It’s been many years ago now, but it was a cold Sunday morning at just this time of year, and I still remember standing at a front window, looking for headlights. It was dark – I think it was about 5:30 in the morning, and I was waiting for a ride, because I was going out to preach a a sermon at the Denver City and County Jail. The service there was early in the morning, maybe 6:30, before breakfast, anyway, so I was up and waiting for my ride, a member of my internship congregation – part of a group that went out to lead worship occasionally at the jail. He was the drummer, and he said he was one of the most meaningful things he ever did.
So, there I was, at 5:30 in the morning, waiting for headlights. I carried a Bible, no manuscript: just a few index cards with notes on them, and I was afraid. I had never done anything like this before. What could I say? I had asked for advice, and was told that I should make my sermon more – conversational – that I should ask the men (and yes, it was all men at the City and County jail) questions along the way – and that I should even ask them to participate by reading the scriptures. So, I had some advice. But, I had never done this before. And it was cold, and it was dark.
I saw the headlights of my ride, and hurried in, where the band’s drummer was waiting with a hot cup of coffee, and encouraging words. He trusted the Holy Spirit, and me. I would be all right, he said. It would be fine. Still, I had butterflies. I had never been to jail before. Would I be able to say a word to set free prisoners? I was an inexperienced preacher, after all. The driver kept saying to me, everything will be fine. He trusted the Holy Spirit.
Now this was not the prison – this was the city and county Jail, which, someone told me, was a holding place for prisoners – both those one their way out, and those on there way in. And the crimes alleged or committed could be anything, from petty theft, to murder. It certainly gave me pause. Who would I meet that morning? And what would I say?
The Bible passages for that morning were – coincidentally – the ones we just heard. Yes, it was the third Sunday after the Epiphany, and we heard about the people walking in darkness, and the great light that shone. The passage from Matthew was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his call to repentance – the calling of the first disciples, four fishermen, four poor fishermen, doing their daily work. And just as I asked the question so many years ago – I ask again – what does this have to do with us? Today?
We might focus on some strange and unusual things and keep this story far from us and from our experience. The first strange word is immediately. The four fishermen heard Jesus call and they followed him, immediately. They dropped everything – we couldn’t possibly do that, could we? We have homes and mortgages and jobs and children or grandchildren. We have homework due tomorrow. No, this is a strange story about a different time, so far away from us, when it was so much easier to follow Jesus than it is today.
More to come.....