your fishing rod, or your cynicism or your fear- and answer this call from Christ: Go, reach the unreachable and reel them in, cast your net of compassion widely, and watch as healing and redeeming ministries spring up. May this be true for all of us at Community Christian Church in the days ahead. Amen.
*NOTE: This sermon was intended for Community Christian Church in North Canton, Ohio for January 26th, 2014. However, due to extreme temperatures and snow, we did not worship together.