Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A; January 26, 2014
Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who draws us into relationship with others, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is much that intrigues me about our Gospel reading today: after John the Baptist is arrested Jesus withdraws and retreats to Galilee, which is where many Gentiles live. Gentiles, in Scripture, are always “outsiders,” those that don’t necessarily belong. We learn throughout the Gospels that it is typical that Jesus goes to places where outsiders are and chills. What we don’t often think of Jesus is him actually making a home somewhere. It is particularly interesting that it is in the land of the “outsiders” in a small village by the sea called, Capernaum.
Capernaum would have been filled with a kind of common people…perhaps not as educated, poorer, living off the land and sea type of people. They are the working poor, the ones in which elite and educated folk might turn their nose at. What is even more interesting is that Capernaum is in the region ruled by Herod, the very one who has John the Baptist arrested for saying things like: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
How defiant Jesus is when he shows up in the same region proclaiming at the top of his lungs the very same thing that rolled off the lips of John the Baptist. We should not be surprised when later in the Gospel story Jesus is arrested too.
The Prophet Isaiah is also quoted in our Gospel reading: “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.” Jesus the light, goes into the land of Capernaum and makes his home among the people, people who have bore much suffering and fear.
I hope this move by Jesus and the image of light in the darkness gives us an idea of what God is like. If you have ever considered yourself an “outsider,” one who doesn’t belong somewhere, especially in church or among those who are said to follow Jesus, this story says otherwise.
Jesus, who is God in the flesh, always wants to be among people who feel like they don’t belong, people who have made mistakes in their lives, people who are hurting and lonely, people who are sick and homeless, people who sell their bodies and cheat others. Yes, Jesus goes to the homes of those who are rich and powerful at times because he is invited, but again and again, we see Jesus among the poor, those who have lost hope, those whose lives have become one big mess.
So here today we meet Jesus who makes his home among outsiders and walks along the sea inviting two sets of brothers, common fisher folk, to come and walk with him. Often times we may think that the people Jesus called were extra-ordinary, super-hero like, unwavering in faith. If we keep reading the stories we find out that these ones Jesus calls are far from perfect, often doubting, not understanding. And yet, they follow. They say: “I don’t know what I’m doing Jesus, nor do I know why you have called a person like me, but here I am. By the way…what do you mean by making me a fisher of people?”
I don’t know why I have never thought about relationships when reading this text from Matthew, which is what intrigues me the most these days about this particular story. Before I have mostly focused on Jesus calling the four fishermen, all immediately leaving their nets, and two their father to follow a man they barely knew. For some reason I had always noticed a more personal calling: how Jesus called Peter, how Jesus called James, for example, and how we too are called to follow Jesus. But the story is much more than a personal calling to follow story; it is a story about relationships.
I have to wonder how well Peter, Andrew, James and John knew one another before Jesus’ stroll along the seashore. Perhaps they knew each fairly well, but I would put money on the fact that they did not know the majority of the rest of the people Jesus put them in contact with.
Pastor David Lose writes this about our Gospel reading: …”what strikes me is that Jesus is calling these first disciples not into work but into relationship…Jesus, that is, calls these first disciples into relationship — with himself, with each other, and with all the various people they will meet over the next few years and, indeed, the rest of their lives (www.workingpreacher.org).”
This got me thinking about the whole story of where Jesus drug along all these disciples in his net of love. Over and over again Jesus is among crowds of people, most of them sick and in need of healing. These disciples were constantly around people who longed for something new and different in their lives and freedom from the burdens they carried. They listened to Jesus teach and model how to love God and love those they might even consider an enemy.
They were with Jesus when he cleansed lepers and cast out demons, even raised people from death.
They were probably touched by the “unclean” woman in the street who had been bleeding for 12 years.
Jesus let all these little children hang around him, as well as women! He brought the disciples along to places in which they were very uncomfortable, going to the “other” side of the tracks, so to speak, as well as into the homes of the wealthy elite. I am certain that these disciples felt like a fish out of water at times.
When faced with a large hungry crowd during one of Jesus’ journeys, he tells the disciples to feed the people, giving them opportunity to give food to the hungry. Hands on and intimate, Jesus constantly brought the ones who followed him into reconciling relationship with one another, with those around them, and into deeper relationship with God. Because of Jesus they experienced life in its depth, continually having the opportunity to witness new life, death and resurrection.
Not that my life has been ideal, or that I am a great follower of Jesus, and despite the ways I often fail to love God and neighbor well, it is quite clear to me who Jesus has put me into relationship with. Again and again Jesus invites me into relationship with others and most of the time it is people who I might consider to be different than me. Then when I get to know people, I realize that we are not all that different at all. We all have struggles and pain. We all suffer and are uncertain at times. And yet we can laugh together, share stories, and give one another hope, even when there seems to be none because of this one called Emmanuel, God with us.
Who has Jesus brought you into relationship with? If you are having a hard time thinking of an answer to this question, take a look around you. I can give you 80 people just like that. As I think about Heart River Lutheran Church, I marvel at all of us in this chapel who come together to worship. We might not think of it all that often, but we are all here because Jesus has called us into this place, into relationship with one another. Following Jesus means being in relationship with others, whether they are different or the same as you.
I invite you to call to mind one person you are in relationship with. This can be anyone, but make it be someone who is significant to you. Perhaps this particular relationship gives you joy, sorrow, frustration, or hope. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the relationship call this person to mind take a minute or two and pray for that person…
Sometimes we may think that following Jesus means something impossible, but following Jesus and being “fishers for people” can mean praying for someone like you just did. Most often it is being brought into relationship with others and caring for them.
David Lose continues his reflection on this text:
Jesus issues the same call to us — to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us, and to be in those relationships the way Jesus was and is in relationship with his disciples and with us: bearing each other’s burdens, caring for each other and especially the vulnerable, holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope and promise of God’s abundant grace. Sometimes that call — to be in Christ-shaped relationship with others — will take us far from home and sometimes it will take shape in and among the persons right around us. But it will always involves persons — not simply a mission or a ministry or a movement, but actual, flesh-and-blood persons (www.workingpreacher.org).
We here are in relationship to one another and it is a great gift. This morning we had the healing rite, where we pray for one another and make the intimate sign of the cross on people’s foreheads with oil, we pray and sing together, share in communion and the peace of Christ, and we hope…we hope for the each other and for the world that the One who calls us to follow gives us what we need to be in relationship with one another. And it is a beautiful thing.