Belonging to Believing
Readings: 1 Corinthians: 10-18 and Matthew 4: 12-23
Good morning and welcome back or may be to some of you here this morning it is simply welcome.
Welcome to the University of St Andrews at the beginning of this Candlemas term as we move from the darkness of winter into the light of spring. The joys of may dip, spring balls, exams, graduations and finding a job all lie at the end of this semester…for some.
But I am getting ahead of myself and I am clearly charged by St Paul in our reading this morning to “proclaim the gospel” and I can assure you for those here in Chapel for the first time this morning that like Paul I will not be doing it with eloquent wisdom but practical down to earth common sense.
For the good news which I bring to you this morning, as you roll up your sleeves metaphorically to begin again, is that if you simply stick to being who you are, who god made you to be, nothing more and nothing less this semester, life will be a lot simpler.
Coming back or starting again at this university this week is one of those crucial moments in our lives when we choose the direction our journeys will take next.
These crucial moments aren’t usually marked with caution signs, bright red flags, or even the feeling that we are about to make a big decision.
Some of the decisions that matter most slip by without our even noticing. Some of the choices that seem small are bigger than the ones that appear big.
Because the sacred is present in the ordinary, we can’t be sure that any decision is unimportant.
Because life is holy, every moment matters. Every day and hour is crucial.
And now you are here after saying goodbye perhaps to family and friends many miles away. you find yourself in a small town in the East of Scotland wondering where you can find a coat to buy and what time lunch is served in halls.
But you are here now listening to me preach about the story of two men who lives were changed in a moment by an offer they could not refuse.
Jesus is walking beside a lake one afternoon when he sees two men in a rowboat waiting for unsuspecting fish to wander into their nets. It’s hard to believe what happens next. Jesus offers them a job with no pay, and they accept: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).
Now as fishermen the request and way Jesus ask them to follow him would have made perfect sense. And they made their crucial decision in an instant.
I wonder how we would respond if Jesus asked us that question today. Why would we even consider following someone who has very little it seems to offer us.
However, to those men, on that day at that moment it seemed to make perfect sense. They were about to make the most crucial decision of their lives. They drop what they are doing and head off to God-knows-where, to lives they can’t imagine.
We read the story and assume that this isn’t the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus. Surely, they knew Jesus before this. But St Matthew doesn’t seem to feel any need to explain why they would follow Jesus.
The disciples’ instant acceptance of Jesus’ peculiar invitation is as dramatic as any moment we will ever encounter.
On occasion, we all face big decisions about family, jobs, and faith. We stand at a fork in the road and must choose. We have moments when we feel that we must act in a particular way for reasons that we cannot completely explain.
We feel the need to sacrifice something we would rather keep in order to follow. We have taken a few big risks. But most of the time, it isn’t that dramatic. We don’t drop everything to start a new life very often.
But perhaps for some of you this morning that is exactly what you have done in coming here, a step out in faith and hope, following an urge to belong yes but to believe that it will change your life, forever? maybe you are not quite there yet…
I can only speak from personal experience and my own life doesn’t feel as adventurous as that of the disciples, leaving their nets and following Jesus into the unknown although I came pretty close 18 years ago when I gave up everything to come and do a fulltime Masters of Theology degree here at St Mary’s College in this glorious university as a mature student.
What followed, the doors that were opened to me led me up to Aberdeen and back down again to in this pulpit where I am now living my best life, in my dream job as your Assistant Chaplain.
First, I didn’t believe that I would be able to pass any exams, well lets back up a little, at first I didn’t even know what the word theology actually meant or that the bible came in different versions to my Sunday school Good News version, but we all have to start somewhere.
All of you here, whatever part of your journey you are on this morning had to start somewhere and said yes to something which has brought you here this morning.
Believe in your gut instinct that made you say that first ‘yes’.
For now, you all belong to this wonderful family and community here in St Andrews. You belong.
No matter how far from home you are or how lonely you may feel at times, for all journeys involve periods of isolation, you are part of something bigger and better than you can ever dream.
The friends you make along this part of your journey will sustain you over your life time.
I am not just speaking of drinking buddies joining you for a cocktail or four at the Saint.
No, your friends here in St Andrews will include your tutors, the library staff, the it guy that replaces your smashed screen on your iPhone, again, the janitors, the wardens and yes, when you need us, even a chaplain or two.
Everyone is here to help you on your journey, everyone wishes you well. Do not forget that in the days and weeks ahead.
For we will all have face difficult times after the initial joy of the ‘yes’ comes the inevitable, ‘oh dear what next’…
Maybe Jesus’ disciples had days when their lives didn’t seem sensational, as they walked up and down Galilee from village to village, through Samaria to Jerusalem and back again.
Maybe they had days when they thought things were going too slow. On those days, perhaps their faithfulness was more modest.
We tend to forget the importance of details in the journey of faith. We focus on dramatic conversions, overwhelming encounters with God, and powerful moments of prayer.
We search for peak experiences and end up if some people are born with a spiritual talent that we just don’t have.
But God is in the details. God calls us every hour of every day. God invites us to be friends, practice kindness, and pray for our daily bread. We live out our faithfulness in worship, work, and study.
God is at work in a variety of unspectacular ways. God is present in every way that grace is shared, hope is proclaimed, and healing comes. Love spreads word by word. The bucket fills drop by drop. Wrongs are righted one by one.
Our calling is to be faithful, to live God’s grace on routine days in ordinary ways. If we pay attention, then we will see that even as unsurprising a life as most of us think we live is extraordinary: taking a child to school; hugging someone you love good-bye; eating lunch with a friend; trying to do a decent day’s work; studying for a test, writing that essay, talking to a neighbour; coming to worship.
There is no event so commonplace that God is not there. Every moment and every word have possibilities.
Slowly but surely our priorities change. On the day they first followed Jesus, the disciples were brash, impulsive, stubborn, and they smelled of fish. They had to learn day by day how to be the church.
We grow in faith, in belief and in belonging, not only in memorable, never-to-be-forgotten moments, but also in forgettable moments when we decide to do better with the next hour than we did with the last, to become faithful as we confess a misspent hour, an unnecessary word, or a wasted opportunity.
In every moment, God offers us another opportunity to take a step in the direction of Christ, to begin anew to live with purpose, hope, and love.
So, whatever you do this week, whether you are still thinking about saying yes or fully marching ahead in the light of that yes wherever it may take you, may you all be blessed as you walk in the light and may your lives be full of the mundane and extraordinary.