Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:12-23
In J.RR. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, Gandalf the Wizard shows up at Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole, smoking his long pipe. Bilbo joins him for a smoke, and when he puffs a perfect smoke ring into the morning air, Gandalf comments,“Very pretty!. . .But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
Bilbo responds, “I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” Sticking a thumb behind one of his braces, he blows a larger smoke ring and ignores Gandalf, whom he has decided is not his sort, and hopes the wizard will go away.
Of course this is before he knows exactly who Gandalf is. But even when Gandalf tells him who he is, Bilbo is still reluctant to go on any adventure, wizard or no wizard. Yet if you have read the novel or watched the movie, you know that a tall, white-haired, bearded wizard challenges a small hobbit to leave behind his very comfortable life and have what will be the adventure of his life.
He sets out with a group of dwarves on a quest to confront the great dragon Smaug. Of course later, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, also embarks on a quest—his is to find a ring—the one ring that will rule them all. But back to Bilbo. Faced by Gandalf, Bilbo is “confronted with a call that will change [his life] completely.”Bilbo Baggins is, of course, a fictional character. Yet he embodies the stuff of mythical characters on a quest.
In real life, you and I have several key examples, some of whom have lived in our lifetimes. One is Mahatma Gandhi. Another is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These are only two examples of leaders who felt called to something larger than themselves, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for this larger cause. In Dr. King’s case, one defining moment happened in late-night prayer at his kitchen table, when he heard the voice of God telling him, “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.” God challenged Dr. King to stand up for the things that matter. To grow into something larger than one. He did, and he paid for his integrity, his courage and his leadership with his life.
Someone else we know gave his life for his integrity. His courage. His leadership. His willingness “to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression” sent him to the cross. Jesus spoke truth to power, and it cost him his life. Thousands of people have followed him, and some have lost their lives because they followed Jesus’ example so closely—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, for one.
But we must back up a little—to a time before the saints and martyrs. A time before the resurrection or crucifixion. We must go back to a man walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. God has come to human beings in this man we call Jesus of Nazareth. The story of quest and challenge has begun with John the Baptizer baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days. Then John—who has spoken too much truth to King Herod—finds himself locked in prison. It is in this moment—the moment when Jesus probably knows John is going to die. Someone has to stand up for righteousness. For justice. For truth. Jesus knows that he is that someone. So he goes to find some people willing to go on this journey with him.
He calls out to two sets of brothers—Simon Peter and Andrew, then James and John. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s reluctant Mr. Baggins, these fishermen respond immediately—and in a radical way. They leave their family businesses. Now remember something. Their fathers fish. They fish. Their fathers count on these men to continue fishing once their fathers are too old. So to abandon the family business will result in hardship—for family and for the others who work with them. Wives and children will be affected as well. Yet Jesus calls out “Follow me,” and they do. In one life-changing moment, people are challenged at their very centers. Their stories “shift. . .from a story of self to one that will mean something in a larger context.”
What about you and me? Why do you and I follow Jesus? Why are we part of what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called “the Jesus Movement”? What difference do our baptisms make in our Monday, Tuesday, or Friday lives? Has Jesus’ call for us to follow him radically changed our perspectives? Our momentum? The ways in which we act?
What does it matter that we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”? All or nothing. Was it nothing? Or all? And what does that ‘all” look like for you, sitting here today in church on January 22, 2017? Where is God’s presence and grace in YOUR life?
I want to challenge you this morning. I want you to look at your feet. What shoes are you wearing? Are you wearing Chucks? Doc Martins? Sneakers? Dress shoes? Are any brave souls wearing Birkenstocks or sandals? Regardless of footwear, are you going to follow Jesus of Nazareth today, January 22, 2017? How will you do that? Think about it. What are you going to do as a Jesus follower that will make a difference?
Here’s another challenge: I am going to read off thirteen possible things that you can do this week. So I want you to take out a pen. Take an index card that you will find in your pew. I am going to read some possible actions to you. My challenge is that you jot down several of these. Choose something—or several things—that make you uncomfortable. Something that challenges you to grow beyond yourself into a larger context, a larger sense of community.
- Pray—at least one time per day—for someone you despise, or at least someone you dislike heartily. Do this prayer while drinking your morning coffee. Or while you eat lunch. Or on your commute or drive to or from work. Or while walking or doing other exercise.
- Take someone out for a meal—especially someone whom you know cannot afford to eat out.
- Pay something forward for the person behind you in line. Pay some money—even $5.00—in the drive-through at Panera, or McDonald’s, or in the line at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, or at More than Java Café on Main Street in Laurel.
- Go visit someone in an assisted living facility or in the hospital.
- Go visit someone—or at least call them on the phone who cannot get out of their home.
- Write and mail a card or a note of encouragement to someone you know needs comfort or strength or encouragement.
- Put an extra $10 or $20 in the offering plate today, either because you love Jesus, or you love this parish, or both.
- Buy as many pairs of warm socks or gloves as you can afford to, then take them to the Route 1 Day Resource Center in Jessup. If you don’t know where that is, Google them and find out. Give these socks—or gloves—to the staff, to be given to homeless men and women.
- Write a letter to someone in prison. Tell that person that God loves them—no matter what.
- Eat at least three meals this week in a slow, mindful way, while thinking about people who are hungry right now. You might also think about a sight my son and his new wife saw this past week in Playa de Carmen, a town near Cancun, Mexico.They watched naked children dragging bags of empty aluminum cans to a place to get cash. I suspect that kind of poverty is something neither of them will ever forget.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone this morning after the service. Speak to someone—either in here or at Coffee Hour—whom you have never talked to before. You never know. You may make a new friend.
- This week, invite a neighbor or friend or work colleague to come with you next Sunday to church, then take them out for breakfast or lunch afterwards.
- Do a good deed for someone—and do it quietly and anonymously, so they won’t know who did it.
Now do you have one, or three challenges jotted down? Good. Take your cards with you this week. Whatever you do, circle that thing or things. Bring your cards back next Sunday. We will do a special collection, and at the time of the Eucharist, I will read them out loud, so you can hear what you all have done for Jesus Christ.
Wear your Chucks. Wear your Doc Martins. Wear your sneakers. Wear your regular shoes, with socks.This week, look for the footprints of Jesus wherever you go. Then grow way bigger than yourself, into the community of thousands of saints who have changed directions in life and began to follow the man from Nazareth.
Make no peace with oppression. Learn from each other. Love each other. Care for each other. Follow this Lord of life into whose life we have been baptized. He will give you grace, a life, a light, and love that you have never yet experienced. He will transform your life. I promise.
In the name of one God who rules—and loves—us all. Amen.
(c) The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
Images of coffee cup and Chucks, Birkenstocks & Bible taken by McJilton
Other images accessed at Google images.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1937, 1964, 1997), 4.
 Ibid., 4.
 Greg Garrett, Homiletical Perspective on Matthew 4:12-23 in Feasting on the Word, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 289.
 From Collect for Social Justice in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
 Ibidl, 287.