Sunday, January 27, 2008

Turning Around

Matthew 4: 12-23

There’s a chunk of road in southern Wyoming (not the township but the state) that you can get to by turning right near Hazleton. That’s when you intersect with Interstate 80, the one of the two or three great east-west roads of the nation. Turn left, New York in two hours. Turn right, San Francisco, after about 3 days. After about two days, you come to this intersection. It’s another interstate, I-25. Turn left, and it is about 4 hours to Denver, and then all the way down to El Paso and Mexico. Turn right, you go up to Billings, Montana.

The thing is, for this being such a great road, and for this such a major intersection, there’s not much to it. It’s near Cheyenne, but not in it. It may have changed since the last time I drove through there, because cities do expand, but other than the appropriate signage and barely the minimum lighting, there was no gas station, there was no hotel, there was no fast food, there wasn’t even a Stuckey’s! There was just this turnoff in the middle of the high plains, and a sign pointing to Denver.

This is the way, sometimes, we find our way in the Christian life. Great and important direction changes, with just enough signage to know what it is, but no hullabaloo.

Jesus said, follow me, and Andrew and Peter went. No three day retreat, no twelve year process of ordination, no visit to the family law firm to re-divide the family fishing business, no trip to the store for a whole new wardrobe and to the spa for a makeover. No anguish over self identity. Jesus doesn’t stand on a rock and say in his best preacher voice: “PETER, ANDREW, JAMES, JOHN: YOU SHALL NOW BECOME MY FIRST DISCIPLES!” In Matthew, he simply said “follow me”, they said “OK”.

I don’t think I could do that. I think I would need the rock and the voice and the pointing finger. But then again, I wasn’t standing there that day when Jesus came up to those guys. I didn’t look him in the eye. I didn’t shake his hand.

When you read the commentaries, there’s some discussion about whether James and Peter, Andrew and John might have known Jesus before hand. In Luke, Jesus has been preaching for a little bit before he calls disciples. In John, John the Baptist names Jesus as the lamb of God, and the guys follow.

The times were rather chaotic, lots of preachers running around, something did seem to be happening because of all the religious ferment. But none of that is mentioned here. Here, Matthew gives us nothing. And the discussion in the commentaries is about what makes someone leave everything and go with someone. It’s hard to believe that these guys would just up and leave. But Matthew seems pretty clear; That’s what they did. The context seems irrelevant. Matthew is simply saying; Jesus spoke, and the new kingdom was created.

Maybe it was simply Jesus’ charisma. That power that some people have to convince others of things just by believing it themselves. Maybe it was the handshake, the quiet confidence that Jesus must have instilled in them. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit moving yet again before the official coming out party at Pentecost. But whatever it was, the story we receive is a lot like that road—a simple greeting, and invitation, and their direction is forever changed. Spend all that time on the road to San Francisco, and just like that, they are on their way to Denver, instead.

Follow me, he said, and I will make you fish for people. From just before, he began to preach “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Let’s think about what he didn’t say; “follow me, and I will make you richer than if you were a fisherman, filling your quotas for Rome day after day after day, in all weathers, until you are bent over and worn out”. Nope, he said “I will make you fish for people”.

It’s simply a guy, standing somewhere and pointing to what is true, without drama. ”There it is”, he seems to say. Just a few signs in the road, just enough lighting to avoid accidents, and your direction is completely changed.

He does it again with repentance. “Repent”, he preaches, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. Not “repent, so that you won’t go to hell”. No drama. No visions of California gold miners in tent meetings whooping and hollering, running forward to dump out their whiskey and pledge their lives to right livin’.

Just a statement saying “intersection approaching”. Repent means to change direction. That’s all.

In the end, the life of choosing Christ is the life of repenting daily. Small ones, such as choosing not to yell at your kid when they’ve made you angry. Large ones, such as simply putting down the cigarettes. Medium ones, such as choosing to pass by the drive-thru when dinner is an hour away. Small choices, made within our heads and our hearts, no one really noticing. Simple course corrections, a degree at a time, that change the trajectories of great ships in the ocean. Simple choices of love, of patience, of grace, of gentleness.

This is how we’re called. No drama. If you were to stand at that intersection on the high plains of southern Wyoming, the lights of Cheyenne in the distance, and watch the cars as they come to this momentous decision, you’ll hardly ever see someone stop and think about it. There’s no rest stop of choice on this road. No three acres of blacktop, no Iron Skillet restaurant, with counselors at the ready 24 hours a day to help with the decision about whether to end up in San Francisco or Denver. Whether to become a Broncos fan or a 49ers fan. They’ll either twitch the wheel a little bit to the left, to the right, or not, and their direction for all time is changed.

That’s all we’re really being asked. Choose me. Choose life. Choose the kingdom. And we make that choice fresh daily.

That’s all Jesus asks. Hey, follow me. Repent over this way, because the kingdom is near. I’ll make you fishers of people. If you are an accountant, then he’ll make you number the stars in the sky. If you are a plow driver, he’ll make you clear the way for his people.

Turn around, is all he’s saying. Follow me.

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