In the little town of Chamonix in the French Alps there is a monument to two men, Jacques Balmat and Horace-Benedict Saussure. Balmat was a mountain guide and Saussure was an acclaimed scientist, whose name made all the newspapers. Yet the monument contains both figures because the great scientist could never have made his way to the summit, where he did his research, without the assistance of the humble guide.
This life lesson is repeated many times throughout the scriptures where we see how God seldom chooses the people that we expect. Often it seems that God prefers people who are younger and less experienced to those who are older and more accomplished. Maybe that is because we get more set in our ways as we get older!
When God needed a prophet, he chose Amos, a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees, or young Jeremiah, who protested that he was only a boy. When God needed someone to lead the Israelites out of slavery, he chose Moses, a man who had murdered another. We see something similar in the New Testament, when God chooses Mary, a young peasant girl to be the mother of his son, and Paul a persecutor of the early Church, to be his apostle to the gentiles. And of course, this morning, we heard how God chooses fishermen to be among the first to preach the gospel.
It is difficult to predict who God is going to call or why God chooses a particular person, but somehow these unlikely selections are the Bible’s way of telling us that God is in charge. It is not we who choose God, but God who chooses us. This reality is reflected in John’s gospel (15:16) where we read “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last”
And what is the fruit that we are meant to bear. The answer to that question is found in our gospel today (Matthew 4:12-23), where we hear that Jesus went about calling people to repentance, for the ‘kingdom is heaven is at hand.’ So what is the ‘Kingdom of heaven’?
Matthew, a Jewish author, out of reverence frequently uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven” rather than ‘kingdom of God’, when describing Jesus’ mission. Both phrases signify the same reality and refer to God’s rule, God’s plan for the world. We hear this messaged echoed every time we pray the ‘Our Father’. There we pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The coming of the kingdom, then, is established when the world begins to reflect the values and the mind of God in every aspect of our lives.
In the course of Matthew’s Gospel, we see what God’s rule looks like when Jesus affirms the dignity of every human being, heals the sick and challenges the social constructs that were crushing people and robbing them of hope. Jesus’ mission of reconciliation and healing wasn’t directed to individuals alone, but to the whole of society and looks to restore the dignity of all people.
It is about bringing an end to evil, greed and poverty, and ridding the world of war, hatred and violence; it is about rooting out corruption and injustice and building a society and world where love and peace and kindness and justice will allow people to live together in harmony.
If this vision is to become real, it can’t be the dream of only a few, but must become the goal of all people as we work together to bring about a better world.
And before we lose hope at such a bold plan, a bold vision, particularly when it seems as if the values of the gospel no longer hold sway in the world today, it is helpful for us to look back at the few, seemingly unqualified, people who gave rise to the growth of the church and the transformation of society when they stepped away from their boats and fishing nets to follow Jesus two thousand years ago.
Change comes when a few people grab hold of the vision and holds fast to the values that Jesus calls us to; it is not the majority that bring change in society, but the few who see the need to do things differently.
We live in such time now, when we need to do things differently. We need a few people to step up and lead the way, people who have chosen to align their lives with God’s plan for the world, rather than focussing on growing their own little kingdom’s.
Change will come when the prophets of our time, visionaries, like Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, and St Francis of Assisi, men and women inspired by the Gospel, all people with their own faults and failings, step up and speak to the possibility of a better world.
What are the chances that the social influencers of our time, to use a more modern phraseology, are sitting in this church today; the men and women who have the potential to change the society we live in may well be sitting among us. We need you to step up! We need people of integrity, people with a passion for justice and a vision inspired by the gospel to step out of the shadows and lead. Could that be you?
Jesus is calling us today, as he did 2000 years ago. All of us have a role to play, all of us have something to offer, regardless of our past, look at the unusual choices that God has used in the past. We just have to trust that God knows what God is doing.
And so this morning as we gather here, we take a moment again to reflect on our call, the call that Jesus places in each of our hearts; the call that we affirmed in our baptism; the ‘yes’ that we said to God’s mission of bringing about God’s kingdom in the here and now, and to ask ourselves, “how do I live that mission today?”; How do I give witness to God’s plan for the world? Is there something more that I need to do?