A Sermon for 28 January 2020 – Installation of Officers
A reading from the gospel of Matthew 4:12-25. I’m reading from the Common English Bible. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said: 15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali: alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death. 17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” 18 As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21 Continuing on, Jesus saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and 22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all those who had various kinds of diseases, those in pain, those possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, and those who were paralyzed, and Jesus healed them. 25 Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
If Advent and Christmas are the liturgical seasons when the Church is aiming at and celebrating the birth of Christ. And Lent and Easter are the times we’re getting ready to remember his death and resurrection. Then what’s the focus of Ordinary Time? Though the special seasons of the liturgical cycle get all the hype, Ordinary Time makes up 33 to 34 weeks every year. Week after week of green gets its time. So, we best know what it’s all about! One biblical commentator explains that Ordinary Time is the time when we, like the first disciples, are asked “to follow Jesus, not because of the star that announced his birth, nor, yet, because of the excitement conjured by the promise of a trip to Jerusalem, but simply because Jesus has said, ‘Follow me’” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1, David Toole, p. 284-286).
How exactly do we follow Jesus today? We live in a world some have called a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous place. And we certainly see that put before us every day. Which reminds me of the very context in which Jesus lived. Because our own historical understanding of the land in which Jesus’ lived may be a bit vague, we easily could miss what biblical commentator Stanley P. Saunders points out about the places named here in the gospel of Matthew. When Jesus hears of John the Baptist’s arrest, he takes his leave from the area where John had been baptizing in the Jordan River. Though the gospel of Matthew alone emphasizes the historic names, Saunders writes: “Zebulun, where Nazareth is located, and Naphtali, where Capernaum is found, were according to Jewish Christian traditions the first of the twelve tribes to go into exile under Assyria (as recorded in 2 Kings 15:29) and thus the first who might expect to be restored” (Connections Yr. A, Vol. 1, pp. 204-5). We believe the gospel of Matthew is the gospel written primarily to those who were Jewish and would have known the history of Jesus’ people. When they heard that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a stone’s throw from the King’s paranoid palace in Jerusalem, they would have remembered the promise of a new king destined to be born from the throne of David. When they heard the story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan, echoes of ancestors wading through to the Promised Land would have been fresh in their minds. When they heard of a man being driven into the wilderness only to be tempted forty days, reminders of those forty wilderness years and all the ways the people’s faithfulness was tempted would have rung in their ears. And, when those first Jews to become followers of Christ’s Way heard this very One deliberately set out for Galilee to make his home by the sea in Capernaum in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, they would have known that at last the prophet’s words had been fulfilled that “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Is. 9:2). They would have connected the references to the invasion of their land by Assyria, the dispersion of their northern ancestors all across the known world, with the invasion of Rome, the latest empire occupying the land. As Saunders writes: “these place names are not incidental, but signify the beginnings of the reversals that attend the coming of the son” – the heir of the Davidic throne. “Both Matthew 4 and Isaiah 9,” Saunders writes, “affirm that God brings about justice not through the powerful, but for and by means of the lowliest” (Ibid., p. 205).
Enter fishermen named Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and even brothers James and John. These men worked the sea of Galilee. Their stately shoulders rowed the water each day. Their rugged hands hauled nets full of fish. If you were looking for a way to begin God’s reversal, you might as well start with ones such as these. For all we know, these are brothers busy with their everyday lives, far from the halls of the power propped up in Jerusalem. Maybe not quite as concerned about following the prescribed religion as being sure their families got their daily bread. It’s ones such as these Jesus tells to follow as he goes about remaking the world – bringing light all throughout the land. Which should give us hope as we think about this VUCA, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world in which we live. Because it is people like us who Christ still calls to follow – furthering God’s reversal, joining the Spirit of God as together we go about remaking the world. Us, common folk: bringing light all throughout the land.
In a few minutes, we’re going to turn in this service to the liturgy used in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to ordain and install leaders into offices of the church. We’ll hear again how each of us has been called in our baptisms – how that very act clothed us with Christ. Calling us to live as those whose lives keep God’s great reversal going today. I love how the version of the Bible called The Message puts this in Colossians 3. Listen: “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. 3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. . . . So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. 15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God . . . every step of the way” (Col. 3:1-3, 12-17).
In other words: we are to follow right where we are in our regular old lives, which actually have become new lives – our real lives, according to the epistle – in which every detail – words, actions, whatever – are to be done like Christ – according to his Way. It’s the beginning of the reversal, God’s work in our own lives. Which really is the continuation of the reversal, the re-making of the world. The kingdom of God spread right out here in the midst of our everyday lives. This is the Way we are to follow. Carrying on God’s great reversal. Our lives: like Light never to be overcome
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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