Sermon: Life Interrupted

January 22, 2017

Text – Matthew 4:12-23

As a father to young boy, I often sit and watch the Disney Channel. I watch Mickey Mouse and the Club House, Miles from Tomorrow Land, PJ Mask, and Little Einstein… etc. And I often feel uncomfortable with commercials interrupting the show constantly saying, “Don’t go anywhere. We will be right back after these commercials.” Obviously, there is a plot for the show that builds tension that requires resolution. But the show constantly interrupts with many commercials that have nothing to do with the plot of the programming. I first thought that American TV has many commercials so that people can use the bathroom or make the popcorn in the microwave. But news article from Times in May 2014 points out that the American programming has been increasing more commercials over the years because more ads mean more money for the TV industry.[1]

As people, we may not appreciate such interruption in the middle of our lives. Since we have limited time and resource, we want to get our works done more effectively and quickly. You gather for a business meeting in the afternoon. You care for your company but want to finish your work as soon as possible so you can go home, rest, and spend some time with your children. But in the middle of the meeting, Johnny raises his hand and constantly interrupts your meeting, making jokes and telling stories that really have nothing to do with the business agendas. I wonder if you have had Johnny in your work place. But I do know Johnny when I go to my clergy meeting. Most of people would not appreciate disruption. We have the flow of our lives. We have the rhythm of our meeting and work.

As we read the story from the Gospel of Matthew, I wonder if Peter and his brother Andrew also felt the same. They were fisherman at the Sea of Galilee. Just like another day, they probably caught some fish that would be enough to sustain their families and business. Maybe they were giving thanks to God for catching the fish for the day and hurrying to mend the nets so they could go home and see their families. But all of sudden, a man appears to them and say, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus interrupts their works in the middle and even disrupts their whole lives by calling them to follow him. How would you have responded to him if he came to your work places and told you, “Follow me”? Wouldn’t many of us say, “Sir, I am quite happy with my job and my family. Maybe another time.”

What is interesting with the Gospel of Matthew, unlike other Gospels, is that the story of Jesus’ calling two sets of brothers could have been omitted here but still continue as an intact plot. After John was arrested, Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He calls his first disciples. And then he continues on in his work of proclaiming the kingdom of God by teaching in synagogues, curing every disease and sickness among people. It is like there is a story of Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God that is interrupted by another story of Jesus calling his first disciples. It is like the writer of Matthew is intentionally interrupting the storyline by telling us how the ordinary and perfect lives of Peter and Andrew are interrupted. He wants to tell us to be attentive when our lives are interrupted because it could be a sign of Christ’s invitation for us.

One day, I took Daniel to a playground inside a mall in Massachusetts when he was only a year and half old. As many parents do, I was sitting on the bench and reading from cellphone. Daniel constantly wanted to get my attention screaming and yelling. I was a little irritated because I thought that he was interrupting me from doing my works – reading emails, checking the news, scanning Facebook. After a while, I realized that he kept interrupting me because he wanted to show me that he could come down the slide on his own. He used to be so scared to come down the slide before but he wanted to show me proudly that he now could do it. I could have missed it totally. But I am glad that he was so persistent that I did not miss a moment of his growth. Daniel’s interruption became an opportunity for me to reflect on my parenthood and appreciate every moment with him as a divine gift.

Jesus interrupts the lives of Peter, Andrew, James and John. These were not people who had nothing to do or no one to lose. They had their perfect jobs. They had their perfect families. They had their perfect lives. But Jesus tells them that he needs them. Why? When he probably could have done all the works by himself? When he had the power to cure the disease. When he had the power to calm the storm and walk on the water. When he had the power to turn the water into wine. When he had the power to feed five thousand and four thousand people. Why does Jesus stop by at these boats and interrupt the lives of good people like these men? This story interrupted by the calling of his disciples reveals to us how God works in this world. Although God could have done it all by Godself, God refuses to work alone. God desires to do it with us. God invites us to come and taste and work for God.

When Jesus fed the five thousand people, he did so not out of nothing but out of a lunch box of a young boy whose mother packed five loaves of bread and two fish. When the boy generously offered his lunch box, Jesus blessed the food and fed the five thousand people with 12 baskets of leftover. The boy probably felt disrupted by the request of Jesus. But his generosity would lead to the miracle of abundant food for the multitude. How about the Good Samaritan? When there was a man dying on street because he was robbed, stripped, and beat, the priest and Levite come but pass by. They did not want to be interrupted by helping this person. But the Samaritan accepts the interruption as a call to be a neighbor in need. The one who is rejected and marginalized religiously, politically and socially becomes the model for the true neighbor.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor who had a promising career as scholar in the U.S. during the World War II. However, in noticing the evil rising with Hitler and Nazis government, he decided to go back to Germany to be with people and nurture young seminarians by sharing their lives together. In his book “Life Together,” he writes, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks. It is a strange face that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path.”[2]

Jesus still comes to us and meets us where we are. We often do not recognize him because we are preoccupied with our own concept of peace, happiness, and safety. We might believe that we have figured out our life plan – when we would get married, when we would have our children, how much we put into pension, when we would retire, and where we would buy our house …etc. But Jesus comes to us and interrupts our perfect lives. He tells us, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” If Peter and Andrew knew Jesus’ background as the son of carpenter, they could have responded, “We know much better what it takes fish.” But they abandon everything that they have. And they start to follow to unknown, unsafe, and uncomfortable places. But they follow Jesus in their faith – the faith that is, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus does not negate our background, our skill, and our gift. Rather, he transforms them for the work of God so that what we do, what we know can glorify none other than God who created us in God’s image and has given us new purpose of our lives – to love God and to love our neighbors. When I spent one week at Rolling Ridge in North Andover, the Methodist retreat center, I met 9 students who came to seek ministry. Some of them were already retired or near retirement. They thought that they could enjoy their time with their families and grandchildren. But Jesus came to them, interrupted their lives, and called them to serve God and God’s people. They came from many different backgrounds – computer, education, library, sales …etc. Jesus now uses their knowledge and experience to proclaim the kingdom of God right here with us when we share the love of God with one another.

I believe that Jesus still comes to us and meets us as individual. He comes and whisper to us when we meditate, when we walk, when we drive. He tells us to follow him because he needs us in this world. Jesus comes and meets us as church too. When we hear the cries and pain of our neighbors, we know that it is the voice of Christ calling us to the world. We follow him and realize that he has already been there for us. Are you feeling interrupted in your lives today? Are you feeling frustrated because your plans are being altered? Maybe Christ is extending invitation to follow him through the interruption in your lives today. Won’t you answer his call to follow today? Let us arise and sing together, “Where He Leads Me.”

 

 

[1] http://time.com/96303/tv-commercials-increasing/

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

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Follow Me …

I came to the Local Licensing School at the Rolling Ridge. I work as one of the faculties staying with the students for six days teaching in lectures and interacting with them. I have been working with LLS for the past eight years. I am usually the youngest one here among the faculty and students.

All these students are here because they heard the call of Jesus, “Follow me.” As Jesus saw Peter and Andrew working at their boat, he has called them out of their own places to follow him in proclaiming the kingdom of God. Some of them have abandoned their jobs and families so that they could follow Jesus.

I remember when I was sitting here as one of the students back in 2008. In being ministry since then, I wonder if I sometimes feel too comfortable where I am and what I do. Somehow I wish to hear the voice of Christ telling me, “Follow me. I will make you fisher of people.” I wish to be rekindled in my heart with the call of Jesus constantly.

I pray that God would bless these students with energy and growth. This is an intense period of study as they begin their day from 7 am and end at 9 pm. I pray that God meets them in their prayer, study, and conversation and remind them that it is none other than Christ who has called them to be here.

 

*Proof that God’s grace is more powerful than our weakness

When I attended LLS as student in 2008, I came out to join the breakfast still wearing pajama. All the other faculties and students already took the shower and dressed for the day. People are looking at me saying, “Bob, are you serious?” Well, I still passed it and am teaching as faculty today. I call it “the grace of God.”

 

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