Darkness and Light | 3rd after Epiphany

Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.

17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

18 As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”
20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21 Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and 22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people. (CEB)

Darkness and Light

Today is the third Sunday after the Epiphany. It’s also known as the third Sunday in Ordinary Time. It’s sort of the between-times time. We just finished the Advent-Christmas cycle and, in a few weeks, we’ll begin the Lent-Easter cycle. In other words, in Ordinary Time, we aren’t preparing for or celebrating the promised coming, birth, death, or resurrection of Jesus. The designation Ordinary Time actually comes from the fact that these Sundays are counted with ordinal numbers: first, second, third, and on. I always thought that was an odd reason, though, because the Sundays of every other season are counted with ordinal numbers, too: fourth Sunday of Advent, first Sunday after Christmas, fifth Sunday in Lent, seventh Sunday of Easter, etc.

The season does take on the other meaning of the word ordinary, in some sense. Ordinary Time begins with the first Sunday after January 6, which is the Epiphany, and ends at Christ the King, which is the Sunday before Advent begins. It takes a 14-and-a-half-week break for the Lent-Easter cycle, but the majority of the Christian Year, 33 or 34 weeks depending on when Advent begins and Easter Day falls, is Ordinary Time when the liturgical color is green to represent life and growth in Christ. It’s kind of ordinary in the sense that it’s not Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter.

Ordinary Time is the season in which we are called to the matters of discipleship. Its focus is often on the everyday ins and outs of being a Christian. While the weeks of Ordinary Time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday often focus on Jesus’ identity, and what he is, they also dig into matters of call and discipleship.

The first part of the text mentions that Jesus did one of those itinerant United Methodist pastor things after John the Baptist was arrested. He moved. Jesus made his new home in Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew records that this was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2, which says, “Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted. At an earlier time, God cursed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but later he glorified the way of the sea, the far side of the Jordan, and the Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned” (CEB).

With his move complete, his ministry began. Jesus picked up right where John the Baptist had left off. He started proclaiming a message of repentance because the kingdom of heaven has come near. Now that Jesus had a new office and started getting his message out on the social media of the day, which consisted of walking around and actually speaking with people face-to-face, Jesus got busy on his recruitment drive. He walked down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and invited people to follow him.

Some of the most profound events recorded in the Bible—at least, to me—are stories that tell us how God called ordinary, flawed people to serve in some capacity. To me, it’s a comforting fact that God never chooses perfect people. For one thing, there aren’t any. For another, there aren’t any. God only calls ordinary, flawed people to do both ordinary and extraordinary things.

Moses was a murderer with a stuttering problem when he stumbled across a bush that burned with fire, but wasn’t consumed by it. God called him as a prophet to speak before Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites home. What did Moses do when God called him? He made excuse after excuse to not have to do it, and finally said, “Please, my Lord, just send someone else,” (c.f. Exodus 2:12; 3:1-4:17). Strangely, that exasperated Thanks, but no thanks from Moses didn’t sit too well with God, and Moses went anyway. When God gets into an argument with you, you’re probably not going to win.

Saul was from the smallest family in the tribe of Benjamin, which was the smallest tribe of Israel, but when the Israelites demanded a king, Saul was selected (c.f. 1 Samuel 9 & 10). When it came time for the people to gather together before Samuel and see the king whom God had selected for them, Saul tried to hide. The people had to ask the Lord, saying, “Has the man come here yet?” and the Lord outed Saul by saying, “Yes, he’s hiding among the supplies,” (1 Samuel 10:22). When God calls you to something, you can try to hide, but God knows where you are.

Amos was a shepherd and a tree trimmer when the Lord called him to go speak as a prophet to the Kingdom of Israel (c.f. Amos 7:14). He didn’t try to hide, at least such an event isn’t recorded. God called and Amos went. But, he still refused to identify himself as a prophet (c.f. Amos 7:14).

Jeremiah was called from the priestly family of Abiathar from Anathoth: a family King Solomon had sent away from Jerusalem because Abiathar had supported Adonijah as king after David instead of Solomon. Jeremiah was afraid he was too young to do what God wanted of him, but God told him not to be afraid of people. Then, men from his own city threatened to kill him for speaking God’s word, but God tells him the tables would be turned before the men could act on those plans (c.f. Jeremiah 11:21).

The call of Samuel resonates the most with my own call to ministry. He heard God calling when he was a boy, but didn’t recognize the voice as God’s (c.f. 1 Samuel 3). My own call to ministry began kind of like that. I remember sitting in the front pew as an acolyte at Central United Methodist Church in Evansville and having this sense that I would be doing what the pastor was doing. I always shoved it away with a big, “NO!” in part, because I’m an introvert and I never thought I would be able to speak in front of people. In fact, the very idea terrified me.

It wasn’t until my freshman year in college at The University of Findlay that I really suspected it was God calling me. The week leading up to Saint Valentine’s Day, 1996, that voice, that nudging, that call, was relentless. It pounded against every protestation I tried to build until I finally chucked my pencil across the room, pushed my chemistry book away and said, “Alright, God, I’ll do it!” It took some discernment with the help of many mentors to figure out exactly what I should be doing, but I knew I was called to ministry of some kind, and I started pursuing it immediately.

Another call came upon me in January of 2014 when God got into an argument with me, and I lost. I knew without a doubt that God was demanding that I write. But, I had already tried once and failed. I didn’t want to share the stories in my head with others. It felt way too personal. But, I couldn’t escape this call. I talked with my wife, who encouraged me to get writing. I bought a writing program so I could get organized, and I started writing the story I’d had in my head for a decade. I attended a writing conference so I could learn more about the craft and hone my skills. I pursued that call to write immediately. So far, I’ve gotten nothing but rejections for publication, but I’m still writing. I’m still sharing my stories with others.

When God calls us to something, it’s hard to ignore the call. In our text from Matthew, Jesus walks by two sets of brothers and calls them to follow him. Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets. James and John immediately left their boat and their father, Zebedee, and followed Jesus.

It has been suggested that the church today has the model of discipleship wrong, kind of backwards, actually. We want people to know God, grow in their faith, and get out there and do something amazing for Jesus. But what happens in Matthew is quite different. Instead of know, grow, go, it’s go, grow, know.

The first thing the disciples did was go. They followed Jesus. They got out there and walked alongside him. They learned along the way as Jesus taught them. And, through their interaction with Jesus and learning from his teachings, the disciples got to know who he was and what he was about. You might recall that many times in the Gospels, the disciples made assumptions about Jesus and were wrong, they often failed to understand what Jesus meant. They didn’t get it until after Jesus died and the Holy Spirit came upon them and reminded them of what Jesus had said.

Christian discipleship is nothing less than hearing God’s call and obeying it. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described discipleship as something God offers to us, not something we can offer to God. Discipleship begins with God seeking and calling us to participate in the mission God has in mind. It’s not something where we do our thing and invite Jesus to tag along and give his blessing. Discipleship is not self-justification, rather, it is self-denial. The call to follow means we subvert our will to the will of Christ our God.

The cost of discipleship is not cheap. God’s call in our lives is not convenient. These four disciples left their careers behind because Jesus called them to follow him. Sometimes discipleship is doing something just like that. The thing is, it’s only through following Jesus that we really get to grow in our faith. It’s only through the kind of growth such following produces that we really get to know Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of heaven has come near. The light of Christ bids us to come and follow him. And we are called to the kind of discipleship that lays everything aside for the sake of Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher

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