Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is no greater story then someone emerging from the humblest of backgrounds that eventually changes the world.
A number of years ago there was a girl born to a teenage mother in small-town Mississippi. This girl’s mother was a housemaid. This girl was so poor growing up that she had to wear Potato sacks for clothing, as all the other children made fun of her. At the age of 9, this girl was sexually abused. At the age of 13, this girl ran away from home. At the age of 14, this girl got pregnant but lost the child shortly after birth. This girl then turns her life around, becomes an Honor Student in both high School and college. Shortly after College, this girl lands her dream job as a TV Anchor in Baltimore, Maryland only to be fired after several months with the station executives declaring that “she was unfit for TV”. This woman though soon found a TV format that better suited her style, which allowed for more ad-lib and free-flow. This woman would eventually become one of the most well-known and richest women on the planet. This woman’s name is Oprah Winfrey.
The US Presidency, in my lifetime, has been occupied by the son of a shoe-salesman and a homemaker from the small village of Tampico, Illinois who is Ronald Reagan. While another President was born three months after his father died in a car-crash, then his mother would remarry a man who was an alcoholic and a spousal abuser. The child from these humble begins was Bill Clinton. These are just three stories of people from unlikely backgrounds changing the world.
These stories are not unlike today’s Gospel reading which deals with people from unexpected backgrounds being called by God to change the world. Today’s Gospel is the calling of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Digging into these men’s background we find some interesting things. Jesus encounters these men in the town of a Capernaum a town of a thousand people that very few people had even heard. These men were odd choices as Jesus’ earliest of followers since they were not educated men or religious scholars, in all probability these men couldn’t even read. These men had no influence, or money, there most notable skill was that they were fishermen. Yet this wasn’t even all that unique a skill because the whole economy of the area of Capernaum was centered on fishing. These men were not uniquely good at fishing, as their nets were unable to produce any fish on that day.
Why Jesus would have chosen these men doesn’t make any sense. Peter! Peter lacked courage, when Peter would later be asked if he knew Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied knowing him three times. James! And John! Here Jesus was choosing a couple of hot heads. Later in Jesus’ Ministry, after not be received by a village of Samaritans, James and John got so worked up that they ask that Jesus would consume the city with fire. James and John were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder. Andrew! He made no sense either, when Jesus would give sermons later on his ministry such as on “why bad things happen to people” in John 9, Andrew failed to get the point of his sermon. On the night of his arrest- Andrew was supposed to be on watch for people to come to arrest Jesus, only for Andrew to fall asleep within the first hour. For if one were to just look at the calling of these men in the moment of our Gospel to be Christ’s disciples, this move seems to be the epitome of foolishness. These men probably hadn’t traveled more then a few miles from home in their entire life, yet now they were being asked to change the world. For it might have seemed everything that God would want as a leader in his church, the disciples lacked. Yet, years down the line something funny happened. Immediately after Jesus’ rose from the dead something came over these men, so that where as days prior they were hiding for their life, these men were willing to travel to every corner of the earth under threat of death saying that the one who promised to make them fishers of men, had risen from the dead for their salvation. The disciples after being bumbling, stumbling, and uneducated cowards had become great speakers, who Christ chooses on this day to start his Church.
This idea of God calling the unexpected was not a new one. God had previously called whose personal faults seemed to disqualify them. The scriptures describe Noah as a drunk, yet God used him and his family to save the world from a great flood. Moses murdered an Egyptian, but God used him to deliver and rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God turned him into Israel’s greatest king. Jonah openly ran from God’s call so fiercely that he ended up in the Belly of a Whale. Then there is Paul. Paul held people’s coats, as they stoned Stephen to death for confessing the Christian Faith. Paul is described as seeing to it that Christians were arrested, and Paul describes himself as persecuting Christians more then anybody else. Yet Paul became the Christian church’s greatest missionary. Paul wrote more books of the Bible then anyone else, thereby shaping Christianity forever. For it was only through the most magnificent of sinners in Paul that people could understand the Christian Gospel.
The idea of God using flawed, ordinary people to do God’s work is one I can attest in my own life. When I was three years old, I had such a bad speech impediment; I had to begin therapy in Pre-School. Making R and L sounds just doesn’t come naturally for me. When I was nine-years old, I was talking to a very kind man, who was my Speech Therapist, named Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly asked me “What I wanted to be when I grew up”? I replied that I wanted to be a Sports Broadcaster. Mr. Kelly at that moment proceeded to inform that a job with that type of public speaking wouldn’t be possible with my speech impediment. When I was in Seminary, my advisor Jim Boyce proceeded to inform me that my nerves causing me to stutter would be an almost impossible obstacle to overcome within a Congregation. When I first started preaching, I would have bad stomach aches on Sunday morning before having to face a congregation to hopefully deliver so small bits of wisdom into people’s lives. I can speak first hand to how the tasks placed before so many of us are not going to be easy or even realistic.
I remember when I was in Seminary; Luther Seminary had a mission statement which declared that “God could use someone like you”. This campaign was developed by the Seminary’s marketing people and would always seek to find the most photogenic, attractive people it could to be front and center of this campaign. The only exception to this would be when they would feature people from parts of the world that Lutherans generally knew nothing about it. There was something that I noticed about the people that were front and center of these campaigns. They might have been nice enough, smart-enough, and hard-working enough to be effective Pastors. Yet they often went through life having everything handed to them on a Silver-Platter, receiving every blessing that youth, polish, and attractiveness often brings. Yet when I talked to these people, I noticed a seeming inability to really understand the muck and mud of life, to understand loneliness when you’ve never been lonely, to understand heartbreak with better options seemingly around the next corner, to understand job struggles when people are always going to want to hire you. As I think back to all this perhaps the calling of simple fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John begins to make sense. It’s a story of how the Gospel is best understood the most ordinary of people, who live the most common of lives, who retain the ability to not get a head too high in the clouds, because they would never forget going on home on days without catching any fish.
Why do Peter, Andrew, James, and John decide to leave behind all that they ever know to follow Jesus? We know that Capernaum was the area that Jesus had moved to after his temptation in the Desert at the hands of the Devil. So perhaps there was a relationship established with Peter, Andrew, James, and John that caused them to come to trust Jesus’ words. This wouldn’t be a bad outcome to the story as it encourages us to build relationships as a way to further the Gospel. Yet perhaps something more interesting and even more significant is at work here during this story. Perhaps the reason why Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop everything that they had ever known to follow is because they had been overwhelmed in the moment. Perhaps something came over them in their encounter with Our Lord in this moment so that they didn’t think about acting; they just believed it was what they were being called to do. Jesus didn’t promise the Disciples any great earthly benefit or success if they followed his calling. They were being asked to do the most radical thing imaginable in leaving behind all that they had ever known to face the unknown. Yet that’s the thing about a Calling it doesn’t promise to be easy, it doesn’t promise to bring great earthly success, yet a calling presents itself in an almost unexplainable way that we can make a difference in the world whether we are fishermen, teachers, mechanics, or factory-workers.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John the men that Jesus calls today to be his disciples didn’t come from the most sterling of backgrounds nor did they have standout abilities. They weren’t great religious scholars who immediately grasped the point of every sermon that Jesus ever gave. These men didn’t have the greatest work ethic, or great courage with nerves of steel. Yet God called them to be the people, he used to start the Christian church. For the thing about the Disciples is they were not unlike the flawed, ordinary forgiven sinners that Christ calls to serve him everyday. It is must be true what they say “God can use someone like you”. Amen