Life with Jesus: Go and Serve – Matthew 4.12-23

January 26, 2014 – 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Introduction: This passage in Matthew’s gospel follows on the heels of Jesus being baptized and then being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days and nights where he encounters the tempter.
The next thing we hear about Jesus (and we don’t know if this follows immediately after returning from the wilderness or if weeks or years have gone by1)–but Jesus hears the news that John the Baptist had been arrested. Hearing this news, Jesus withdraws and goes to the area known as the Galilee.
As I read the Matthew text I will add some comments as we go along that I hope will help your understanding of the story.
Read: Matthew 4.12-23
(v12) Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdraw to Galilee. (v13) He left Nazareth [the town where he grew up] and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, [Zebulun and Naphtali are two of the twelve tribes of Israel and the territory we hear about is the area where those two tribes were inhabitants in the land. Jesus withdraws to this region] (v14) so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. [One of the characteristics of Matthew’s gospel is the way the writer points to Jesus, again and again, as the fulfillment of scripture. And here in chapter 4, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 9:] (v15) “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–(v16) 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.”
(v17) From that time Jesus began to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come hear.” [And in this sentence we hear the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.]
(v18) As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
The Word of God / Thanks to be God.

So we’re at the third of what is really a three-part sermon series. Mark began two weeks ago with the story from Matthew’s gospel of the baptism of Jesus. Last week we celebrated the baptism of Henry and Anna and then heard the story of Jesus’ first disciples, seeking him out, wondering what life as his followers would be about and his response to them: “Come and see.” Which we learned was another way to say, “Abide with me.” An invitation to share in the life of Jesus by joining him.
Abiding with Jesus means life with Jesus. Not just watching him or studying about him. It’s a life we can’t truly know from a distance. We have to set out on the road with Jesus. Even if we don’t have it all figured out or have all the answers–which none of us does and we’d be dead if we waited until we did.
There’s a great phrase from the 11th century monk, St. Anselm. He said it in Latin but I’ll say it in English: “faith seeking understanding.” Or as one of my seminary professors said, “Christian faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchelful of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, Christian faith invariably prompts questions, sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as they are, continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, ourselves and our world.”2 Faith seeking understanding.
Last week when we baptized Henry and Anna, their parents made a promise to grow with their children in the Christian faith. That doesn’t mean they will know all the answers. It does mean they covenant to walk the road of faith with their children.
And, you know, we made that promise as well when we said we would guide and nurture Anna and Henry by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of Christ’s church. If we’re going encourage them to know and follow Christ, then we have to be growing in faith as well. We have to be walking that road with Jesus, not to know all the answers but so we know some of the contours of the road, the glorious vistas, the treacherous places, the shape of the hillside and the feel of the air.

In the last few years I’ve heard a lot about Camino de Santiago–the Way of St. James. It’s a 500 mile trail across northern Spain. It began as a pilgrimage in the 9th century to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, to venerate the relics of St. James. People have been walking that 500 mile road for 1200 years. And they’re still walking it. Because there’s something that changes your life in the walking that cannot change your life by only reading about it or watching the movie.3 You make the pilgrimage yourself–with your own body–but you don’t do it alone. It’s walked with others–the people you meet along the way on the days and weeks you’re actually walking and you walk in the presence and the footsteps of those who have walked before you. Generations of people following Jesus who said, “Come and see.” “Abide with me.”

This morning we hear Matthew’s story about Jesus gathering a community of people who will walk the road with him.
Customarily, rabbis (teachers) did not seek out students. A student would seek out a rabbi.4 Last week John’s gospel told the story of disciples seeking out Jesus. Now, in Matthew, Jesus is doing the seeking. And his way of seeking is to say, “Follow me.”
Now, if you were employed, working, most likely, in the family business which would have been pretty customary, doing what your family and community expected you to do, wouldn’t you be likely to say, “I need a little more information before I can give you an answer”? Or even, “I’m sorry. I’ve got commitments here.”
And yet, Jesus says, “Follow me” and Simon, Andrew, James and John immediately left what they were doing and followed him. It reminds me of the creation story. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.  The declaration is made and it happens. “Follow me” and they followed. Without any sense of coercion, they left the tools of their trade, not to sit at his feet, but to join Jesus on the road. To walk in the light of God’s coming reign. A light that has dawned. A reign that has come near Matthew tells us through the words of Isaiah.

If you’ve ever gone lake or river fishing on a vacation, you might think of fishing as a rather tranquil, peaceful existence. You wouldn’t think this if you spent a summer on the fishing boats and in the canneries of Alaska or off the coast of Maine. It’s exhausting, dangerous, grueling work. And that was probably true in the first century on the Sea of Galilee.
Warren Carter who writes on Matthew’s gospel says for first-century fisherman (and they probably were all men), their work was tied up in “the imperial economic and political monopoly. Fish were claimed as revenue for the empire. ‘[One early document says, ]‘[E]very rare and beautiful thing in the wide ocean…belongs to the imperial treasury.’” Peter, Andrew, James, John and Zebedee most likely had “purchased a lease or contract with Rome’s agents that allow[ed] them to fish and obligate[d] them to supply a certain quantity of fish. They [would have paid] taxes on the catch and transportation” while the wealthy and powerful [who held the contracts] benefit[ed from their labor].”5
Jesus’ call to “follow me” breaks into the systems and structures of our lives, breaking our allegiance to economic and political systems and even family structures. Later in the gospel, we will see these disciples fish again and interact with their families again but I imagine it would be different, having left to follow Jesus. For disciples, entrusting ourselves to Jesus can “come at considerable social and economic cost.”6 At the same time, this group of people that Jesus gathers becomes an alternative community in the midst of the crushing power of the empire, reorienting themselves to the values, and embodying the relationships, found in the realm of God.
Jesus doesn’t start by training the disciples to resist the power of the empire. He doesn’t begin with an intensive seminar on the theory and history of alternative communities. He begins with life together on the road. “Follow me.” You’ll learn as we go. You’ll become who you are meant to be as we travel together. You’ll know what you need to know as the road unfolds.

I bet those guys were nervous. Maybe that first night they wondered if they were crazy. Maybe they were still wondering it several months in. And we know they stumbled and they failed and they didn’t get it. Just like us.
But still they followed. Steadfast even though trembling. In moments of courage. In frightening times. Serving. Growing. Learning. Following Jesus into the world around them, proclaiming the good news of the realm of God, teaching and healing.

So I wonder what is the call of Jesus to you and to us in this day, in this community, in this city? How might we be–and how are we–on the road with Jesus to proclaim the good news, to teach and heal?

* * *
1 M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p166.
2 Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding – An Introduction to Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p2.
3 Even though The Way (2010) is an inspiring movie.
4 Boring, p169.
5 Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins – A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), p121.6 Ibid., 122.

A Life With Jesus: Come and See – John 1.29-42; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9

January 19, 2014 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Last week Mark told the story from Matthew’s gospel about the baptism of Jesus. The writer of Matthew’s gospel perches us on the banks of the Jordan River watching it happen: watching John and Jesus in the river, seeing the heavens open and the dove descend. Hearing the voice say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today we stand with the writer of the gospel of John. But in John’s gospel, we don’t get to see the baptism. Instead we hear John the Baptist’s testimony–his witness–about the baptism of Jesus.
So, listen now for the word of God: John 1.29-42

Seeing Jesus come toward him, John the Baptist gives witness to Jesus’ identity. Jesus, says John, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Hearing John call Jesus the Lamb of God, a first century Jew listening to this story would likely recollect the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Do you remember the story? The Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt–in bondage to Pharaoh. Part of their liberation included God’s instruction that they put the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorposts of their houses. Houses so marked would be “passed over” by God and their inhabitants would be spared from death. This rescuing by God then became an annual remembrance–the Passover–giving thanks that God freed the Hebrew people from their slavery under Pharaoh.
The writer of John’s gospel, then, seems to be saying that Jesus is the new Passover lamb and there is a second Exodus story here.1 In the gospel the rescue is not from slavery in Egypt but slavery in sin—all that keeps us separated from God, separated from one another, alienated, estranged.
John proclaims that Jesus–the Lamb of God–breaks the power of sin. “In the place of bondage, rejection and disenfranchisement, Jesus brings freedom, acceptance and belonging.”2
The rescue is not for individual sins but for the whole world. Earlier in John 1 the writer says, “To all who received the Living Word of God [that is, Jesus Christ]…the Living Word of God gave power to become children of God.” No longer is the freedom from bondage and slavery only for the Hebrew people. Now that freedom is for everyone.

Okay, now go with me over to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul writes to the church about their identity. Here’s who you are, says Paul: You are called by God, made holy in Christ, not lacking in any spiritual gift, given grace in Christ, strengthened so you may be what and who you are called to be, called to be part of Christ’s body.
We hear Paul speaking to the Corinthian church and we can hear him speaking to us. We find our identity in Christ—called into the community—to be part of the body of Christ.

And back in John’s gospel, we see that community starting to form. “Here is the Lamb of God” John the Baptist announces again. And two of John’s disciples turn and follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks them, “What are you looking for?”
And they answer with a question. “Teacher, where are you staying?” Which might sound to our ears like an odd response. As if they are asking him what motel he’s in or which relative’s guest room he’s occupying.
This word “staying” (where are you staying?) in Greek is an ordinary word. It can also mean “remain” and we see it multiple times in John’s Gospel in rather ordinary ways. Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them. (4.40) Or Jesus went to Galilee and remained there. (7.9)
But this word also means “abide” and that word gets used in John’s gospel to describe the relationship between Jesus and God and between Jesus and his disciples. We hear it most in chapter 15. Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you…Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept [God’s] commandments and abide in [God’s] love.”
The writer of John’s gospel loves to use words that have multiple meanings–words that we can hear in different ways. So we might hear the disciples question to Jesus, “Where are you staying?” as just about a physical location but I suspect their question is also about what it means to follow him; to become his disciples. “Where are you staying?” they ask. “What will life be like if we remain with you? If we abide with you? Who will we be if we abide with you?”
And then Jesus ascends into the pulpit and tells them the four spiritual laws, recites the ten commandments, expounds on his philosophy of successful living and gives them a book list to read before next week’s class.
No, not really!
Jesus says, “Come and see.”
Come and see.
Three simple words of invitation.
Which could also be: Abide with me.
And the two disciples go and see where Jesus was staying, and they remained with him that day.

Come and see. Abide with me. Stay with me. Remain with me.
It’s an invitation to an experience. To a relationship. To a connection.
A life with Jesus–being a disciple–is not just about knowing or believing things. It’s not just about analysis and intellect. It’s about abiding, remaining, staying. Connecting, experiencing. Certainly a life with Jesus includes intellect and belief but sometimes we Presbyterians spend so much time  in our minds, that we forget to experience what it is we think about. Sometimes we function in the world as if our intellect is the most important characteristic in life.
An acquaintance of mine who is a pastor in a congregation on the edge of an internationally known university says, “We Presbyterians are brains on sticks.”
Now I’m not knocking intellectual pursuits. I like to think about things and ponder in my brain and consider all the possibilities and perspectives and implications. But that’s only one part of a human life.
It seems to me in this passage from John, the invitation is to come off the sidelines. To move out of the safety zone where we watch life go by without having to get dirty or involved.
“Come and see” Jesus invites those who are curious about following him. There isn’t a textbook with answers at the back. There isn’t a formula or rulebook. But there is a way of life. A companion and a community. Come and see. Abide with me.
Come and see a way of life undergirded by prayer and shaped by the way of love. Come and see a way of life supported by all the spiritual gifts we need and illuminated by the Light of the World.

And what will we see? We will see the dominating powers of the world that work to keep people broken and alienated, oppressed and powerless, fearful and compliant, marginalized and shamed—we will see those powers challenged and challenged and challenged again. And ultimately, those powers will be broken by the power of love.

On this weekend we give particular thanks for the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King in a sermon in 1957, said, “We must discover the power of love…the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”3
Come and see, Jesus said. And Dr. King saw a world of love and liberation where all people can live to the fullest the life God has given us to live.
Dr. King and many others–including some of you–put their lives on the line as they followed Jesus and the way of love.
Our own Ann Downs stood with courage and led with love as the first African American principal at Greenwood Elementary School in south Louisville during busing in the 1970s. As the National Guard was on the ground and circling overhead in helicopters, Ann got on the school bus with African American children to bring them comfort and lead them to safety when they were surrounded by angry, white adults.
Come and see, Dr. King and Ann Downs and many individuals and communities heard. And they followed Jesus into a life of love; a life of freedom for all people.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was given by President Jimmy Carter to Dr. King nine years after his death. In that award, President Carter said, Dr. King “gazed on the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down.”4
    Unlike the Berlin Wall that actually was taken down, the wall of segregation still stands—not wholly intact, but far too much of it remains. There is still work to do.
Come and see, Jesus says.

Dr. King is an easy person to remember and to lift up on this weekend where we have a holiday in his honor. As I look around this sanctuary, I’m pretty sure none of us are going to have a federal holiday named after us.
The rest of us will probably live ordinary, relatively unknown lives. But the call of Jesus to live a life of love is for all of us. Come and see.

* * *
1 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, pt 1, p10.
2 Texts for Preaching, Year A, John 1.29-42.
3 http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_loving_your_enemies/, accessed 18 January 2014.