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Sermon Epiphany 3A Sunday January 23rd, 2011. Ocean Forest

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Matthew 4:12-23

There is a lot of talk about leadership these days. Finding “the leader within” seems to have become a demand we place on people and ourselves. If we are not “developing our leadership skills set” we are deemed to be lazy, dumb or weak in the world of personal leadership development.

What do we then make of the Leader of all leaders whose authority surpasses the chief leaders of the world, when he calls what would definitely be seen as the wrong people from the wrong place for the wrong thing.

Jesus calls uneducated subsistence workers and small family business employees from a hick town up north in dark/unclean territory, and he calls them not to lead, but follow! It seems Jesus’ way is operating very differently to the human way of things here! Let’s set the scene….. Jesus has recently experienced that great moment of personal and public affirmation in his calling to fulfil the work of God’s Kingdom in his Baptism by John in the Jordan. “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I well pleased. Listen to him” says the Father to the Son in the hearing of all. Just as John had already said, the Kingdom is on the march in the world. The One promised to lead a new life is now here to do just that.

Within a flash we are in the hunger, darkness, temptation and evil of the desert conversation between the Leader of Darkness and the Servant of Light. The humble One, who rests in his Father’s word and authority triumphs for the time being at least.

Then the public travelling mission begins and there is a pouring out of God’s power, love and healing on local people. The Leader is on the move. He moves in gracious and powerful serving and loving of people.

But there is grief and sadness as well – and yet at the same time hope. John, the one who prepared the way before Jesus by calling people to repent, baptising them and being imprisoned innocently has now just been executed innocently. John the Baptist, cousin, mentor and friend is tragically dead at the hands of Herod.

Almost to script, Jesus, instead of diving in where angels fear to tread, in the way a great up and coming leader might, withdraws from the public view of the city with its learned people and powerful men who claim to be experts in leadership under God. He heads as far away from the centre of religion and influence he can get – Galilee. But he is exactly where he knows he is to be. He is right in the ways of God as he fulfils the ancient promise to do with God’s light breaking into God’s world from this far away, dark place. He is in 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— as the promise of God always said he would be.

Jesus’ way becomes even more opposed to our “power and influence” thinking on leadership when he then calls some people by name. It is a specific and yet vague call. “Simon, Andrew, James, John….Follow me”. “Follow me and I will make something else of you. I will make you fishers of people”.

He names them and definitely wants each one of them personally. Yet, it is to a largely not understood purpose – you will be “catchers of people” into God’s way. God will work through you to draw in other people to the sphere of Jesus and his way in the world. – a bit mysterious!

Jesus chooses to gift and call very average people doing very average things. His call is a gift. It is a privilege because it transforms those to whom the call is given. There is no basis within the one being called for the call – Jesus just calls. They weren’t even looking or ready for the call. They definitely were not prepared for the task.

When he said, “Follow me,” he apparently wasn’t concerned that these followers might not turn out to be model disciples. Indeed, they were often dense and hard to teach, and on the rare occasions when they did understand him they would usually try to talk him out of his ideas. They squabbled about who was greatest. One of them betrayed him. And no one stuck around when the going got tough.

Jesus simply said, “Follow me,” and something in the way he said it pointed to God so clearly that two, then four, then 12 decided that whatever Jesus had to offer was worth leaving their old lives for. And as far as Jesus was concerned, their willingness to get up and follow was credentials enough. He would make his community out of this diverse, contentious dozen.

Here’s what I am hearing about us and our call now: Everyone is ok in Jesus’ eyes to get the call up. No one is on the bench or out of the team. No person can say “it is not my calling” to work for Jesus’ kingdom in the everyday world of school, work, family…. He chose people of all kinds. Thomas Long, the American theologian and preacher sees these four disciples as “representative” of those who will follow Jesus in the future: “Jesus summons people from the fabric of family relationships…and from the midst of the workaday world…into a new set of relationships and a new vocation”. Barbara Lemmel , New York State. Christian Century, January 6-13, l999

The call is not based on the person being called – your character, personality, family background, skills, work history, status, effectiveness, skill set, leadership understanding, righteousness, holiness, morality, sinlessness, intelligence or looks.

The Call is based on the one doing the calling – his choice, his insight, his gracious approach, his plan, his mission and the “success” of the call is also based on him.

He promises to do all the creating. “I will make you fishers of people – not you, but me”.

The effectiveness and success of your calling to be people who work Jesus in his mission of drawing all people into the grace and love of God is dependent on his living Word about our lives, death and our baptism resurrection.

I hear that a leader is only as great as he is faithful to Jesus’ call. We are called to be faithful to the word of the Caller as he shapes us into useful carriers of his invitation to sinners to come and find water for empty souls. Jesus did not call these people to be anything but followers first and leaders of others second. Following was the call, not leading. So, as we hear about leadership and discovering out gifts and skills and training ourselves in our work and life roles, we do it as followers of the Master first and always, lest we fall for the usual sin of crediting ourselves or others with the success and the skills.

All is his: The Call is his, the transformation of our character is his and even the message is his – the message that others judge as foolishness – the message of the love of God triumphing in crucifixion and resurrection from death. We follow a person not an idea or set of principal or a formula for “success” in life. We follow him – his voice, his way, his voice, his example, his grace given in bread and wine and his community called the church

We follow the Master and Saviour of our lives first and always, even as we learn to lead others if that be our place. A last heard thing: As we said at the beginning, there is a lot of talk and expectation toward being “leaders” in our time. It is easy to go on a hunt for things that will supposedly make me a better person, giver me more status, more of a person who influences my spouse, partner, kids and other people. There is a lot or pressure in some people’s lives to become “Leaders with influence” to get more dollars and more respect in the business or company or school….. Friend, let’s keep following and let the leadership come after that. Let’s follow first and most and let the Lord transform our character, words and actions into ones that attract and influence and deliver to him people to be forgiven and restored to his love. As we follow first and most, we may become the leaders we need to be in our family and community – but in his Way and as he sees best. Jesus is still your Saviour and he lives here among us in the beach-side place and he is calling – “follow me, man, woman, young man/woman, young boy/girl. Follow me”.

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