You're in for it now.
Epiphany III (O. T. 3); January 22, 2017
Several minutes ago you watched or participated as those involved in confirmation were commissioned to go on this journey, along with their mentors and teachers. They spent a lot of time here at the church-house this week, learning, playing, and – I hope! – getting some sleep. They are learning about the Christian Faith and, specifically, that peculiar form of it we call "Presbyterian." At the end of this journey, they will be asked a pointed question: Who is your Lord and Savior?
After today's sermon, we will watch and participate as a young one is baptized. Her parents were raised in Presbyterian churches and have our peculiar form of Christian Faith deep in them. They will tell us who their Lord and Savior is and what they intend for their child as a consequence.
What are you thinking when you witness these events? What would you say to those studying for their confirmation? What would you say to the one being baptized? Here's what I say: You're in for it now.
When I read today's Scripture to you, listen carefully to the story and picture yourself in it. If it helps, close your eyes. At the beginning of the story, we're all part of the crowd at the lakeside, but during the story you may find yourself getting into the boat or perhaps you will stay at the lakeside. Listen and figure out where you are in the story.
Read the Scripture.
I figure we can be in one of three places in this story (we can't be in the place of Jesus; only Jesus can be in the place of Jesus). I could stay in the crowd at the lakeshore, pressing in to – as Luke tells it – "hear the word of God." Then when Jesus gets in the boat I listen attentively to what he is saying. He must be a very good speaker to get his voice to carry from the boat onto the lakeshore where we all are listening. I may not know quite what has happened with the amazing catch of fish, but I do see Simon Peter and his brother and their partners leave their fishing business to go off with Jesus. That's wild; who leaves a lucrative business to follow a wandering preacher?
But I'm in the crowd, and I came for a reason. I came to hear the word of God. The word of God is not what I've been hearing from those in leadership. The Roman and Herodian governments are not much interested in the word of God, and I'm not always sure that even what the priests and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are telling me is really the word of God. But this Jesus: he tells us the word of God. I'm sure of it.
Preacher's commentary: we like to complain these days that people aren't interested in the word of God – that they will pay attention only to what they want to hear – and I know I have been guilty of saying that myself. But I was wrong. Sure, there is a lot of that in our society, but there has always been a lot of that in every human society. I believe there is still a great longing for the word of God, but people have grown suspicious of professional religion-mongers. They will press in to hear the word of God; the appropriate question is if that is what we, as a Church, are delivering.
Those working with our confirmation class have been ladling out bowls full of the word of God and that is their purpose. At the Baptism of infants, the child's parents commit themselves to listening to the word of God and we, as a Church, commit ourselves to delivering it. And so, I must briefly address the Behemoth in the room, even though some of you are hoping and praying that I won't. We, as a nation, have inaugurated our 45th President and there are many strong feelings around that event. I have already seen advertised for sale tee-shirts reading "Not my President." And we have heard him called "illegitimate." These are mistaken. It was wrong when, eight years ago, those opposed to President Obama wore shirts that read "Charlton Heston is my President" and it is just as wrong now to deny President Trump. As your Pastor, I commit myself to speaking of him with the respect and honor that I owe my President. And, as your Pastor, I commit myself to calling him out and calling out Congress when their policies and pronouncements are contrary to the word of God. Life and happiness come from pressing in to hear the word of God, and nowhere else. The word of God is not always easy, and it is often opposed to what we hear on television and radio and read on the internet and Twitter, but the word of God is the source of our life. Our President has called himself a Presbyterian, and I pray that he will pay attention to what he has heard when he has been part of the crowd along the lakeshore.
Well, maybe you saw yourself as Simon Peter, and helped Jesus into the boat. When you saw what Jesus had done, you fell on your face before him and declared your own unworthiness to be in his presence. When Jesus told you to give up your business and go with him to catch people, you were glad to go. You really are in for it now.
Preacher's comment: Simon Peter was not being impetuous. We left out a lot of the story. Between what you heard read last Sunday (Luke 4:14-30) and what I read to you today a lot has happened, and Simon Peter saw most of it. Simon saw Jesus exorcise a demon in the synagogue, and then had Jesus in his home. Simon's mother-in-law was sick with a fever, and Jesus healed her. Lots of folks in town crowded around Simon's house for healing and exorcism. So when Jesus told Simon Peter to follow him, that talented fisherman had already experienced enough to know what he wanted to do.
Our intention with confirmation class is that when it comes time to answer that question, "Who is your Lord and Savior?" they will already have experienced enough to know what they want to say and do. We Presbyterians are somewhat suspicious of quick, emotional decisions. Now we have, admittedly, been negligent of emotions in our church life, so we have work to do there. But we tend not to do "altar calls" because we think people need to have a pretty good understanding of what they're getting themselves into before they make a commitment.
Yet, along with the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout our history, we baptize babies. This one certainly doesn't know what she's in for! But we hope that her parents do. And we remember that baptism isn't a finish line: it's the starting line. It's the beginning of the race to follow Jesus. And it starts whenever God decides it starts.
Well, the third group are Andrew, James, and John. They were in the boats with Simon Peter and Jesus, but not much is said about them. Are you in that group? I believe that I am. I'm not the sort to say the kinds of things Simon Peter does, or to take the kind of leadership he does, but I am glad to go along and do my part for the work of Jesus. If you pay attention to other stories in the Bible, you will find that Andrew, James, and John make great contributions to the work of catching people for Jesus, but they don't shine as Simon Peter shines.
But they are in for it too. All four of these guys ended up teaching about Jesus, and three of them (all but John) died as martyrs for the Faith. They were really in for it! And I suspect that, unnamed here, quite a few members of the crowd went along with Peter, Andrew, James, and John and followed Jesus.
That is what we are in for. We are baptized to set us on the journey of faith. We confirm our faith in Jesus to leave other words behind and follow him, to hear the word of God. Although everyone in the story had their struggles and suffering and challenges, they also had the great joy of the presence of Jesus and of what he said to them and did for them. That is our great joy with Baptism and confirmation and life in the Church: the presence of Jesus and of each other, and the life-giving word of God. "You're in for it now" is not merely a warning; it is also a promise: what I have been trying to get across is that "it" that you are in for is the word of God.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master