Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2021
We have many names and many titles for Jesus. Emmanuel, God with us. The Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. The Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Beloved. The Good Shepherd, the Great Physician. And to this esteemed list, my old systematic theology professor added another. She described Jesus as the “the Inconvenient One” ( Sonderegger, Systematic Theology, Volume 2, 305).
The Inconvenient One. It would be far more convenient to sleep in on Sundays than to go to church. It would be far more convenient to keep all our money for our selves rather than giving to the church and charity. It would be far more convenient, even more pleasurable, to do what we would with our lives and our bodies. It would be far more convenient to live without giving a thought to anybody else. This is what Christianity is up against. We are up against the conveniences of the world. I’m not talking about “young people” being distracted by all our digital toys. When it comes down to it, it might actually be easier for a young person who only has an iPhone and a gig job to follow Jesus than for someone who has a job, a mortgage, a retirement fund, and all the trappings of modern convenience. Instead of saying that other people need to sacrifice for Jesus, I ask you to take a look in the mirror. For when we calculate the cost benefit analysis of following Jesus faithfully, we see that the costs, indeed, are high.
It costs something for these first four disciples. They leave behind their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods. They leave behind their steady jobs to follow a wandering teacher. They leave the Galilean seashore to go off preaching, to exorcise demons, to heal the sick, and to share one last meal with this man the night before he’s executed. How terribly inconvenient. There’s an old hymn that puts it this way (The Hymnal 1982, 550):
as, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred
leaving all for his dear sake.
The hymn goes on. Because it wasn’t just Andrew, Peter, James, and John who are called to drop their nets. The call, that inconvenient call, comes to us:
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, “Christian, love me more.”
This is the radical life of discipleship. The inconvenient life of discipleship. To drop your nets. To turn from the “vain world’s golden store.” Inconveniently, Jesus demands that we store up treasures of love, grace, and mercy instead of those earthly treasures that will rot (Matthew 6:9). And yet, this call from Jesus is not only about our wealth. Jesus calls us to drop our old ideologies, our old presuppositions, to become new people. Perhaps the nets we need to drop are the nets that have captured so many bad ideas, bad practices, bad habits over the years. Drop your nets, Jesus says, so that your hands are free to “take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus says that we need to pick up the cross, denying ourselves (Luke 9:23). Jesus says, “Christian, love me more” than the lies you keep telling yourself. Because I’ve got something inconvenient to tell you. There is a whole religion out there, a religion of personal safety that keeps telling you that if you just buy one more thing then you can keep yourself safe. But Jesus says than when we try to make our lives secure, we lose our lives (Luke 17:33). Are you ready to be inconvenienced for Jesus? The old hymn goes on:
In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”
I know, I know, we could figure out the mental gymnastics to get around any of these costly, inconvenient teachings from Jesus. We could rationalize our way to keeping our nets and telling ourselves that we are following Jesus. But one of the problems in modern Christianity is that we have sidelined religion to the realm of hobby. It’s something that we do on the side, like woodworking or birdwatching or Netflix binging. If our discipleship is not inconvenient, then it’s probably not discipleship. Then we are just fans of Jesus, not followers. Our discipleship ought to dictate how we spend our money, what kind of car we drive, what kind of electricity we purchase, what kind of jobs we take; our life in Christ ought to dictate how well we tip our servers, what kind of food we eat, and what we say to our neighbors. Jesus Christ just is that inconvenient. “Christian, love me more than these.”
I know that this is a high calling. And by our own might, it is unattainable. There are no spiritual bootstraps by which to pick yourself up. We cannot will ourselves to do what the Lord God is calling us to do because we succumb to laziness, we will get distracted, we will rationalize away the convenient things we do for ourselves. I know you will, because that’s what I do.
And so we must pray. In our 2021 – Year of Prayer, we’re going to be talking about different kinds of prayer, and today I want to talk about the prayers of confession and commendation. In our prayers of confession, we acknowledge to God all the ways that we have failed to be a disciple, through our own thoughts, words, and deeds, both known and unknown, done and left undone. And in prayers of commendation we ask God to give us the strength of the Holy Spirit to get back at it. Think of it, the very first command that Jesus gives in the Gospel of Mark is “repent.” We heard that message today. Repent. Turn around. Drop your nets. Confess your sins. Start over again. Face a new direction. This is so devastatingly inconvenient because it shows that Jesus assumes that we all have something of which to repent. But it is also so terribly hopeful because it shows that Jesus has a new direction for each of us. So we are driven to our knees in prayer – we pray that would God would give us the courage to drop our nets and that God would give us strength to follow this Inconvenient One.
I realize that this is a dire sermon. While I do not wish to blunt the sharp edge of the gospel with some sappy platitudes, there is still good news even with the inconvenience. And the good news, of course, is that we are not alone. Jesus calls these first disciples at an inconvenient time, right when they are working on their boats and nets, and yet, he calls them together. They are in this together. This is what happens all throughout the gospels. Jesus calls Andrew and Peter, James and John. Together. Look around you right now – even this little meager band of disciples/even just the little number in the top of your screen. These are fellow disciples who are called, like you, to drop their nets and follow this Lord even to his inconvenient end.
When you are having difficulty with the great inconvenience of following Jesus, reach out to your brothers and sisters. They are here to pray with you, to pray for you. And one day they might ask you to pray for them. It is beautiful and lovely and burden-easing to ask someone to pray for you. You are not alone.
And at the end of our days, when we have followed, and ministered, and given; when we have dropped our nets, our old ideas, when we stop lying to ourselves; when we have chosen the inconvenience of a life with Christ; I believe we will also receive a blessing. The blessing of knowing that our lives have meant something, that we had a purpose. And so the hymn concludes:
Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.