Sermons 2005
"Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Epiphany 3A 2005 Matthew 4:12-23

We have just had our first snowfall in these two counties of ours. For those of us who have lived in Northern Europe or the northeastern United States or Kansas, it wasn’t much of a snowfall. But it brought everything to a screeching halt it seemed. Schools were closed for two days, every restaurant I called Wednesday night, to include Indian Creek, was closed, every one of them. Government wide, I imagine, in the counties only certain people were on duty, police, fire, and medical personnel.

In some parts of the country it doesn't matter, but here snow brings things to an immediate screeching halt. Not only do schools close but also other events are canceled. Travel becomes tricky. If the conditions become severe enough, the decision may be made that not everybody should try to get to work. Only those who are absolutely necessary should report. For those occasions we have coined an interesting phrase to describe these people upon whom we depend so much. This phrase sends some people out into the cold to scrape ice off their windshields while others return to the warmth of their beds. This phrase compels some to slip and slide to work at all costs while others do nothing more than watch television or turn over and go back to sleep.

Even if we live where it rarely snows, the phrase is a familiar one. When budget talks collapse and the state or federal governments shut down, this is the important phrase that is heard. When the earth quakes under the people of California, only certain people are ordered out while the rest are told to stay at home. When tornadoes strike and disrupt everything in their course, only certain people are ordered risk the dangers involved. These are maintenance people, road crews, ambulance drivers, fire fighters, electric and gas company workers, truck drivers, and a whole host of service people who are taken for granted when things are running smoothly. These are the folks who keep the infrastructure alive. We call them “key and essential personnel" -- sometimes just essential personnel.

Essential personnel. For almost all of my Army career except when I was in school, I was a key and essential personnel because of the jobs I had. I couldn’t wait to reach a status where I was no longer an essential personnel. And now even my standby retiree mobilization orders to report to Fort Bragg have been rescinded since the day of my 60th birthday. I think I’m happy about that. Most days I’m glad not being essential personnel for government anymore.

But the good news is that in the eyes of God we are all on call to be essential personnel. We are called to be a special group of people and to do some important things. It may callus in unexpected ways, ways far different than the normal essential routine of the work of the church we are usually called to do here.

For example, several years ago there was a story in the media about Debi Faris-Cifelli who established Garden of Angels cemetery near Los Angeles – the City of the Angels – for the bodies of those babies discarded in Dumpsters or along highways. She has seventy tiny bodies of little souls buried there now. She said that even if they were here only for a moment they were here for a purpose. For her, these babies are key and essential personnel in God’s eyes. She gives each child a name and a proper burial. And when she and her husband won 27 million dollars in the California lottery, they used the bulk of the money too establish scholarships, each in the name of a baby buried in the Garden of Angels cemetery.

Debi Faris-Cifelli is truly a key and essential personnel in the work God has given us to do on this earth. An ordinary person called to an extraordinary task.

In this passage from Matthew, Jesus called some ordinary fishermen to do the work of kingdom building. Jesus calls ordinary people like you and me to love and serve. And, as in the case of these fishermen, many times we do not need to learn new skills or receive extensive training. Jesus said, "You fishermen have been casting your nets into the sea. Follow me, and you will fish for people." And they did! They were fishermen before, they were fishermen afterwards, but with Jesus the focus and priorities changed.

Jesus' disciples were not a panel of experts. Jesus took people whom the world had labeled in many ways non-essential -- fishermen, tax collectors, notorious sinners, men and especially women who were never considered essential before -- and used them and their gifts in doing God’s work and calling to others to follow in the way of Jesus. People who before never felt wanted found a place. People who doubted the world even knew they existed were suddenly essential personnel.

Jesus said, "Follow me," and the exciting thing is that they did. Simon and Andrew, James and John decided to follow Jesus, but they weren't the only ones. All kinds of people responded. Not everybody decided to follow Jesus, but a lot did. From Simon and Andrew to us, women and men, young and aging, people of all colors and classes have heard that invitation in the places where they live their lives. In fact, Jesus could not – and still cannot -- stop saying, "Follow me." It is one thing to ask some fishermen to come along for a stroll along the Sea of Galilee, but it is another proposition altogether to utter those words "Follow me" so freely, almost carelessly, that anybody might answer.

You see, every time Jesus says, "Follow me," it affects us. We don't mind Jesus saving and forgiving the prostitute, but that doesn't mean we want to be sitting next to her in church. Jesus spending time with the mentally ill doesn’t bother us, but that doesn't mean we would like to have one acting out in church on Sunday. We are glad to see Jesus healing the sick, those who are on death's door, but that doesn't mean we want to convert the Thrift Shop into a shelter for AIDS patients – or even a hospice.

Suddenly, our excitement over being claimed as essential personnel, people that we would like to think God cannot do without, is tempered by the presence of people who all our lives we have not only shunned, but tried our very best not to be like. Right out in public where people came to draw water, Jesus was seen talking to a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and now was living with another man. Instead of Jesus condemning her, he gave her of the living water." At the most crucial moment Peter denied knowing and following Jesus, and Jesus restored Peter to the work he had been given to do.

The temptation is to think that Jesus used exceptional insight when he looked our way and said, "Follow me." It is even a greater temptation to wonder what in the world he was thinking about when he called some of these others, but that is not Jesus' problem. That is our problem, and no explanation on Jesus' part is forthcoming.

In calling these others -- in inviting us as well as the poor and the lazy and the trash of the earth to the great banquet -- Jesus has deemed them essential personnel as well, whether we are offended by that or not. Life in the church would be a lot more comfortable if it were just us, but Jesus can't stop saying, "Follow me" to everyone. Not only can he not stop, he makes this such an unconditional invitation that anybody might show up. Jesus insists on knocking on every door in every neighborhood in every section of town. Jesus calls people that we have forgotten about and welcomes people we too often have considered non-essential personnel it shocks us every time.

We are shocked because God calls us into the family of God where all have a place and all are welcome. A call to share a way of life together that to the worldly seems unreasonable or undesirable. Letty Russell, in her book Church in the Round, uses a round table as the metaphor for the church. "The round table in itself emphasizes connection, for when we gather around we are connected, in an association or relationship with one another." (2)

When the church is a round table, even if only figuratively and not architecturally, all are welcome and all have a place. At a round table church, we look at each other without judgment or condescension, because we know that we need each other and each other's understanding and pieces of the truth in order for our understanding of the truth to be complete.

The opportunities are even greater in churches like this one where urban and rural and people of all walks of life and from different places come to the table to share in a common life. We are not only essential personnel in the work of spreading good news, we are essential personnel for and with one another. We need each other, and there may be no greater grace-filled moment than when we find ourselves sitting at the round table with everyone else. Jesus says to you and me, "Follow me. You are my essential personnel. Come as you are. Bring whatever gifts and talents you have and use them in my name. Bring your excitement and enthusiasm and I will channel them in the right direction. Bring your commitment and I will show you a place where you can make a difference. Bring your love and hope and watch them change lives."

To us and to people of every race and class, to folks of every land and language, indeed, to all of creation, Jesus says, "Follow me." That is not a call to trail along behind Jesus and just watch without doing something, without loving God and our neighbor as. It is a call to love as Jesus loved, to welcome as Jesus welcomed, and to take our place alongside our brothers and sisters at the great round table where, for the sake of us all, all God's children are key and essential personnel. (3)


____________ 1. Reader’s Digest, February 2005, p. 16.

2. Letty Russell, Church in the Round (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), p. 18. as quoted in 3 below.

3. This sermon adapted from “Essential Personnel”, in And Then Came The Angel, by William B. Kincaid, III, CSS Publishing Company, Inc, 1998, at

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579