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Matthew 4:12-23

The Rev. Helen Havlik

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

A couple of Sundays ago we remembered the baptism of Jesus, an event that tells us who Jesus is and begins to tell us who we are: people called by God to serve the needs of a hurting world. God’s call comes to us in many ways as we are encouraged and equipped to live our lives as God intends, with compassion and love. Or as Brene Brown says, “to show up, be seen, and live brave.” In today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls disciples to follow him. I’m reading from Matthew, Ch. 4, beginning with vs. 12. Listen with me to God’s holy word.

When Jesus began his ministry, as far as we know, he was 30 years old and had probably spent his life up till then in Nazareth, sort of a backwater town north of Jerusalem in the outer reaches of Palestine. We don’t know much about his childhood and young adult years, but we’ve understood he was a carpenter by trade. And then suddenly, the time was right and he left his hometown behind and took up the ministry that lasted just three short years. In our text today, Jesus is at this turning point of his life. He didn’t actually go that far—just a few miles to Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He probably still popped in to see his mother when he could. But for what he was doing with his life, he might have been living on the moon! Here he is, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, on the road, preaching and teaching and healing people. 

Something we don’t usually think about is that Jesus himself was called by God to the work that changed the course of history and set in motion a series of events that brought salvation to all generations, even us. Many people resisted Jesus and his ministry because it meant they would have to think differently and act differently and it was too frightening to let go of what they had been clinging to and hang onto Jesus instead. Yet others, like Peter and Andrew and James and John, found themselves making the same life-changing decisions that Jesus had—one day they’re fishing as usual and the next Jesus calls them and they leave home. At least they leave what they’d been doing, taking up fishing for people instead. They actually don’t go all that far away from home, at least not at first, but from that moment on, things are different.

We might wonder about this—to just get up and leave. It isn’t that easy—is it?  Who just gets up and leaves without some planning? All of this was risky—more risk than we might want to take. And it wasn’t just the change of location and vocation, this for that. Jesus, it says here, didn’t leave Nazareth until he’d heard that John had been arrested by Herod Antipas. Jesus understood that news as the call to take up John’s message to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” dangerous to deliver, as it turns out. Yet Jesus didn’t seem to count such costs—and the disciples didn’t seem to, either, not that day at least. Jesus made his decision at his baptism and his conviction was confirmed in the wilderness. The disciples heard the call and simply responded by leaving their nets behind. That decision is the turning point of their lives, as they go from fishing in their little corner of Galilee to preaching and teaching and healing and evangelizing eventually in the farthest reaches of the Roman world. As we, too, follow Christ, we can’t both go with him and stay put; we have to leave our nets behind.

And yet even as the disciples leave the past behind, is it so different from what they had been doing? They are fishers of tilapia—Jesus makes them fishers of human beings. Before I answered the call to be a pastor, I worked in corporate communications—now I communicate on behalf of Christ. The call we receive may seem radical at first—but who we are and what we do and where we live may change less than what we say and what our priorities are. Answering Christ’s call where we are right now, becoming Christ’s people where we are right now, allows us to see the world as Jesus sees it. That view affects the way we deal with our families and how we settle disagreements with our friends—it affects our reaching out where we work to someone in need—and how we make decisions about the blessings God gives us.

Jesus calls us to “leave home,” as he and his disciples did. For some that means taking a missionary post halfway around the world. For some that means leaving the comfort of friends and family to reach out to people who are lonely and forgotten. For some that means leaving behind business as usual and bringing honesty and integrity to whatever work we do. For all of us, that call means leaving what’s most comfortable and easy and familiar, and taking the harder road of obedience to God, who asks us to put our faith and hope and trust in God rather than in ourselves. It means leaving behind our old selves and taking on a new self in Christ, knowing that all such calls are in God’s hands, and therefore, no matter what happens, all will be well.

This is hard to do—and isn’t just a one-time decision. In fact, if the first disciples are any indication, following Jesus can be a daily choice between this and that. Yet Jesus continues to call each of us to let go of what we’ve known and walk boldly into the unknown. We can do this, not because we’re so smart or so brave, but because we’ve caught a glimpse of what it will mean for us and for all of God’s creation. For “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.” For Jesus there was no going back—he answered the call and found himself in Jerusalem, tried, convicted, executed—and risen from the grave, the shadow of death forever wiped from the face of the earth. The dangers are real, and the risk is there, but for we who have sat long enough in darkness, light has dawned, the call has come and the risk is worth it.

Like those first disciples, Jesus has said to each of us, “Come and follow me.”  Exciting—because we’re connected with the One who never leaves us alone, who gives us hope, courage, strength, comfort, challenge and love. Scary—because discipleship requires us to leave behind all those nets we get tangled up in: our self-centeredness, our grudges, our fear. The call is different for each of us—for some it comes during college or while serving in the military, some through marriage and beginning a family, some through a crisis. And while many of us answer several calls over our lifetimes, there’s just one—one decision, one choice—that really matters. The question is, when Jesus calls us, what will we do?

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