Sunday, January 21, 2018

January 21, 2018
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
Who's the smartest person in the world?

You could make a case for Ken Jennings. He's the guy who won 74 consecutive matches on Jeopardy! and took home more than $2,500,000. You may be tempted to nominate Sheldon Cooper, the renowned physicist featured on The Big Bang Theory. True, he is smart. But he's a fictional character. Garry Kasparov is a name that's often brought up in discussions about smarts. He's the famous Russian chess player who, at the age of 22, became the world's youngest undisputed chess champion. Critics are quick to point out, however, that Kasparov was later beaten at chess by an IBM computer.

Dr. Jason Betts has developed the World Genius Directory, which he argues is the definitive ranking of the world's top minds. While other lists exist, Betts claims that his is the only one without a bias, allowing anyone in the world who thinks he or she might be among the smartest of the smart to submit her or his scores. And according to the World Genius Directory, the smartest person in the world is Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis, a 36-year-old Greek psychologist. His IQ score is 198. To put that into perspective, his score is 58 points higher than the ranking of "genius," almost double the score of your average human, and 23 points higher than Ken Jennings' paltry 175.

The bottom line is that, no matter how you rank them or whether or not you can name them, there are some incredibly smart people in this world. There always have been. And imagine how helpful it'd be to have a chorus of crazy-smart people at your disposal, say when it's time to craft the church budget or to do research for a sermon that's got you stumped. Access to world-class nerds would have major perks. I was tested upon entering seminary roughly 26 years ago, and I was so upset because I scored 6 points shy of Genius (140+)! (I wasn’t really upset; I was actually quite surprised!) However, that does not seem to translate into the smarts one may need as they go through life sometimes. I still have writers block for my sermons on a regular basis sometimes and still can’t seem to land a job. So much for IQ’s!

At this particular moment in Mark's Gospel we see Jesus in recruitment mode. He's actively drafting members of His team, a team that He knows will eventually be given the daunting task of igniting a spiritual movement that will spread around the globe and endure for millenniums. If you were Jesus, who would you pick to be members of this elite team?

If you were the Son of God, building a cohort of spiritual ninjas, wouldn't you choose the best of the best, the smartest of the smart? Wouldn't you hit up the World Genius Directory, find the biggest brain in Palestine, and recruit him to be in charge of logistics? Maybe you'd round out the team by finding the funniest guy you could, someone who could keep the tone light when ministry got hard, as well as the strongest dude in town for when ministry got dangerous? That's how most of us would build our crew. That's how Jesus should have gone about building his, if He was smart, at least that is what some of us might think; but we would be wrong. It goes back to the old adage that God looks at our heart, not the externals.
So, who does Jesus choose? He chooses the unqualified.

You may think it harsh to label Simon and Andrew, James and John as unqualified, but it's not. The details given to us by Mark make this point clear. These are young men. In a world where the life expectancy was low, James and John were old enough to be established in a trade, but still young enough to have their father, Zebedee, in the boat with them. In first-century Palestine, the ideal career for most young Hebrews was not to be taking over the family business but to be under the tutelage of a rabbi. The brightest of boys, those who had shined in Hebrew school and who stood out in their memorization of the Torah, would, upon completion, seek a rabbi, and, if they made the cut, they would spend the next few years tagging along as disciples.

So to be a young man, already embedded in the family trade, meant that, in all likelihood, you were not the cream of the crop in Hebrew school, and you did not have what it takes to run with the rabbis.
And Simon, we know was a married man and he admitted to being a sinful man and the Scriptures implied he was unlearned, however he was chosen to be the leader. Yet, he must not have been nearly as bad as some imply, because he wrote two epistles bearing his name.

Anyway, generally speaking these men were the leftovers, the kids who didn't get picked for kickball.

Jesus didn't cherry-pick the brightest kids from other rabbis and build a dream team. He didn't even take the normal route and allow the best and brightest to choose Him. Instead, Jesus went on a mission looking for the leftovers, seeking out the also-rans and He drafted them.

Why? Why would Jesus forsake the genius list and deliberately pursue those who belonged at the bottom of the list? The answer is this: Jesus chose simple and unaccomplished disciples to follow Him so that the love of God and the work of the kingdom would be undeniably evident in an unbelieving world.

In other words, these simple and unschooled tradesmen would become living, breathing object lessons on the depths of God's grace and the scope of God's power. No one would be able to say that they were privileged to walk with Jesus because of their résumés. No one would be able to say that the growth of the kingdom could be credited to their IQ. It was all God.

So take the post-resurrection events of Acts 4. We're with these same disciples, give or take. Given the keys to the mission by the resurrected Christ, these former fishermen are now boldly championing the expansion of God's kingdom. Brought before the Jerusalem council, they passionately and effectively proclaim the Gospel. The Jewish authorities are blown away -- not just by the content of their message -- but by the messengers themselves. Luke writes, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). The earthshaking news of the Gospel being delivered through such unexpected vessels elicited an even greater awe of God and even clearer evidence of Jesus' power.

I mean, let’s look at this in a more familiar light. I often ask why God chose me? Hardly a genius, no matter what some test score says; not a scholar in any way. I have always worked in fields that did not require much education per se. I guess I was like a fisherman also, yet God choose me too. Me with my rebellious heart; with my secret struggles; with my lack of faith and long list of faults; I, who knows deep down that I am not worthy to tie God's shoes let alone be called God's child.

God chose me so that the world might look at me and see that God is indescribably merciful and incredibly powerful. I mean if He can choose me, certainly anyone can be chosen!

Why? The answer is found in the actions of the disciples. What do we see them doing the moment after Jesus comes and taps them on the shoulder? What do we see them doing when a rabbi comes and makes it clear that He wants them?

They dropped everything and followed. They dropped their nets. James and John left their dad! Why? Because when something you don't deserve but desperately want comes knocking at your door, you don't tell it to wait five minutes. You answer that door as fast as you can.

We're all disciples. We've each been given something we don't deserve but desperately need: an encounter with Christ. And our task each day is to see this life with Jesus as an undeserved invitation. It's an undeserved invitation to drop our plans and follow Him wherever He leads, knowing and trusting that wherever He takes us is better and more beautiful than whatever else we had planned.

So when Jesus calls me tomorrow morning to love someone I find annoying, I see it as a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine through my weakness. After all, I'm not the best at loving unlovable people. None of us are  sometimes. When Jesus calls us to invite a coworker to church, it's a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine through our weakness, since often we're not comfortable with that kind of thing. When Jesus calls us to follow Him into illness or endure a burden, it, too, is a gift of grace and a chance for God's power to shine in our weakness. It isn't easy to believe in God's goodness and the triumph of Christ when chemo is pumping through your veins; or you are out of a job; or being persecuted for your religious beliefs. Every day there is an opportunity, as a disciple, for the world to watch in astonishment as ordinary, schooled and unschooled, undeserving people live as examples of God's mercy and proof of God's power.

God didn't have to choose us, but God has chosen us. God doesn't have to use us, but God uses us anyway. And the end result is not just blessing for us and those God calls us to serve. The end result is glory for God's name.

Who is the smartest person in the world? Sure, the World Genius Directory claims to have an answer for you. But that's only if you define "smart" in terms of puzzle solving and IQ scores. Nothing, which I recall anyway, that was in my IQ test, has ever been anything I used regularly in life. I am sure whatever my mental skills were helped me, but solving equations was not something a priest needed. Maybe what makes one smart isn't your ability to give the right answer. Maybe what makes you smart is your ability to recognize a good thing when it comes your way. Plenty of "smart" people have passed on Jesus. But not James and John. Not Simon and Andrew. They got picked and then they gave up everything else. Sure, they may have been the leftovers in some eyes. But that decision Jesus made was indeed pure genius.
Let us pray.
That our government, which seemingly is torn by strife; that God may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord and instill in our government officials to do the same. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom. We pray to the Lord.
That many young people will respond to Christ’s call to follow Him in the consecrated life and in the priesthood for the many generations to come. We pray to the Lord.
For those who experience anguish or sorrow in their lives; that the Lord will relieve their burdens and give them joy. We pray to the Lord.
That God will give us being and life, conserve us in existence, moving and attracting every being toward its own proper good according to its own nature and to provincial circumstances without ceasing. We pray to the Lord.
That those suffering from physical or spiritual pain that they may be healed. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to be ever more ardent followers of Christ. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, through the gift of your son a light has arisen in our lives. May we be true to that light. May we come to understand that regardless of our backgrounds, upbringing or education, we are called by You with a purpose in Your created world. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++