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This is the sermon I preached Sunday, 1/22 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The gospel text was Matthew 4:12-23.



Today we are inundated with pleas to “follow” different companies or public figures on social media. The more followers they have, the more easily and cheaply they can disseminate their message or advertise their product. Books and blogs have been written on “how to rapidly build and boost your social media following.”

How does a culture of consumerism that emphasizes “following” affect the way we understand today’s gospel as Christians? How, as a community, do we help each other differentiate and listen to the call from Jesus over the temptation of so many others?

When Jesus began his public ministry, he knew the time was right. The imprisonment of John the Baptist was Jesus' signal. With John the Baptist in prison and out of commission, who would preach the good news of the kingdom and call people to repentance? It's time, Jesus. You're up.

Jesus' message, like John the Baptist's was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (v. 17). "Repent" is in the present tense, meaning "Keep on repenting!," "Continually be repentant." Repentance here is more than a change of direction and the gaining of a new set of values, but rather, readiness for life under the reign of God.

Repentance is the ongoing lifestyle for people of the kingdom. There is no sorrow or remorse pictured here. In other words, "Get yourself a new orientation for the way you live, then act on it!"

The kingdom coming near describes an event, not a static condition. Kingdom can refer to the area ruled by a king or it can refer to the power or authority to rule as king. Such ruling power emanates from heaven. One commentator translates the phrase "the kingdom of heaven has come near" as "heaven rules."

The first disciples of Jesus were fishermen. As such, they were embedded in the imperial economy of Rome, who ruled over Palestine at that time. Rome asserted control over the land and sea, their production and the transportation and marketing of their yields with contracts and taxes.

Isn't the way Jesus calls his first disciples a little puzzling? Jesus calls out to Peter and Andrew to follow him. They drop what they were doing and go with Jesus.

The next set of brothers, James and John were also called by Jesus and they left everything to follow him. Whether or not the four fisherman had previous knowledge of Jesus is unimportant. What is being stressed is that Jesus addresses them and they immediately leave to follow him.

The fishermen were already at work. They already had something useful and important to do, and were not looking for a new life. Jesus sought them out, unlike typical disciples who would look for and attach themselves to a particular teacher. Jesus' call does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in their lives. God's call is intrusive and disruptive, calling the men away from work and family.

The message of God's reign is not for the faint of heart. All four brothers obeyed Jesus' call. They broke with fishing and family. Wholehearted allegiance was required, meaning a break with old relationships and securities.

Does this mean they continually traveled with Jesus and never saw their families during the three years of Jesus' ministry? It's much more likely that they were on the road with Jesus for a day or two and then returned back to their homes and town. According to the gospels, the group was never more than a half day to a day's walk from their homes during their ministry in Galilee.

The power and scope of God's rule is underscored by the descriptions of Jesus healing those from every corner of the land. As God's agent, Jesus is to manifest the light of God's saving presence and reign. Where the reign of God is present, the crooked is straightened, demons are exorcised and the lame walk.

God's rule means the exercise of the divine power to make things right. With an invitation to be part of such a gift, no wonder the four fisherman welcomed Jesus' call with an instant response. The gospel envisions God's empire or kingdom as already established in the heavens.

Jesus' message and work are summarized in the these words, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching...and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and... sickness among the people" (v. 23)--and his disciples followed him.

These twin stories of the call of the four disciples make it clear that Jesus summons people from the fabric of family relationships and from the midst of the workaday world -- into a new set of relationships and to a new vocation.

Was Jesus' work limited only to Jesus and his first followers? It continues in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament. The early church did what Jesus and his first disciples did. The preaching if the kingdom of God was the common denominator.

Jesus has issued the call. How should we respond to the coming of heaven's rule? One would think worship or praise, but it is repentance that is called for. It is easier to celebrate and praise, than to repent. Luther taught,"All of a Christian's life is one of repentance."

The disciples left all to follow Jesus, but it may never be necessary for all of us to leave professions and possessions behind, but we must all leave our world behind and enter the new world into which Jesus invites us.

We come together as the body of Christ to be strengthened for our life outside of this building. As we allow God's love to shine through us to others, we are sharing the kingdom of God. God works through us in many ways, some more public, and some are quieter.

Our words and deeds need to be addressed to more than just church people. Jesus had a home base in Capernaum, but he left it to go out among the people.

How can we minister outside of our building? One way is to feed the hungry through ministries like St. Susan's and our local food pantry. When people eat nutritious food they are healthier. Another way to minister is to visit with the lonely and needy. As we are with them, we are like God's presence for them.

As we, the church, proclaim what God has done in Jesus, we continue Jesus' own preaching of the kingdom of God. In Matthew, the kingdom of God was not an ideal, principle, or abstraction, but was definitely revealed and embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.

The goal of the kingdom is not to serve us in being more effective or productive in our jobs. Our work is effective when it expresses the will of God. The patterns of our lives are not made secure by the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of heaven rearranges them into a new design of God's own making.

 
Amen.

Resources:

M. Eugene Boring, The New Interpreter's Bible: Matthew


M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock, The People's New Testament Commentary.

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year A.

Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com


 

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