Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We are Dusty People. Sermon 1-25

Mark 1: 14-20

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our risen lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

Credentials. It starts almost from the moments that we are born – parents ask themselves: is my baby making her milestones on time? Are we using the right pre-reading program? Is she excelling in her toddler ballet class? Is he in the most academically rigorous pre-school and kindergarten program?

Credentials. Whether or not our life-resumes are transcribed on paper or in our consciousness, our credentials are always with us. It’s not just what schools we've gone to or what job’s we've had or what clubs we've been part of. Our life transcript also reports on … whether or not we are close friends with the boss. How many friends we have on Facebook. Whether or not we are the “cool parent” among our kids’ friends. How big of a raise we got last year.

Credentials. And we are always checking each OTHER’S against our own.  HE wears the same red sweater to church every week. HER youngest son is a star athlete and just got accepted to Princeton. HE spent three years in Indonesia feeding starving orphans and then started a successful business from $50 his grandpa gave him. SHE is a Julliard grad …but she fell from grace and now is in a rehab program.

Credentials. We use them to keep some people in and some people out.  In one of the opening scenes in the new movie Selma, Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey, slowly and neatly filled out her voter registration application in the lobby of the local court house. Then she waited nervously to be called to the clerk’s window, even though she was the only one waiting. The white clerk finally, loudly called her over, and told her to hurry up about it, too.

The clerk looked at her, up and down, took her registration, and said,

“Recite the preamble to the United States Constitution.”

After a long pause, Ms. Cooper began, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

“How many county judges are in the state of Alabama?”


For a moment it looks like the white clerk will surely this black woman vote. After all that, she has proven herself. I, for one, have no idea how many county judges there are in the state of New Jersey, and I had to look up how the preamble of the constitution went. But instead, the clerk replies:

“Name them.”

Credentials. Annie Lee Cooper had a better resume than a lot of people in her day, and she was STILL denied this basic human right, based on the color of her skin.

Credentials. We love them, we hate them, we build them, we strive for them, we compare them, we try to ignore them. But we cannot seem to escape them.

Until, that is, along came a man named Jesus, walking along the beach. Now, this was not any old ordinary, relaxing stroll in the surf that he was taking, enjoying the scenery – which, by the way, would have been more like a wharf then a beach: full of smelly fish and smelly men rather than sunbathers. But, undeterred, Jesus walked along, fresh with a blessing from his baptism, fresh with a mission from his time in the wilderness. Jesus was ready to do his own kind of fishing.

Who to choose for this brand-new faith movement, this cutting edge, state of the art, counter-cultural Kingdom of God-blessed effort? Perhaps the most learn-ed theologians and scripture interpreters of the time from the biggest houses of worship. In addition, those with good communication skills would be a wise choice – people who could read and write, when most people couldn't. Great orators and preachers would be a great asset, as would great historians, and also members of the ruling elite to be financial supporters for this ambitious new venture. People with good credentials. THAT’S who Jesus needs. Right?

But… that isn’t exactly who Jesus ended up choosing. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were certainly not theologians, great communicators, knowledgeable in history, powerful, wealthy, or even literate. After all, where did Jesus find them? At the wharf, slogging through a day’s work at the family business. In the middle of a shift at a minimum-wage, blue-collar job with no benefits, no pension, and no options. Because this was all they had as their credentials: to be fishermen, casting their nets into the sea. And yet, these are the ones out to be his disciples.

For Jesus, it doesn't matter what school we attended or how much money we make or what our children amount to. We don’t have to fill out an application showing how many committees we've served on or fellowship hours we've signed up for, how many years we've faithfully taught Sunday school, been in youth group, or sang in the choir, though these are all worthwhile things. And on the other hand, you don’t have to worry if your list of qualifications seems alarmingly blank. To be called by Jesus, to follow him as his disciple, you only need one thing on your resume: being a child of God. Which, by the way, if you haven’t noticed, you already are, by virtue of your baptism.

As Jesus walked along the beach and called his disciples, I can imagine that their hearts leaped for joy. Here was somebody who thought they were good enough, someone who thought that they were WORTHY to be his students. And then, I image that a moment later as they dropped their nets, their hearts dropped to their stomachs in utter terror. What in the world would they be in for? They had no idea that during the next three years they will misunderstand, try to correct, manipulate, question, fall asleep on the job for, and finally abandon the very person who called them. But Jesus called them anyway.

If it were not for these ordinary, flawed, credential-less people, WE would not be here, in 2015, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Windsor New Jersey, about to review the awesome ministry we have done in the previous year together. All because Jesus chose and called them, and they followed.

YOU have been chosen. And YOU have been called. And perhaps your heart too has done that little dance in both joy and terror at the same time. Whether you are young like Samuel, stubborn like Jonah, eloquent like Paul, reverent like Mary, brave like Moses and Miriam, faithful like Mary Magdalene, eager like Peter, curious like Philip, or a bit slow on the up-take like the rest of the disciples…

Whether we are old, young, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, A-list or B-team ….Jesus has a place for you among his students. And he has called you there for a reason. And that reason is so that you can learn from him how to fish for people. And lesson number one, so far, which we learned from these four disciples in their very first minutes on the job, is this – everyone has a place. No credentials required.

So hold on tight, because this adventure might get a little bumpy at times, like it did for the disciples. Yes, God has called us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown, But God gives us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that the very hand of Jesus will be ready to catch us if we stumble.

And so, as wise pastor and author Rob Bell has said, may you follow in the footsteps of the person you follow so closely that you are covered in the dust he leaves in his wake. So let us follow Jesus so closely that we will be completely covered by dust that get kicked up - like coated and just plastered in the stuff - so that everything that we do as we follow him will leave behind us smudges that others can see– smudges of grace that show everyone that the Kingdom of God has indeed come near to us.

So let's make 2015 the smudgiest, dustiest year EVER. Amen.

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