Friday, February 01, 2008

High noon ...

High noon ...
Originally uploaded by asmundur
An inspiring image for pondering the Transfiguration of the Lord, observed this Sunday throughout Christendom.

Prophetic Vision(?) - Super Bowl XLII

Imagine how many hours I might have wasted this Sunday afternoon attending to the simple matter of watching the Super Bowl to see who actually wins the game:

If you must, it's available here.

Oh, and there's this, too, for those of you cheering for the other team:

Available here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Grand view ...

Grand view ...
Originally uploaded by asmundur
I've always wanted to visit Iceland. This picture took me one step closer. When I found it over at Flickr, I checked online for fare information. Saving has begun...

Follow Me

Follow Me
Matthew 4:12-23
January 27, 2008
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2008 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: The events recorded in this passage prepare the reader for the great exposition of Christian morality encapsulated by Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” Having heard that John was put into prison by the governing authority for preaching the good news, Jesus moves to a region where both Jews and Gentiles reside together. He then calls the first disciples, who obediently turn away from the drudgery of their fishing occupation to join with Jesus in a new kind of fishing operation. Jesus then begins to teach and preach about the kingdom of God with His clarion call to “repent.”

Sermon Function: What does it mean to be a fisher of men and women? It means that we should remember that our baptismal vocation calls for a complete turn away from sin and a return to the road leading to the Kingdom of God.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


This morning we’re going to continue our discussion of our baptism vocation. About three weeks ago we observed the Baptism of the Lord. Last week, we began to explore what Jesus’ baptism implies for us and in our baptisms. This week, we’re going to explore further what it means to be a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ. For me, discipleship has always meant something much more than “servant.” Discipleship is something bigger. If we really consider ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we are challenged to seriously take account our lives and our existing priorities and ask ourselves the question: “Is how I am living representative of the light of the kingdom of God?” This is a very big question. For those claimed in baptism, it is one of the paramount questions of Christian living. It just so happens that Matthew is exceedingly concerned about Christian morality and faith. He is also concerned with this important question. And as it happens, today’s scripture passage is laying the groundwork for the Jesus’ wonderful exposition on kingdom life known to us as The Beatitudes.

As I read the gospel this morning, listen for Jesus’ words about light, repentance, teaching, and preaching.

Let us now listen to God’s word to us this day.

[Read Scripture - Matthew 4:12-23]

Prayer for Illumination

Blessed are you, Lord, gracious Father, O Lord, whose love is revealed in your Son. O Lord, whose love is the delight of all life, and whose Word we love as the light of life. Pour out your Spirit as we read from your prophets and Apostles, that in mediating on them, our hearts might be illumined and our days filled with peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.1

Three Stories – Story One

There are three significant movements in today’s text in the gospel of Matthew. First, we learn that John the Baptizer has just been arrested, literally handed over, for the crime of preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had come near. In response to this news, Matthew records Jesus moving his home, or perhaps his home base, to the town of Capernaum. This was done, according to Matthew, for the purpose of fulfilling the voice of the prophet Isaiah. Interestingly, the move had another important consequence: The “land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali” (v. 15) were areas where Jews and gentiles lived together. Jesus, then, moves deliberately into an area not just filled with those of his own ethic group, but with others, in the very “Galilee of the Gentiles.” He goes there in order to bring light to the people who sit in darkness, and to be the dawn for those who sit in the region of shadows and death. Connected intimately with that light is the clarion call of Jesus, the proclamation which forms the first set of words preached by our Savior:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 4:17 NRSV).

It has been come passé to insist that people repent while they sit in the pews in church. But we live in an era, an epoch, really, when true repentance is utterly lacking in our society, and in our church.

I was asked recently about all of the “political problems” we currently face in the Presbyterian Church (USA). My answer to the question is very straightforward: The divisions that anger us or threaten us are deeply rooted in our sinful nature as fallen human beings. To be a sinner means to be actively turning away from God. We should not be surprise that turning away from God and His word causes fundamental divisions and conflict. Moreover, we have forgotten, as a people, what it means to truly repent. If I were to ask someone at random what the word “repent” meant, the likely response would be “to express sorrow at some sin that had been committed.” But such an answer underestimates the power of sin and the necessity of repentance. To repent means to turn away from the sin, turn to the light of forgiveness, and then not turn back again. This is a slightly more complicated process than simply saying, “I’m sorry,” which is really only the first part of repentance. But the need to repent isn’t rooted in the Christian attempt to quash all of the fun you might think you’re having. Turning away from sin IS the positive option for us. Turning away from sin is moves us toward the open door of the light of pure joy. Matthew makes this point very clear – there are many who sit in darkness, the stark night of sin. But there is great hope in store for all the people – a light will come to penetrate the darkness of our sin! And who is this light? Jesus is the light. And what are the first words that the Light of the World proclaims after his baptism and temptation by Satan? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Being a disciple and honoring our baptismal vocation means we need to repent of our sins – all those things that keep us from knowing Christ and His light. And the sins we have to contend with aren’t necessarily any different from what our brothers and sisters have experienced, but there is one difference, and that is we have entire systems built up to exploit our sinful tendencies. Internet pornography is one of these systems. There are other, more subtle forms of porno out there too – while surfing the local TV channels the other night, Sara and I came across a show where the contestant is hooked up to a lie detector and then asked some of the most invasive questions imaginable, all the while with the spouse prominently featured as the key spectator. If the contestant asks the invasive questions “truthfully,” he or she wins the big bucks. “But at what cost?” asks the announcer. Good question. Your stable family life? Your marriage? We were both so repulsed by what we saw that we switched off the television. We still live in a world filled with darkness, a darkness that persecutes the Body of Christ, the Church (that’s you and me), and threatens to swallow up those who have not yet seen the light of the world.

This text from Matthew teaches us several things. As those called by Christ in our baptisms, we are called to repentance, and we are also called to appeal to others to repent. Not by being overly confrontational and judgmental. Instead, we are called to be beacons of light ourselves. People should be attracted to the church because they see that there is light there, a light that will overcome the darkness that drives people to despair and lost hope. And we are called to be that light, by repenting from sin, loving our neighbors, and exhibiting God’s kingdom through our response to his call to be missionaries of his light to the world.

Story Two – Following

So the first story in our text, about Jesus moving in with the gentiles and proclaiming that the light of the kingdom of heaven is best seen repenting and rejoining the way of the kingdom of heaven, we now move to the next scene, the call of Simon, called Peter, Andrew, James and John.

Most readers of Matthew’s gospel are captivated by the radical acceptance of Christ’s call to follow him to become his disciples responsible for spreading the good news throughout the world. But wait! To say that now is putting, in a way, the cart before the horse. At this point of Matthew’s gospel account, the disciples have no idea what it is there are being called to do. All they hear are the words “follow me,” and they follow. By accepting the call without condition, their acceptance turns out to be even more radical than we tend to image. All we know is they follow him, and that they remain with him. As retired Presbyterian Pastor John C. Purdy puts it:
They are like soldiers who have enlisted in an army to fight in a war yet to be declared; like actors who have signed up to perform roles in a play that is still being written. Jesus' call to them is a summons to step out into the unknown; it is a call to adventure.2
Peter, Andrew, James, and John are being called into a great adventure, great because it is heading towards a completely uncertain destination. All they do is leave their worldly occupations behind and zoom into the unknown.

Some commentators on this passage suggest that not everyone is called to leave their day job to pursue their baptismal vocation of faithful discipleship and service to the church. And I think this is true, to an extent. The fact is that the nature of God’s call frequently does call us into some kind of radical change. God’s call might cause you to leave your job. It did with me. Or, rather, the job left me. But maybe the call involves radical revision of how your approach the work you do, so that you’re no longer just a doctor, or a lawyer, or an investment banker, or a farmer, or a nurse, or an accountant, or a husband, or a wife, or a son, or a daughter. Instead, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, willing to follow Him wherever he might lead, taking comfort in the fact that, while He may lead you to uncertain or even uncomfortable places, you nonetheless never go it alone.

Perhaps you’re in a situation that needs to change. Are you ready to embark on what will likely be the greatest adventure of your life? That’s the question prodding us as we read about Jesus’ call to the first disciples. I can promise you this – if you take Him up on the call, He will never be absent from you, because God’s faithfulness endures, even when our faithfulness wanes.

And just as the Light of the World is connected intimately with the call to repent, so is his call to repent intimately connected with his call to follow him. And that brings us to the third part of this story.

Story Three – Teaching First, then Proclaiming, then Healing

Matthew takes a slightly different approach to Jesus’ than found in Mark’s gospel. For Mark, Jesus’ miracles are an important witness to the word of Jesus. For Matthew, the miracles are important, but they always come after the teaching and preaching. Teaching, preaching, and healing are almost always referred to in order of importance, as is found in verse 23:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matt 4:23 NRSV)
Teaching first, then proclamation of the news, and then healing.

In fact, this is the key to understanding an important aspect of our calling as those baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The model for discipleship and evangelism in Matthew’s gospel is based on a persuasive model, not a coercive model. Jesus’ work begins with about teaching basic moral Christian lessons, relates those lessons with the good news that God’s kingdom has come near and is breaking.

Douglas Hare, in his wonderful commentary, illustrates the importance of teaching and preaching to the reader of Matthew’s gospel. He writes:
Matthew is deeply concerned about the mixed state of the church. There are too many Christians whose lives do not match their profession. They have heard the gospel but have not headed Jesus’ teaching; they are quick to cry “Lord! Lord!” but slow to do what Jesus said. For the health of the church, Jesus’ teaching about life in the kingdom must be given the fullest emphasis.3
The “mixed state of the church.” There are “too many Christians whose lives to not match their profession.” They have heard the gospel but have not headed the teaching. Does any of this sound familiar? I once attended a conference where Eugene Peterson was a speaker. He has a nifty saying, “chronological snobbery,” which is uses to describe the conceit where we “modern” Christians are so much smarter and better informed than our brothers and sisters now singing in the great choir invisible. The facts are different. The challenges the Church faces are frequently persistent in nature – so persistent, that for me it proves John Calvin’s case for our total depravity.

But the good news is this: Despite the fact that we are not really any better or superior than our ancestors, we still have the hope and promise of a Savior who calls us into a grand adventure – an adventure that might, at first, appear mysterious or troublesome, even unwanted, but one that tugs at us while we’re sleeping, or perhaps while we’re daydreaming at home or at work. It comes to us in the still, small voice of the breeze, even the chilly breezes we’ve been experiencing lately. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear that the voice saying – “Follow me.” Are you ready to take the path of adventure ahead, as one baptized by Christ? If you are, pull me aside after the service and let me know, or let one of the Elders know. The adventure of teaching, preaching, and healing will take you down paths of hope and joy that you might otherwise miss. May we all repent, turn to God, and enter into the adventure of living fully for Christ.

Let us pray.

Loving God, through your Son you have called us to repent of our sin, to believe the good news, and to celebrate the coming of your kingdom. Like Christ’s first apostles, may we hear his call to discipleship, and, forsaking old ways, proclaim the gospel of new life to a broken world; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.4

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Old, Hughes. Leading in Prayer. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, p. 163.

2Purdy, John C. “Returning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living.” Religion Online. Accessed January 25, 2008. Available online here.

3Hare, Douglas. Matthew. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1993.

4Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, p. 207.