Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Third Sunday After Epiphany
January 22, 2017
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Maybe I’m a little behind the times or maybe I’m just a little more inattentive to the world around me than I should be; but as I drove past McDonalds earlier this week I saw on their big lit up billboard sign that McDonalds now offer three different sized Big Macs. Again, maybe this is old news and I just haven’t visited McDonalds enough lately to know this, but I thought that this was pretty cool.
Is was pretty cool because if you are craving a Big Mac, there are now different levels of commitment that you can make in securing one. For instance, if you’re on a diet, or if you’ve got that craving but don’t want to eat a lot, you’re not a big eater, or if you’ve never before tried a Big Mac, you can order the little one. It doesn’t cost as much. There’s less calories in the little one. It gives you the opportunity to dip your toes into the water without fully committing to this sandwich.
Then there’s the regular Big Mac, the one that we’ve had for decades. Billions and billions sold, right, the old familiar fallback. (I’ve ventured that way once or twice!)
And lastly, there is a newer, bigger Big Mac. I know that it’s bigger and I know that there’s more stuff on it. While I haven’t looked at the price, I imagine that it costs more. As well, I’m quite certain that that calorie content on this bad boy is probably through the roof. But if you have a hunger that can only be cured by layers of bun, burger, cheese, lettuce and onion, and topped with Thousand Island dressing, this is the sandwich for you. But I would suggest that you order the small fry to accompany it.
It’s a big commitment to take on the bigger Big Mac, and indigestion is a very possible inclusion with it; but when it comes to matters of faith, this big one is where we’re at. When it comes to matters of faith, it’s all about commitment, as in being fully committed.
What does that mean? Well, I’ve been in conversations with people who say to me like, “I’m kind of religious. I believe in God and Jesus and stuff, but I don’t really go to church, or I’m not part of a church. If I’m a good person, well that’s all that matters, and so I don’t need to get bogged down by somebody or some book telling me what to do.”
Clearly, these responses are how people justify their own actions, because we do need guidance. It’s self-righteousness. All I need to do is be a good person. Okay. What defines a good person? Is your definition of a good person the same as my definition of a good person? And, more importantly, if you want to venture down that path, is your definition of being a good person the same as God’s definition of being a good person?
When we veer off down this road of thought we are wading into dangerous waters, because when we start calling the shots on what’s good or what’s bad or what’s right or what’s wrong, we’re in essence removing what God says about any and all given situations. And God’s response, my friends, is the same, and it is always crystal clear.
An old Haitian parable goes that a certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: He would retain ownership of one small nail on the inside of the house protruding from just over the door.
After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house back to the owner of the nail.
The conclusion is if we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation, and that is why my friends, when it comes to matters of faith, we are called to commit our lives fully to Christ. Not kind of. Not sort of. Don’t leave the devil something to hang his will on. Instead, fully give of ourselves and the life that God has endowed us with to Himself.
And I’ll be the first to tell you, it’s not always easy or fun to do this. As we read this morning’s gospel lesson today, it would seem that committing yourself to following
Jesus would seem like the easiest thing in the world to do. Jesus is just out walking along the Sea of Galilee and he encounters these two brothers, Peter and Andrew and he utters the magic words, and what do they do? They drop their nets and follow him. Blindly. No questions asked. No explanations needed. And a short time later he encounters two other brothers, James and John, and it’s the exact same thing. Follow me. And without giving it a second thought, they do just that. They follow him.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I live in the real world, and I find it hard to believe that if some unknown peasant walked up to me and asked me to do what Jesus asked these fellows to do, I’d probably just turn my back on him and keep doing what I’m doing. I ain’t got time for these kind of games in my life. I’ve got work and family and social commitments. I have a mortgage and a kid going off to college and another getting her driver’s license. I’ve got parents that are sick and the honey do list is getting longer by the hour. This just is not happening for me.
But now I’ll play devil’s advocate and ask, why not? Why aren’t you taking the time to place Jesus in a place of prominence in your life? Why isn’t your faith formation and your relationship with God a driving factor in your life instead of a convenient one?
Why aren’t you willing to make the commitment that is necessary for you to make in order to fully experience the wonders of a God whose love and whose commitment to you knows no boundaries? What excuse could you possibly have that trumps these? Full commitment to Christ means being equipped for everything this life has to offer.
In April 1988 the evening news reported on a photographer who was a skydiver. He had jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. On the film shown on the telecast, as the final skydiver opened his chute, the picture went berserk. The news announcer then reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death, having jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until he reached for the absent ripcord that he realized he was freefalling without a parachute. Now, until that point, the jump probably seemed exciting and fun. But tragically, he had acted with thoughtless haste and deadly foolishness. Nothing
could save him, for his faith was in a parachute that he never buckled on.
How often do we jump into life without having the parachute of faith strapped on our backs? Because you know what? Like faith, you can’t kind of have a parachute on. Either you are wearing one or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground. Is that a plunge that you are willing to make? If so, know the consequences of your actions, and know that they are all on you.
I guess what this all means is that when we get bogged down with the many and fine details of our lives, that it is necessary that we invite Christ to be present in them, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they may be. It means that when the going gets tough for us, and it will get tough for us, some of us more than others, that if we know that Christ is with us and present during the good times, that we know that Christ will be with us and present during the bad times. It means that if we are going to commit our lives to Christ, that it cannot be a lukewarm commitment, but a full commitment, because Christ isn’t kind of present. Christ is either present or He isn’t.
Because here’s the thing. God isn’t kind of faithful to us. God doesn’t just stop by and visit in our lives once in a while or during those scheduled times of Christmas or Easter or during baptisms or weddings or funerals. God’s present in that house that we’re
paying that mortgage on. God’s present in that workplace that provides the means to pay for that mortgage. God’s present with our child in whatever college he chooses to attend. Just as much as God is present in the big picture, God is present in the details; it’s just a matter of whether or not we’re willing to see God in them.
This past Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, an American civil rights leader who was a person with tremendous courage, Martin Luther King Jr endured vilification, beatings, imprisonments, death threats; his house was firebombed, and, as we all know, he eventually was assassinated.
So what kept him going? It was his strong sense of God’s call upon his life as well as his knowledge that Christ was walking with him every step of the way.
King was just 26 years old when he was appointed leader of the civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama. And apart from terrifying threats from the Ku Klux Klan, if that weren’t enough, he was harassed by police as he was arrested for driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. The night after his release he was at home when the phone rang. “Nigger”, said a menacing voice on the other end, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”
King was unnerved and very afraid – for himself, for his wife and for his little children. Shortly after the phone call he sat at his kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. “And I sat at that table” he said, “thinking about my little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me at any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep…And I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I was weak…
And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it…I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage…And it seemed to me at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”
Three nights later the menacing threat made in the phone call came true: a bomb exploded on the front verandah of the King home. Thankfully no one was hurt. But King was able to get through it: “My religious experience a few nights before had given me strength to face it.” Time and again throughout his ministry Martin Luther King Jr. returned to that experience to strengthen him as he faced terrible difficulties.
Christ is present with us always, and so, like these fisherman, we are not only encouraged, but mandated to follow when Jesus calls our name, and know that when we do follow that we are led to safety. I’ll tell you straight up, it won’t always be easy. At times it may mean sacrifice, courage, or even death. But it always means commitment, and as long as we are willing to fully commit our lives to Christ, our eyes and our hearts are opened to the wonders and promises of our God who has fully committed himself to us, all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate commitment, for us all. Amen.