3 Epiphany Proper A3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:12-23 Sermon
January 23, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
127 "As With Gladness Men Of Old"
498 "Rise Thou Light Of Gentile Nations"
508 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
642 "Arise, O God, And Shine"
CALLED TO BE DISCIPLES
TEXT (vs. 18-22): “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
People have asked me from time-to-time for the story about how I wound up in the ministry. It is a rather lengthy tale, starting with my growing up years in a Germanic Midwest Synod congregation, which had become part of the old United Lutheran Church in America, or the ULCA. That morphed into the Lutheran Church in America, or the LCA in the early 1960’s. I was then confirmed in a former Swedish Augustana Synod congregation, which had also become a part of the LCA.
It was during the mid to late 1970’s that I became concerned with various things going on in the church. I won’t go into specific detail here, except to say that I began to look at other church alternatives.
One day, my church affiliation had become a topic of conversation at work, and I was speaking very generally about some of my concerns. My boss at the time approached me and said, “let me introduce you to my pastor.” That’s all he said.
After that, he got on the phone with his pastor, and we wound up meeting at the Big Boy restaurant for breakfast. My boss came along, and introduced me to a man by the name of Pastor Paul Scharrer. After a short introduction, my boss left the two of us alone.
Pastor Scharrer wasn’t long out of the seminary, and his first call was in Lincoln. We visited for quite awhile, and I shared some of my concerns with him. To make a long story short, I wound up joining Pastor Scharrer’s Wisconsin Synod congregation by affirmation of faith. I found what I had been looking for.
During my years in that congregation, Pastor Scharrer encouraged me to consider the ministry. Evidently he saw something in me I didn’t know I had. As a result of his encouragement, I wound up in my first year at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota in 1982, about four years after I had met Pastor Scharrer for breakfast. In 1988, Pastor Scharrer had the privilege of ordaining me, and we remain friends to this day.
I thought about this event in my life when I studied our Gospel lesson for today. Matthew records what happened when Jesus called his first disciples. Specifically, we are hearing about Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the four fishermen from Capernaum.
Jesus, as you recall, was a native of the town of Nazareth. However he had experienced massive rejection when he tried to do ministry there. The residents were so incensed with him that they wanted to throw him off a cliff and kill him. So he had to leave.
He now finds himself in Capernaum, a village by the Sea of Galilee. This fulfilled the prophecy Isaiah speaks about in our Old Testament lesson for today. Many people there made a living through fishing. This was the case with the four men spoken about in our Gospel reading for today.
It’s at this point that I am going to make a distinction between two terms we often use interchangeably. There’s a difference between a “disciple” and an “apostle.”
A disciple has two basic characteristics. First of all, a disciple is a student of a master; that is, someone who intently wants to absorb all that his master has to teach him. Second of all, a disciple is a follower; that is, someone who believes and supports the teachings of his master. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were already disciples of Jesus when we begin reading Matthew's account of their calling. John the Baptist had introduced them to Jesus and they were his disciples from that moment on. Jesus had set up his ministry headquarters in their hometown of Capernaum so they could listen to him teach on a regular basis. They definitely knew who Jesus was.
Jesus had something special in mind for these men, and he knew where to find them. His walk along the sea might seem like a coincidence, but it was not. Even though these men were fishermen by trade, Jesus called these men to another vocation. They were already disciples, but Jesus would train them and call them to be apostles.
The word apostle comes from the Greek word that means “one who is sent.” While a disciple constantly studies, believes, and supports the teachings of a master, an apostle is one who, in addition to being a disciple, is specifically sent out by the master to teach. Jesus called these men to witness his ministry and learn his teaching for several years. Then they were to pass along those very same teachings to the people around them, especially to the next generation. In this way, the teachings of Jesus Christ would be spread throughout the world.
So a disciple can refer to anybody who is a follower; but an apostle refers to somebody who is sent out with a specific purpose. In theological circles, we tend to reserve the word “apostle” for those whom Jesus personally sent out to be ministers of the Gospel. This would be the original 12, plus Matthias and Paul.
So what does all this have to do with us here today? The thing we need to recognize is that we are all disciples. We are followers of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here. We’re not part of the original apostles, but we are still disciples. And even more than that, we are disciples who have been called by the Gospel, and we are also sent out in the world for a purpose.
If we look at Luke chapter 10, we read the account of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples. Verses 2 and 3 read: “2 [Jesus] told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
And since they were going out proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, the message that had all of the power of heaven behind it, Jesus tells them in verse 16: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
Today we are here as disciples of Jesus Christ. The message we have to proclaim together as a congregation is the very same message that the apostles were sent forth to deliver, and the very same message that those seventy-two disciples carried with them throughout the region. That’s why we are here. We have a mission and a purpose.
I can imagine that you might find this a bit overwhelming. “Oh wow pastor, I can’t go out like those people did! I’ve got a home, and a family, and a job to consider. I can’t just neglect my responsibilities and go out knocking on doors and preaching to people! And besides that, I’m no theologian. I can’t rattle off Bible passages and do all that doctrinal stuff!”
You might be thinking that. But did I actually say anything like that to you? Did I tell you that you had to do things this way? Did I make you feel like I was “putting you on the spot,” so-to-speak?
I want you to think back to my opening story today. I told you about my boss, who had no formal theological training whatsoever. He didn’t come to me with some sort of Biblical breakthrough. He didn’t preach to me. All he said to me was just one simple sentence: “let me introduce you to my pastor.” And here I am, some thirty-three years after that event happened. It’s amazing what God can do, isn’t it?
Some years ago, I got a little sun catcher that hangs in a window with a suction cup. It has a picture of a flower on it with the caption, “bloom where you are planted.” Each of you has a position in life where God has placed you. In a sense, you are planted. And now it is time for each one of us to bloom in that place.
If you think about that one simple sentence my boss said to me, perhaps similar occasions will come up in your life. Maybe you’ll say something like, “I can’t hang around tonight; it’s my turn to mow the church lawn, and I want to do it before it rains.” Or, “We’ve got to get some candle wax out of the carpet at church. Do you have any suggestions?”
Sometimes, that’s all it takes for someone to indicate interest in where you go to church. That’s not preaching, and that’s not shoving a Bible down somebody’s throat. That’s just casual conversation that can open a door. And who knows where that can possibly lead? You all know where the sentence “let me introduce you to my pastor” took my life and me along with it. All my boss did was just bloom where he was planted.
You all have shared various stories with me recently about how people have indicated interest in our church. They have reacted to something that is very important to each of you. You believe that what we have here is something that is worth sharing.
As we look at our own lives, we have a lot for which we can be thankful, especially the way the Holy Spirit has worked in our lives. Dr. Luther says in his Small Catechism that the Holy Ghost “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”
The concept of faithfulness is one of those things that is so important to us in our lives as disciples. We faithfully follow Jesus because of his love for us and for what he has done for us. As sinners, we have the blessing of the Gospel that assures us our sins are forgiven, and we are guaranteed a mansion in heaven for eternity.
Each time we have a confession of sins together as a congregation, we hear the words of absolution that tell us our sins have been completely forgiven and eradicated from our record. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, all of our sins are completely removed from us. He has given us his robe of righteousness so we are innocent before the judgment seat of God.
We know we daily sin much. We have turned our back on God far too many times. Instead of being one of Christ’s disciples, we have the tendency to be our own disciples and follow after whatever our sinful hearts dictate. We have slammed the door on the Holy Spirit and the faithfulness he gives to us.
But Jesus keeps coming to us again and again with those words of comfort and forgiveness we need so much. What Jesus has done for us gives us purpose as his disciples. And even though we might not have all of the theological answers down pat, we still know how important our faith is to us, and what a priceless gift that Jesus has given to us through his life, death, and resurrection.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus took four fishermen—Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. These were common people with little formal education. These were blue collar working men. They were disciples of Jesus, and he makes them into apostles—men sent forth with a mission and purpose. Jesus tells them that he wants them to be “fishers of men.” He wants to use their humble talents in building his church. Christ’s Church isn’t something that is built upon eloquent speech or theological savvy, but built on nothing more than faith alone.
Every fisherman will tell you that the type of bait used is important in fishing. It’s something that the fish will react to and will follow. It’s something that will grab their attention.
When we interact with other people wherever we meet them, when we bloom where we are planted, we don’t know which word or phrase about our faith or about our church might capture somebody’s interest. A casual mention of something even connected with our church might be all that it takes.
But we can be assured of this. What we have here through Word and Sacrament is something well worth sharing. Jesus means the world to us both now and in eternity. His Gospel brings us the peace that passes all human understanding, which is the peace Jesus came to give to all the earth. Sharing this is our mission and purpose as we go forth in our duty as faithful fishers of men.