Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (1)
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

 

The first time I came to Canada was as a student at the Vancouver School of Theology. In the summer before I went back home I took a course in Clinical Pastoral Education at Health Science Centre Hospital. That is where Jackie and I met. Jackie worked on one of the wards I was assigned to.

I always tell this story by saying that I received very high marks on my staff interaction, which I did.

The program was 12 weeks and we started dating about a week before I left. The first time Jackie came to see me in Germany was for a few days after Christmas. She came back for a leave of absence the following summer and fall. She met my family, and saw a little of the country. One of the people we visited were Andy and his family. Andy is a lawyer in Munich and he was my father’s brother-in-law. We stayed with Andy and his family after we were engaged and Andy tried his hardest to talk us out of getting married. You must know that in Germany marriage does not have the same currency as here. The first wedding I was at was my own and I was 25 when we were married.

Andy’s argument was that the only reason one needs to get married is to provide a stable environment for the children of a relationship. Once the children have grown up and left, he said, you can go separate ways.

It was quite amazing how engaged Andy was in his argument. He even offered to hire Jackie so she could get a visa and would not need to marry to get one. It was quite elaborate. He did not convince us but we appreciated his concern. By the way, Andy and his wife Christine’s children have grown up and married, but Andy and Christine are still together.

The reason I am telling you this story is Andy’s argument about a stable environment in which to raise children. Stability, however, does not not apply to children only, and perhaps stability in itself is not a virtue, for you can have stability for the wrong reasons, caused by an imbalance of power, whereby stability is not what you and I create together but is the situation I find myself in and can do nothing about. Dictatorships come to mind. Turkey’s parliament just voted to change the constitution of the country into a presidential system, giving their president almost unlimited power.

We are at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has learned that John was arrested and he withdraws into the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, into Gentile territory. This is only the beginning but already there is no stability for Jesus and his followers.

Of course, the church knows a thing or two about changing times and the instability that has brought. I had lunch with my United Church colleague from South Arm United and we talked about that a bit. He said at one point the Moderator of the UCC had a direct line to the prime Minister. Now, he says, most United Church ministers can’t even remember that time. Lutherans in Canada have never been part of the establishment to be able to remember something like this, but Christianity was once part of the dominant culture, and we still mourn that loss.

Perhaps we don’t mourn the loss so much because we want things to go back to the way they were. But maybe more because we have to re-imagine ministry and we have to try to understand anew what it means to share the Gospel with people who don’t know the story.

There are big changes taking place south of the border and there as here people are anxious about it.

Interestingly, to some outside of the church, the church appears as a force resistant to change, which is certainly true at times – I remember a younger member in Winnipeg who said to me that it was because everything else was changing that he did not want to see change in the church, yet at the same time the church is affected by change it did not bring about.

I cannot imagine what it was like for Peter and Andrew, James and John. What did they know about what following Jesus would entail? They certainly did not know about the cross. Matthew says they followed ‘immediately’, which is remarkable all on its own.

Matthew’s telling of the calling of the disciples is brief but what we know for sure is that certainty was not one of the things Jesus offered. A little later Jesus says that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

The only certainty then that they have is to be in the presence of Jesus. And that, in the end, proves to be enough. What is transforming their lives is not the stability of church, or synagogue, or society, or power, or prestige, as good as those things may be and as much as they may miss them. What is transforming is to be in the presence of Jesus and to live in his presence with one another.

When we confess our faith, we say about as much,

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the dead,
and life everlasting.

We don’t confess an institution but our sharing in the life of God as we live together as the followers of Jesus. And that, it turns out, is enough, is all we need.

Amen.