January 26, 2020:  3rd Sun in Epiphany “Christ Connects”

          Grace and peace from God our Father and Jesus the revealed son of God, savior of the world, redeemer of our souls.

          Champagne and Fried food. Peanut Butter and Sriracha. Popcorn and Chocolate. Potato Chips in Sandwiches…Pickles and Whiskey. ... Chicken and Waffles. I’ve just listed a few of the rather odd unlikely food combinations that folks have discovered go together extremely well.  Today’s scripture readings have that kind of odd combination:  The people that have sat in darkness have seen a great light! God’s mission to save the world begins with recruiting fishermen?!  Who would have thought that combo would work?!

          We’re so programmed to think of normal, natural combinations- champagne and strawberries, not fried food!  Peanut butter and jelly not Peanut Butter and Sriracha.  But it works.  You know I’m so old I remember the Reese’s peanut butter cup commercials that tried to convince the American public that these new candy treats of combining peanut butter and chocolate wasn’t as weird they imagined.  A rough and tough biker dude eating peanut butter out of a jar, parks his bike and saunters toward his local watering hole only to get run into on the sidewalk by a busy three-piece suit businessman eating a chocolate bar.  “Heh! You got peanut butter in my chocolate! You got chocolate in my peanut butter! MMmm not bad!!” Next thing you know they’re best buddies.

          Our society is getting real good, almost too good about drawing dividing lines between people.  Hey, you’re a white American protestant, you better not be friends with an African American Muslim.  Hey, you’re a red-blooded homosexual you’d better not give the time of day to a traditional marriage toting heterosexual.  This past week there was a big protest at the steps of the Virginia Capital regarding second amendment rights.  The media anticipated beer swilling backwoods violent white supremacists and it turned out to be a well behaved peaceful, articulate rainbow of races.  Not the kind of combo you’d think would go together. A nice surprise really.

          The unexpected connection between what might be disparate groups of people is encouraging and hopeful.  That is what happens when you have something more important than your skin color to gather around.  That is what happens when you have something that hearts can share.  When you have something a heart can share- one heart to another heart- like something as simple as music… that touches a heart and similarly touches another heart…class divisions can be dropped, stereotypes can be lost, and community can be built and friendship shared.  And yes, unlikely combos suddenly become not only acceptable but sometimes even cherished like peanut butter and chocolate.

          Today we hear of divisions in the early church Paul describes people trying to “one up” each other as to what proclaimer of Christ they follow- I came to Christ through the preaching of Paul! Well, I came to Christ through the preaching of Apollos!!  Well, I cam to Christ through the preaching of Cephas!!!  Paul says “Who cares about who preached to you… give thanks that we’re unified together in being saved by Christ!” 

It’s like people with a life-threatening disease who get a life saving medication trying to tell others in their same condition they’re different and better because they’re lifesaving medicine comes in a different color bottle. Really, its not the lifesaving medicine that’s important? 

Paul points out its Christ that saves, not the color of the pill bottle, the shape of the church building, or the pastor in the pulpit, or the condition of the church parking lot. But we can convince ourselves of that can’t we.  We so easily let little things, stand in the way of God’s love.  We can let little things become the dividing line between us and brothers and sisters in Christ.  We can get scared of considering other combinations of God’s work in the world… nope it can only be peanut butter and jelly- no other combos.

Do you know what an odd combination it first was when Jesus suggested proclaimers of the gospel- God’s good news of redemption could be ordinary folks… could be working stiffs like fishermen?!  That was a pickles and whiskey combination for first century folks.  But here we are today saying “oh yeah isn’t that great fishermen made into fishers of men… great idea, great combo, of course!”

But until we understand how odd and original that idea of calling fishermen to be disciples and preachers is, we won’t get the fact that Jesus’ way of starting and building his ministry was mind-blowingly new and dynamic.  Certainly, his message of forgiveness and reconciliation, God’s love free and unconditional was mind blowing and still is.  But his packaging it to be distributed not solely by those with a pedigree that went back to Levi or Moses but to be given out but ordinary folks was refreshingly, surprisingly, great!  

Jesus made connections where people had never seen connections before.  Church and religion were supposed to be relegated to the synagogue or the temple… it didn’t come to the seashore. Or did it?!  Jesus made that connection, bridged that gap.  In picking fishermen Jesus was moving God out of being something experienced as a ritual on a certain day of the week to moving God into being experienced as a relationship you could have any time of any day of the week!

When Jesus said the kingdom of heaven has come near, he meant it.  God’s kingdom extended to the seashore not just the synagogue.  Too often today we still relegate the importance of God’s presence in our life to our presence at church.  Certainly, God is present in his house of worship but God is far more than place on a map, the true kingdom of God is a place in our heart. 

When we read this account of Jesus calling his first followers, we should actually think- that’s an odd combo… fishermen, tax collectors, and God but it works.  Last week I shared that the fastest growing Christian communities actually exist in the most unexpected places:  China and Iran.  Now that’s a Chicken and Waffles combo but it works because the kingdom of God has come near to them not through having a place on a map where people gather but because God has found a place in people’s hearts.  And those people, in China and Iran, who have Jesus in their hearts are carrying God’s love everywhere they go.

Its why the first century church grew so rapidly, the kingdom of God didn’t have to wait for a building to be built, a program to reach its potential, it only needed a person who had heard God’s call to salvation make a place in their hearts for Jesus.  Certainly there were preachers in the first century church- we get a list from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Paul, Apollos, Cephas but the important thing was there were a lot more disciples than preachers, a lot more ministers then preachers in that first century church.

Christ’s reconciliation and forgiveness ministry brought God and sinners together and Christ’s ability to connect redeemed sinners- ordinary folks like fishermen- to connect them to the sharing of the kingdom of God’s love in their everyday life transformed the world.  Now the proclaimers of the kingdom weren’t just priests and professionals it was Fishermen and farmers, mechanics and merchandizers, homemakers and history teachers. 

It’s you- do you know the love of God in Christ Jesus? Then Jesus calls you to be a proclaimer of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus asks you to look for ways you can share God’s love. Ways that you can help people connect to Christ and his church. So stop making divisions between people and start making connections between people through Christ.  It may seem like a shocking combo at first- God and a retiree from Greenford?  Jesus and a mother of two from Canfield?  Christ and a sales rep from Salem?  How does that work?  You’d be surprised it could be awfully good. You and God proclaiming God’s love and grace may go together like Peanut butter and Sriracha or Potato chips in Sandwiches. Go with God, let people know the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Amen.