Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why did Jesus Pick Those Guys?

John 1:35-42; Isaiah 49:1-7

                A few weeks ago we ordained a new class of elders. Three of the four folks in the class of 2016 have never been elders before. Each of the three during the past few months expressed the concern that they might not be worthy of the task before them.  I responded by telling them no one is worthy of this honor, but they will be surprised by the opportunities for inspiration.
Anyone who has been ordained remembers the installation service. When the hands of years of experience touch your shoulder during the prayer of ordination it is an empowering moment. It is also the moment you realize you will now fill the shoes of someone you greatly admire. That is when reality sets in and that is when you ask yourself, “Why on earth did I agree to become an elder?”
        I might suggest that feeling is not exclusive to those who have been ordained. Anytime we step forward to lead a committee, teach a Bible Study class, supply refreshments, make a visit, serve on a committee or just greet folks in the hallway, there is be a bit of hesitation. Am I worthy enough to represent the body of Christ? Let me remind you of the qualifications of the first 12 guys that eventually became the embodiment of Christ.
        Does anyone remember the names of all twelve disciples? I suspect not. For the record their names were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew (Nathaniel), Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Thaddeus and Judas.  What do we know about these men?
        Peter was the leader. He was a fisherman. Of course if we use the scripture as our only guide he must not have been very good. Every time the text mentions Peter doing what he does best, he fails to catch a single fish.
        Matthew was a tax collector, a less than honorable trade during the time of Roman occupation. No one liked or trusted members of Matthew’s profession.
        James and Andrew were brothers and referred to themselves as the Sons of Thunder. I am not sure if this was a reflection on the father or the sons.
        John is known as the disciple that Jesus loved.  This description is found exclusively in John’s Gospel which makes me wonder if John might have had a bit of an inferiority complex.
Phillip the disciple is often confused with Phillip the evangelist. Phillip the evangelist spoke Greek and was responsible for baptizing a gentile in the book of Acts. We really know very little about Phillip the disciple.
        We all know Thomas as the one who doubted Jesus. I am sure he wishes he was known for something else.
And then there is Judas Iscariot. While Judas did manage to get the starring role in Jesus Christ Superstar, he pretty much spent the first 2,000 years as the most despised character in the Christian tradition.
 The other four disciples are only known by their names.
One might ask, “Why did Jesus pick these guys?”  There was not a biblical scholar in the bunch. No scribe or rabbi; no lawyer or doctor. They only seemed to have one thing in common. They all were looking for something.
That tells me two really important things about those twelve men. First, they were not finished products. They were very rough around the edges and had a lot to learn and even more to experience.
Second, while they always seemed in constant denial about who Jesus was and who they could become, they stayed the course. At some point along the way, each must have wanted to go home, and yet eleven of the original twelve made it to Pentecost. You might not remember all their names but we are a product of what they started.
What were they looking for? We could dismiss the question by simply saying “They were looking for the Messiah.” But the answer is much more complex.  I think they were looking for an answer to the question which has confounded most humans of any age, “Who am I?”
I remember a few years ago my son, a recent graduate from college, made the decision to spend a year in Peru. In a private conversation I expressed my pride and my jealousy that he was able to take a break from life and run off to another part of the world. He said, “Dad, I am not doing anything heroic. I am just trying to find myself.”
All kidding aside, I have come to believe death occurs the day we stop looking toward tomorrow. Perhaps I am naïve but I believe when life becomes static, when there is really no reason to get up in the morning, why should we? We don’t have to spend a year in Peru, but we do need something to motivate us in order to see tomorrow as full of new and unique possibilities.   My mother has a shirt which she proudly wears which says, “So many books and not enough days.”  That attitude gives her life.
Tomorrow could mean a new book, a new project, or a new grandchild. Tomorrow could be spring football or the next episode of Downton Abbey. I didn’t say it had to be important. It just has to be something to motivate us and give us life.
Perhaps the disciples, those stumbling and bumbling fools, weren’t much different than us. Perhaps they were looking for something new, something meaningful, something provocative, something out of the ordinary, something that would take them beyond their boats and their limited imaginations. Perhaps they were trying to rediscover or jump start their lives. Perhaps they were bored. Perhaps they were curious. Perhaps they were tired of seeing life the same way and wanted to try something different. Perhaps they believed God wanted them to move forward because they believed God is always moving forward. All we know is when Jesus asked what they were looking for, they couldn’t answer his question. But they did see a door opening to a multitude of new possibilities. And strangely enough, the opening of that door gave them the courage to ask the question disciples yesterday and today must eventually ask,
That is probably not the question you were expecting. Some of you might suggest that is not a question we should be raising. It leads us to ask if God is an active God, both in the world and in our lives.  It is the type of questions which causes us to stop and ponder if God IS active perhaps God could be a little more active on some of the things that really matter.
What is God looking for? Do you think it was an accident that Jesus just happened to run into Andrew? Remember this is the gospel of John. In John’s gospel nothing happens accidentally. The meeting was intentional. Jesus planned all along to enlist Andrew and Peter and all those other bungling suspects we now honor with the title of Apostle. Jesus knew his role. He knew no one else could do what he was about to do. But Jesus also knew there was work to be done once he was gone. Who better than a band of misfits to accomplish what no one imagined possible?
Teresa of Avilia, a sixteenth century mystic, wrote this to her fellow nuns shortly before her death.
        Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
        No hands but yours,
        No feet but yours.
        Yours are the eyes through which to see Christ’s
                compassion for the world.
        Yours are the feet to which Christ
                is to go about doing good.
        Yours are the hands with which Christ
                is to bless others.

What are you looking for? What is God looking for? Maybe it is the same thing.. Imagine living to fulfill that for which Jesus died.  Imagine……and follow.      Amen.

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