Sermon from our Minister, Rev. Dottie Cook
“Here he comes”
January 22, 2017
Just prior to where our story begins this day, Jesus has just been baptized by John, spent time in the wilderness facing temptations. And now has received the news of John’s imprisonment, it is time for his work to begin. It is the intersection of John and Jesus’ lives that have propelled this moment. Now it is time for Jesus to step to the forefront. Wonder what was in his mind as he walked that 40 miles between the foothills of Nazareth and Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Preparing, talking to people along the way. Deciding just when and how to start his work. In this land of Jews and Gentiles, Roman wealth and peasants, how do you embody the presence of God? Where do you go, what do you say?
Jesus starts where John left off. His first words – echo the words of John the Baptist – Repent or – as one translation says, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Not the far off, behind the clouds heaven. But the kingdom of heaven – that is near. As close as our hands. Pay attention we are at a place where heaven intersects our world in global and intimate ways. God’s kingdom is coming.
When Jesus gets to Capernaum, he doesn’t hold a public prayer meeting or rally for God. Instead Jesus heads straight for the place people are. Their workplace. In this town, that is the seashore, the heart of the fishing industry.
Hello Simon Peter and Andrew. Hello – welll, probably he said something more like Shalom. James and John. He interjects himself and his message into people’s daily life. Come follow me. You will still fish. Yet. Jesus changes the target of their focus. “I’ll show you how to fish for people.”
His invitation was not a profit making option. In fact, his invitation wasn’t clear at the beginning. What does it mean to be in the people fishing business? I can’t even imagine what was happening in their minds. What am I getting into and what am I giving up?
Come, Andrew, Simon, James, John – You are at a crossroads – continue on with the family business. Or step into unknown territory. Trust me. Follow me.
Jesus is preaching in this land of cultural intersection. Gentile and Jewish. He is preaching about intersection – that the kingdom of heaven is so close that it is at hand. And he is meeting people in the busiest places of their lives and asking for a step of faith – A change of focus and a whole new understanding of their life’s work.
There are no minor moments so far in this gospel of Matthew. His birth and early visitors – all stories of trust, faith and choices. It seems to keep throwing us into intersections of human and holy and making choices. Why is that? Because that is exactly where we meet God and where God works. In the tensions and in the choices of daily life.
Our nation, like our world, in midst of a very divisive time. This division did not begin with this election. It has been part of our national DNA for decades. We have not all agreed. Nor should we. But, this election, for lack of a better image, knocked the scab off a deep festering wound. A wound that we have ignored.
This wound has shown us – some painful things about ourselves and our land. There is tremendous anger. And there is a hunger to be heard. A hunger for self-preservation and a vicious contagious desire that all differences must be seen as adversarial. We find ourselves willing to say all kinds of things about people who don’t agree with us. The least of which maybe – You are either think like me or you are a wrong, bad person.
We act as if life is simple and clearcut. Life is not simple. We do not know the thoughts and experiences of others and none of us live pure, uncomplicated lives.
Jesus’ invitation – come follow me – was not an invitation to an easier life. A less complex or paradoxical life. In fact, I imagine that his invitation raised far more questions in the lives of his followers than it ever answered.
Part of being a faithful human being is to live in the midst of paradox. To struggle. To acknowledge our dissonances, so we can understand the struggles of others.
We all have them – I laugh at some of mine. And then struggle with others. Some are fairly simple – like the fact that – I love venison chili. And I love Bambi. And give money to the protect wildlife.
Some are more complex. Like I have easily accepted the funds I have received from inherited oil and gas mineral rights. And with them, I purchase 100% wind energy for my house. And look for ways to utilize solar panels.
Or the fact that I have struggled over the years with my desire to be antiwar.. I have explored the church’s writings on peace and just war theory and the like. At the same time, I can name the bomber planes and fighter jets that paid for my education that led me to a desire for world peace and taught me to wrestle with those ideas.
My story isn’t any different from anyone else’s. We are human beings. Of course, our lives are full tensions. A life of faith is all about living in the intersections of heaven and earth. A life as church is about living together in that struggle.
This past week on Friday, members of our congregation watched with joy as finally a business person, their candidate was sworn in as president. And on Saturday, members of our congregation took part in marches across this nation in protest. Each were considered a sign of hope.
Before you start looking around the room, making a list and checking it twice – to figure out who fits in which category. This is not new territory for this congregation, or any congregation. Let me remind us that we are all residents of this nation, tax payers and we are all part of this community of faith. And we follow a teacher who, after saying Come follow me – just a few verses later, said do not judge, so you will not be judged.
We need to quit sizing each other up and look at the measure of our own hearts, minds and actions. To see the complexities of others through the lens of our own complexities.
My greatest concern is – at this moment in history, we as people of the church and of this land, speak and live out of fear. And some of the greatest instruments of fear in our land are Facebook, twitter and other avenues that allow us to talk at each other and not to each other.
Why have we let fear grow? Do we not know our bible, church? What words did we start this day with: The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom should I be afraid? I believe those words were written for times such as these. Crossroads times. Look at scripture, it is at those very intersections of heaven and earth, when opening line of the angels is: Fear not! God is with you.
We need to remember that to live at the intersection of heaven and earth is live in a place where we need to hear – Fear Not. This doesn’t mean things are going to be easy. And everything will be the way you want it. It means – We live in a complex and diverse world. And we are wild enough to believe there are elements of God’s reign right here in this world. And we have the eyes, ears, hearts and minds to see it.
We must act in new ways. With the courage of those who first said yes to Jesus. Look at it practically and what Peter and Andrew and James and John did – made no sense. Look at it practically – thanks to what Peter, Andrew, James, John and many others did – You and I know the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
The Roman Empire fell. The town of Capernaum’s fishing industry didn’t make it much past the 7th century. But the stories of those fisherman – we tell today.
The question becomes – at this intersection – what step of faith are we willing to make? What changes are we willing to make in response to God’s call? The Lord is our light and our salvation – why be afraid. It is time for the church to be church.