Beyond What Is Familiar (Third Sunday After Epiphany) January 26, 2020

The Rev. Katherine Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

January 26, 2020

3rd Sunday After Epiphany (A)

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27: 1,5-13; 1 Cor: 1:10-18; Matthew: 4:12-23

Beyond What Is Familiar

Have you ever been on a ropes course?  It’s like a playground or an obstacle course but it’s about 30-40 feet off the ground up in the treetops.  In order to reach the different activities…you usually have to climb a VERY, tall ladder.  There is one activity that is high above the ground and involves swinging from ring to ring (similar to the monkey bars at the playground). A person climbs up the ladder to a small wooden platform about 40 feet off the ground.  The only thing keeping them safe is the harness wrapped around their waist. 

In order to get from the platform to the other side, the person has to swing from ring to ring until they reach the last one.  The first ring is within reach of the platform.  So…if you jump hard…you can grab the first ring and quickly swing to the next one.  The trick is keeping yourself swinging back in forth as you grab each ring.  It’s not too hard…until you get to the third, fourth and fifth rings.   In order to grab the third ring, you have to almost let go of the ring in your hand and quickly reach out and grab the next one. 

By now you understand what to do, right? Keep swinging and reaching for the rings. Not really…because by now your arms are beginning to get tired and you realize the rings are placed farther and farther apart.  In order to go forward… you will have to completely let go of the ring in your hand so you can reach the fourth and fifth rings. At different points in my life, I’ve felt like I was on those rings.  At times of transition in my life, I felt the security of the ring I had in my hand - the ring I knew, and I felt the fear of reaching out for what was new. Turning points in life are like that.  We find ourselves standing in this place we know – this place that has felt comfortable and is familiar, yet life changes. For whatever reason, we find ourselves at a crossroads.  Do we stay with what we know – that ring that is in our hand – or do we lean into the unknown and ask for God’s help?

In our Gospel story today, we hear of 4 people whose lives were changed forever, because they reached out for that next ring.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John knew how to be fishermen.  They knew how to work hard.  They knew how to hope for a successful day, and how to feed their families.  They had no idea what it meant “to fish for people.”  Nothing about this turning point in their lives was familiar to them.   And isn’t that just like Jesus?  For when Jesus calls to us, “he beckons us beyond the point of familiarity asking us to risk doing something we don’t know how to do to become someone we’re not yet sure we know how to be.”[1]

Turning points in our lives can bring us face to face with Jesus, and they come in lots of ways.  Sometimes they come as we planned, and we celebrate those milestones.  Other times they are unexpected and take us by surprise.  Sometimes they bring us joy and excitement.  Other times we are filled with pain, sorrow, or fear.  Sometimes turning points affirm what we trust about life.  Other times they leave us feeling confused and not knowing what we believe.[2]

We could make a long list of all the turning points people face in a lifetime.  We could tell the stories that accompany those turning points.  It seems life is a series of these moments - big and small.  Regardless of their size how we see ourselves, how we view others and the world changes as a result.  To let go of the ring that is in our hand and to reach out for something new - transforms us.[3]   As we hold tightly to that ring in our hand – the thing that is familiar, we may truly not know how to find the energy or the courage to let go of the known and reach out to what’s next.  It is in this moment of indecision we – as Christians…believers of God and followers of Jesus can trust that Jesus is already in that place of the unknown calling to us and saying, “Follow me.”

Each turning point comes with the opportunity to reimagine some aspect of our life.  We can hold onto that ring and not let go.  That is a choice we have.  Our muscles will get tired, our bodies will begin to shake, and we may experience pain, but we can hold on to what we perceive is safe, to what we know.  Or we can lean into that place of unknowing trusting in God’s promise to be there with us. We can take a deep breath and let go as we reach out for what is before us.

Those 4 fishermen working along the shore faced just that choice.  Life for the average person in that day was not easy.  Oppression by the ruling empire and daily struggles were common.  Maybe – just maybe – those fishermen saw something in Jesus’ eyes or heard something in his call to them that gave them hope.  Maybe it was just enough hope to give them the courage to reach out and follow Jesus. It is in turning to God and asking for help that we find the strength to reach out for that next ring. It is in turning towards God and paying attention to how God is moving in our lives that we find what we are looking for.

What is the turning point you face right now?

Know that Jesus stands alongside each one of us and says, “I see you.  I know who God created you to be and the gifts God wove into you at your creation.  I also hear your fears and know what you are wrestling with.  Come… follow me…and we’ll do this together.”



[1] "What About Zebedee?" Mark Ralls, The Christian Century, 2005, p.17.

[2] “Turning Points in Life,” The Rev. Michael Marsh,, 2014.

[3] “Turning Points in Life,” The Rev. Michael Marsh,, 2014.

Go to top