Sermon January 26: The Gift of Choice

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Faith United Methodist Church
January 26, 2014
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-23

Prayer of Illumination:

O God, for the light your words bring to our understanding, for the hope your words bring to our fear, for the guidance your words bring to our path, we give you thanks.  Amen.

Sermon: The Gift of Choice  

Have you ever been to a restaurant with seemingly unlimited menu choices?  They set the menu in front of you and it looks like an encyclopedia.  On the surface it would seem, the more choices the better!   In reality, though, having unlimited choices often makes it more difficult to make a decision.  Settling on something eliminates other options.  We fear that we’ve missed something so we don’t want to commit to anything.

Gary and I have recently been preparing for the inevitable day when we will have to replace one of our cars.   Instead of rushing out in a panic when the time comes, we thought we would lay some groundwork and decide what we want ahead of time.  However, just when we think we have landed on our perfect vehicle, something else drives by.  Look at that “Highlander.”  Maybe we should look into that.  That “Pilot” looks like it would fit the crates for the dogs.   There are just so many choices.  How do you draw the line?

Choices.  One of my favorite definitions of Christian Discipline states, simply, that it is “making choices in a world full of choices.”  We face so many choices every day:  what to eat, what to wear, what to watch ~ or not watch ~ on TV, what to read, where to go.  Indeed, there were different choices you could have made for how to spend this morning.  You could be at I Hop for “Pancake Pandemonium,” you could be home with “The New York Times” or watching “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood in your PJs.  So many choices.

In our Gospel lesson this morning we heard about four men who were asked to make a difficult choice ~ stay in their routine, familiar lives or follow Jesus.  Last week we heard how Andrew and Simon first met Jesus.  Today we learn of Jesus calling them to be his first disciples.  The Scripture tells us these two fishermen were casting their nets when Jesus called, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  A little further up the shore James and John were working with their father, Zebedee, when Jesus spotted them.   The Scripture tells us, “…he called them.  Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him.”

The Scripture doesn’t tell us if there were others Jesus approached that day who refused.  Those who made a different choice.  Those who decided their other obligations were too important.  We do know of other instances later in the Gospels when potential followers turned away ~ the rich young ruler who didn’t want to give up his wealth, the man who wanted to first bury his father.   Not everyone made the same split-second choice made by these first four disciples.

Which makes me wonder what choice I would have made.  Since it takes me 20 minutes to decide what I am going to have for lunch, would I have immediately followed Jesus if he called to me?  Like I quiz the wait-staff at restaurants, I probably would have had some questions for Jesus.  Will I be home before dinner?  What will this “fishing for people” thing entail?  As our Seasons of the Spirit asks, “Would we be willing to leave the security of our everyday routines to follow Jesus if offered such a brief and unclear explanation?”

It’s scary to think about, as it was for those first disciples.  How could we ~ how could they ~ really know what following Jesus would entail.  Do what?  Follow where?  As Mark Ralls put it in the Christian Century, “When Christ calls he beckons us beyond the point of familiarity, asking us to risk doing something we don’t know how to do, to become someone we’re not yet sure we know how to be.”  Following Jesus is making the choice to willingly step into the unknown.

And I say willingly because following Jesus is not something that can be coerced or compelled.  Jesus did not strong-arm the first disciples into following him.  We cannot force another to be a disciple of Christ.  The choice to follow Jesus is a gift of the free will we were all given as a birthright.  This free choice is, “the capacity of the human will to be free from any external constraint or imposed necessity.”  It is through this free will that we can commit to loving God, to following Jesus, which makes it all the more meaningful.

From our position some two thousand years removed, we tend to think of those first disciples as first century super-heroes.   From that very first moment it does seem that they were “all-in” with the mission.  Yet we also know that they were just regular folks.  They had vocational and family ties to their community.  They were fishermen, uneducated and not all that well off financially.  If they left their business someone else could step in and take their customers.  James and John walked out on their father.  How did old Zebedee feel?  And we also know they struggled even after they followed Jesus.  James and John were tempted by power.  Peter denied even knowing Jesus at the most crucial moment.  Super –heroes they were not.  The choice to follow Jesus was a choice they had to make everyday, probably sometimes multiple times a day.

And, you know what?  We aren’t super-heroes, either.  And we also can make the choice to follow Jesus every day.  Christian Discipline is making choices in a world full of choices.  Choices like being here this morning instead of at “I Hop,” waking up 10 minutes early to spend time in prayer, putting a percentage of our hard-earned money into an offering plate to further the work of the Kingdom of God rather than spending it at the mall, standing up for the vulnerable and hurting instead of looking the other way.  Perhaps some of our choices don’t make sense to those around us, but that’s okay.   Andrew and Simon, James and John might seem pretty crazy to us ~ leaving their nets, leaving their boat, leaving their father all for the invitation to ‘fish for people’ ~ but we still love them and appreciate what they did for the sake of the Good News.

One of my favorite sermon writers, Kate Huey, quoted John Buchanan saying, “…God calls…all of us to walk into the future without knowing exactly where we are headed, to let go of old securities and certainties and trust the God who promises to be with us wherever we go.”  God calls.  It’s our choice.  Thanks be to God that we can chose to follow.  Amen.