Third Sunday after Epiphany  /  Jan. 27, 2008  /  Text:  Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Sermon by: Rev. Carol Kniseley  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church 

Dawn in Galilee

Do you remember the first time you ever road a bike…all by yourself?  I do.   It was the day that the training wheels came off…and my father would vow to no longer run along side of me while holding onto the handle bar…just in case.      Not only was he getting tired of running all that time…he, like most parents, knew something.   

Sooner or later…every single child must be allowed to experience the freedom of firsts.    First time going to school.   First time catching a ball.    First time striking out at bat.   First time being invited to a party.   First time being invited out on a date.   First time staying away from home.   Or…as in Jesus’ case…first time moving away from family and friends and striking out on his own.

Thanks to the writer of Matthew’s Gospel…we get to be in on Jesus experiencing a number of important “firsts”.    Matthew is the only one who tells us that when Jesus “heard” that John the Baptist had been arrested…he left his hometown of Nazareth and “made his home” in Capernaum, by the sea.    

In other words, of all the places that Jesus could have chosen to live…he chose a place that in former times had been a place of deep darkness and defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.    And yet, as we hear in today’s first lesson…there was always a glimmer of hope.    As Isaiah the prophet predicted would happen:  ‘…on them…light has shined.’

As we hear in today’s Gospel reading, today was the day that Jesus fulfilled that prophecy.   And it gets better.   In verse 17, Matthew is very particular in choosing the next five words for us to read:  from that time Jesus began.      Jesus began “what”?   First of all…to preach!     And the message that he chose to strike out with was one that should sound very, very familiar:  “Repent…for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   

Why John the Baptist’s message?    I suspect that the more relevant question to ask is:   why not…John’s message?    Knowing that Jesus had submitted himself to being baptized by John the Baptist…publicly aligning himself with what John was saying.     Even so…there is one distinct difference.    It’s another freedom of firsts.  

In Jesus…the kingdom of heaven (as Matthew prefers to call the kingdom of God)…has already come near.     No more waiting.   No more anticipation of what the reign of God will “look like”.   As the Baptist has already pointed out:  Look…the lamb of God…who takes away the sin of the world.   And I would add…”immediately”…as in right now.   

Immediately is an important word for Matthew’s Gospel.  Twice he uses the word in today’s reading when describing another round of “firsts” for Jesus’ ministry.     As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee (which, by the way, is some 14 miles long…and 7 miles wide at it’s widest point)…of all the people that Jesus could have chosen to be his disciples, he chose four fishermen.     We are simply told that Jesus saw the first two, Peter and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea…and said: 

        ‘Follow me…and I will make you…fish for people!”

And “Immediately”…they left their nets and followed him.    Ok, here’s one for all of us to think about.  Call it a reality check.  Have you ever asked someone in your family to do something…and “immediately” without any comment being made whatsoever…they sprung into action?      I didn’t think so.   The only thing that springs into action “immediately” around our house is our new cat, Frasier jumping on everything that moves.    

But the truth of today’s story is that it not only happened once…it happened twice!     Twice…the men were working with their nets.    Peter and Andrew were most likely standing on the shore and casting into the sea, while James and his brother John were sitting in the boat with their father…mending their nets…when Jesus summoned them to action.

Two very important points we need to be aware of.   First: the words spoken by Jesus ”and I will…make you…fish for people”…the verb translated as “make you” implies that with Jesus’ word of call there comes the power to carry out that call.    Those who are called are not left up to their own resources to “follow”.    Jesus transforms those whom he calls.    And transform them, he did.

Secondly, and most relevant to us sitting here today, the importance of Jesus’ words…”follow me”…is found not in how a group of fishermen responded to him by the Sea of Galilee long before we were born, but in how we respond to him today.    He comes to us, as Albert Schweitzer reminds us, with the same demand…calling us to the tasks in need of fulfillment in our time.

And yet, let me say this…that unlike the response of these first four disciples, it may not be necessary for all to leave their professions and possessions behind.    But what is necessary is that all who follow must leave their world behind…and enter the new world into which Jesus invites them.      

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to spread the Gospel net as far and wide as we can possibly cast it…with the sure and certain hope that God will provide the results.     Knowing full well that yes, God is partial to those still living in the darkness.   And so we shouldn’t be surprised if somewhere…someday…when we least expect it…we suddenly hear a voice calling to us from seemingly out of nowhere…to follow him into a completely new situation.    

Ministry happens in a million different ways…every single day of the year…but only because when the call came…so came the right response from ordinary folks like you and like me.     Immediately…they left their calendars, their i-pods, their cellular phones, their pocket organizers, their whatever-keeps-people-from-focusing-on-one-another’s needs and they followed him into the darkness surrounding their own communities.    Where I believe with all of my heart…his message is still being heard by those with ears for listening:  

        “Repent…for the kingdom of heaven…has come near.” 

To which the people of God “immediately” respond…Amen!