Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Next Sunday, we will celebrate yet another huge holiday, a feast day of sorts in American culture, a day some folks wear the colors of their favorite sports community. It is a day to indulge in festive foods: nachos, hot wings, potato chips, and Lord only knows what else. Next Sunday, is Super Bowl XLVIII and the Seattle Seahawks will battle the Denver Broncos for the National Title. Football fans, we will indulge in the great winter sport, but we will do so without once picking up a ball, putting on a uniform, or stepping even one foot out on a field.
In my childhood home, Sunday afternoons (after church and Sunday dinner of course) were spent watching football. My Dad was a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, and I loved the Washington Redskins. One Christmas, I asked for a one of those Sears catalog NFL Uniforms with shoulder pads and official helmet. My crimson and gold Washington helmet hung on my bedpost throughout most of my childhood. I was a fan for sure.
One Christmas I even asked for one of the vibrating metal football fields where you set up all the little plastic players, turned on the switch and they all moved across the field. This game was a football fan’s obsession long before Madden Football was available on X Box. At one point, I owned all the players of the NFC East division, and I spent hours playing an old fashioned version of fantasy football.
As much as I loved the game, as much as dreamed of catching the winning touchdown, I never once stepped out on the field myself. Not once did I put on the helmet and pads and practice with a team. Not once did I in the heat of the game toss the ball, block a tackle, nor experience the glory of getting on the field. I was merely fan, a sideline “wanna be.” As the urban dictionary describes it, I was “one who copies or imitates all or most of the aspects dealing with their idol. They may wish to have certain clothing, skills, vocabulary, etc., of their idols instead of their own. Most likely a wannabe is lacking in self-confidence and is looking for guidance.”2 I can only imagine what kind of player I could have been, had I followed a caring coach, a loving mentor, or given a chance by a risk-taking scout. What kind of player might I have been if there had been someone to help me get past my fears, to have shown me how easy it was to try, and to have helped me get out on the field and play the game that I so loved.
Many years ago, a great scout of sorts, a young rabbi was out looking for prospects to join his first string team. The mission on which, he was about to engage, required a special team of players. He did not go out to the best colleges (synagogues) and pick the first round draft choices, nor did he visit the great centers of power/government and choose the social elite. No, he went down to the shore, down to where he could find the working class folk of the time, and sought out just regular folks, and then, he invited them to hang out with him, and to watch how he played the game. “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:12-23 NRSV)
What always intrigues me about this story in Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus calls the disciples, is that these guys who were obviously working in the family business and possibly doing it well, just dropped what they were doing, left it all behind, and followed this rabbi guy. Talk about being risk-takers. Can you imagine what it was about Jesus in that brief encounter that was so compelling, so persuasive, and so undeniably attractive?
I wonder if it had something to do with the fact that for these overlooked fishermen, someone finally believed in them, saw something promising in them and thus, invited them to get out on the field of mission. I wonder if it was because someone finally asked them to risk failure, to dream about what might be possible, challenged them to face their fears, and invited them to follow the one, who calls each one of us to a new way of life. Maybe they dropped what they were doing and followed, because Jesus confidently declared, “You can do this!”
See the great thing about discipleship, which we get wrong so often, is following Jesus is not about being perfect, doing it right, or avoiding failure. The reality about life in Christ is that we just do not get it right a lot of the time. Folks, Jesus followers drop the ball, miss the tackle, step out of bounds, and sometimes fail to show up for practice. Even so, the fundamental requirement to be a student, apprentice, disciple of Jesus, is to take the risk and just try. We really do not have to worry about getting it right, we begin by leaving behind the “wanna be” mentality and get out on the field and take the leap to follow Jesus, not simply on Sundays, but every day of the week.
We disciples make the mistake of thinking that Sunday is our big game day. Sunday is really our practice time; it is when we learn how to play game. The community gathered on Sunday is the event when we learn from one another and encourage each another. Sunday morning is when we are fed and prepared and sent out. The really big event, the true Christian playing field is out there in our workplaces, in our homes, with our closest friends, and with folks with whom we engage every single day.
“Consider just your job, the work you do to make a living. This is one of the clearest ways possible of focusing upon apprenticeship to Jesus.”1 How you interact and treat your co-workers, how you make decisions about difficult issues, how you serve customers and clients are all opportunities “to be learning from Jesus how to do your job as Jesus himself would do it.” A young woman worked in a very competitive, high-energy office where cut throat tactics abounded. Sometimes her faith seemed to come in conflict with the corporate culture in which she found herself. She resolved at one point that she would begin her day with this prayer, which she said each day sitting in the parking garage, “Lord, when I am confused guide me. When I am burned out infuse me with the light of the Holy Spirit. May the work that I do and the way I do it bring faith, joy, and a smile to all that I come in contact with today.”
For this young woman this simple prayer focused her, and reminded her that she had been given the opportunity to bring joy and grace into a place of darkness and stress. She learned that by simply changing her mindset, looking at things differently, helped her to step out on the field, take a risk, and get into the game playing on Jesus’ team. When we are at work, at home, or at any place we find ourselves engaging with others, by asking prayerfully, “put me in coach,” the Master does just that and by the way, the Spirit gives us the power to take the ball and run with it.
THE FINAL step in becoming a disciple is decision. We become a life student of Jesus by deciding.1 Remember the seashore scouting trip where Jesus said, “Follow me,” and they dropped what they were doing and did just that. Notice that they did not drift into following Jesus. They made a conscious decision to risk it all and give it a go. Now being a disciple does not mean you have to go off to seminary and become a professional Christian, nor does it mean that you have to move to Calcutta, or join a monastic community, nor does it mean you have to sign up for every ministry leadership position in the parish. Being a disciple begins when we simply decide to be one, and then we practice, and here’s how you might start:
(1) Spend some time studying the stories of how Jesus played the game. Scripture gives us the playbook of how Jesus engaged people in every day life and how he brought peace, joy, love, grace, and restoration to all with whom he encountered.
(2) Spend a little time with God each day. Prayer gives us the opportunity to receive God’s guidance, mentoring, and strength, and power.
(3) Spend a little time with other Christians sharing each other’s journeys and struggles. Fellowship with others provides the opportunity to learn from each other, to share each other’s burdens, and to encourage each other along the way.
(4) Spend a little time each week serving someone who needs the grace, which has been poured into you. Serving others was at the center of Jesus’ ministry and so, there is no better way to do as Jesus did, but to do as Jesus did.
Being an apprentice of Jesus really is not that difficult my friends, but it requires a decision. We don’t do it alone. We have a great coach who believes in us, sees great promise in us, invites us to risk failure, dream what is possible, and challenges us to face our fears. So, the invitation is clear, the team is forming, and practice happens right here in this place every Sunday morning. Remember to mark your calendars because the big game starts on Monday morning and does not end until the Master returns. You see, Our Lord believes in us and declares for all to hear, “You all can do this!” The question with which we must wrestle, “Are we ready to step on the field?”