Sermon preached by Br. Luke Efo in Springwood at the Blue Mountains Franciscan Church on Sunday 22nd January 2017
Here are two different versions of the calling of the first disciples. Last week we read in John’s Gospel that Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and when Andrew heard John the Baptist say that Jesus was the Lamb of God, Andrew left John the Baptist, searched for his brother Simon and they both went to Jesus. who changed Simon’s name to Peter.
And we have just heard Matthew tells us that Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and saw Andrew and Simon fishing and called them to follow him. Then a little further along Jesus called James and John, the sons of thunder.
I suspect you are now asking yourselves, ‘so which one is right?’ John, Matthew, both or maybe neither? My reply is: why does it matter?
Today we try desperately to authenticate what we are told. We are wedded to the idea that there can be only one, correct answer. Why? Because we need, nay we want, tangible proof of what we hear or are told. There is an old Russian proverb, which says Doveryai, no proveryai ‘trust, but verify’. President Ronald Reagan used it when talking about nuclear disarmament in 1987.
Now, it seems to me that this proverb also reflects how we sometimes approach our Scriptures. And maybe through them, our faith in general. I think this came as a result of what historians and other academics call the ‘Enlightenment’. Which Wikipedia describes as:
“an intellectual movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy”… it “was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy”.
We are the recipients of the fruits of the enlightenment. Now before anyone starts calling me a luddite, or a troglodyte, or any other such thing, I am NOT saying that the advancements in science, technology, medicine, etc. is bad. Far from it. What I am saying is that the idea that we have to rationalise, prove by logic, things that were never recorded in a rational, scientific way, then we are opening ourselves, not to reason but to doubt. We are not strengthening our faith, we are weakening it.
Remember, I believe the Gospel writers are not recording history as we have come to know and understand that academic discipline. They were writing about the human-divine relationship. And I maintain that this relationship cannot be rationalised, it cannot be explained by reason. It stretches beyond the logical, it enters the realm of faith, of uncertainty and yes, of mystery.
Now to some a mystery must be solved. A solution found, an explanation presented, and an agreement made about meaning. That is an enlightenment approach. Note I said enlightenment, NOT enlightened. I would argue that when dealing with faith, ‘trust but verify’, leads us to a raft of conundrums that we really don’t need.
Which leads me back to my earlier statement: ‘why does it matter’, that we have heard two versions. I think by now, you will not be shocked if I say ‘it doesn’t’ matter. What we are hearing here is the story about the beginning of a relationship. Now if you ask most couples, one or both, can usually tell you how they first met, or when they first laid eyes on each other. That beginning was the spark, and the relationship developed from that point. And this is what we are seeing at work here. Andrew, Simon, John and James see Jesus and something is lit within them. As Isaiah, said: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Andrew was John the Baptist’s disciple. He shared the news of Jesus with his brother. Jesus saw some brothers fishing, he called them and they followed. The brothers formed a relationship with the Divine and then told the world what they had discovered and what developed.
John says that not everything that Jesus did was written down. What that was written down was written down, so that we would believe. There’s the key, ‘so we would believe’. Luke says a similar thing at the start of his gospel.
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4)
The truth is the story of the relationship with God. So, don’t let the differences trouble you. Look at what the writer is telling us, not how the writer wrote it.
So, what are they telling us? They are telling us that God knows us better than we know ourselves. That he will speak to each of us. That He will offer us a relationship with him. Our response, our answer, can be like that of the disciples and to follow, or it can be to turn away as some of the crowd did. When we answer yes, the resulting relationship will set us off on an amazing journey that we simply cannot imagine.
But that’s the very nature of a relationship. We can choose to develop a nascent relationship past the first meeting, to nurture and foster the spark. Or we can simply walk away. In either response, it’s a momentous decision. And not one to take lightly or flippantly.
All those years ago, the disciples knew they had experienced something they could not really explain. They knew that they had found something of such priceless value and meaning they could not walk away. They chose to develop the relationship into one of immense fullness and joy. We too can experience this, but only if we are prepared to respond to the call. To respond with an unequivocal yes, and then to go, without trying to rationalise, apply logic or reason to the relationship that we are entering.
‘We have found the Messiah’, Andrew said to Peter. I like to think that Andrew’s next words were: ‘will you come with me and see’? And Peter went. Jesus was standing on the beach, he called to two sets of brothers, ‘come follow me’. And they went.
What is your response to the offer of a relationship, to Jesus’ invitation to: ‘come, follow me’?