Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, Jan 22, 2107

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
January 22, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1,5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Last week, we read from the Gospel of John.  John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus walking by as the Messiah, upon whom John had seen the Spirit of God descend and remain.  Two of John’s disciples followed Jesus, and asked him where he was staying.  If you recall, Jesus said only “Come and see” – an invitation, not a direct or plain answer.  Something about the whole situation they found, convinced Andrew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah – convinced him well enough to go find his brother, Simon Peter, to tell him he, too, should come and see Jesus.

Today we get a different version of Andrew and Peter joining Jesus – miles away, and we don’t know how much later.  What we do know from Matthew’s telling is that after John baptized him, he went into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by Satan.

At some point thereafter, John was “delivered up” and put in prison.  We don’t know where Jesus was when he heard the news; Matthew just said, “he returned to Galilee.”  In the next sentence – and again, we don’t know how long it was after he had returned to Galilee, Jesus left Nazareth and “went and lived in Capernaum,” and “from that time on he began to proclaim ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

There’s lots of room for speculation in this version of the story for the time between Jesus’ baptism and the time he began to preach.  One might, although I wouldn’t encourage it, even suppose that Andrew and Peter wandered off after their first meeting, and only returned when Jesus called them on the shore of the Sea.  I don’t encourage this because each of the Gospels has a decided point of view, and conflating them obscures each unique perspective – and examining any story from different perspectives generally gives greater food for thought.

John’s Gospel proceeds from Andrew and Simon Peter’s arrival directly to Jesus calling Philip, and Philip, like Andrew telling Simon, in his turn told Nathanael; who famously asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Philip’s answer echoed Jesus’ own: “Come and see!”  In John’s Gospel, there are no temptations.  Jesus already knows his mission and purpose and identity.  John’s Jesus doesn’t need the devil to test and prove who he is.

But Matthew has a different project – a journey of discovery.  First the lengthy retreat and the hard questions, then beginning to teach and preach and proclaim, honing the message, getting to the meat: turn around, heaven’s just over here…  And, finally, gathering his “crew” – his support staff and students, those who will carry on when Jesus is gone.  Everyone who joins him has a story, a struggle, a style all his or her own.

Just as each of us does. 

Jesus called them together – not just the men, but the women who came along, and the folks from villages and towns all over the map – Jews and Gentiles, young men and maidens, elders and mothers and small children – Jesus called them together and they became a walking, talking, praying, singing, rejoicing, healing, and vibrant community.

There are a few differences between them and us: 

  • they were all on the move, all the time, and we are settled
  • many of them they were with him every day for extended periods of time, while we gather about once a week, when we can make it, and
  • we have a set format for our time together, while they took life as it came at them along the road, all jumbled and disorganized and surprising as only life can be.

Last week, I talked about how Jesus was always “at home” with the Father and the Spirit.  He “stayed” with the Godhead.  And those followers of his?  If they traveled with him, they were with him all the time.  He became home for them.

Turn around, heaven is so very near!

St. Paul described this all as foolishness.  That makes me want to laugh, but it puzzles me as well. 

We take GOD so seriously!  So many Christians are focused on obedience and righteousness and even judgment.  But Paul says the Gospel is foolishness “to those who are perishing.”

Who are those who are perishing, to whom the cross is foolishness?

Timothy F. Sedgewick writes, “The gospel is given in the cross as self-sacrifice, giving up oneself in response to and care for the other, the cross as bearing the burdens of others – not as self-denial and resignation but in joy and thanksgiving.”[1]

We only learn what that means by living it. This isn’t doctrine, right belief; this is action, living with an open heart. 

Life changes us when we let it, when we open ourselves, body, heart, mind, and soul, to the adventures life sends us.  Some of the things that happen are hurtful or painful; others give joy and laughter.  We are shaped and molded not just by the events that happen to us, but by the things we do to, for, or with others.  We are shaped and molded by the attitudes and perspectives we bring to bear.  We are shaped and molded and changed and matured by trials, by challenges, by graces shared and graces given, by relationships, and by the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our awareness.

Turn around, heaven is just here…

Are we looking for it?  You cannot find what you do not seek.  You will not hear if you fail to listen.

The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing – who cannot see that the giving of oneself is the path to life – who cannot accept that what they gather must be shared – who follow the rules instead of their hearts – who frown when they should laugh, who growl when they should dance, who judge when they should love.

Our recent election shows all the ways in which we are a divided people – but our faith in Jesus Christ shows all the ways in which we are the same: for it is in being loved, we able to love; and it is in being valued, we are able to value others. 

If we so choose.

Turn around, heaven is right here, in reach, around us, filling us with possibility and hope and strength and courage and … love.

Come and see.




[1] Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1

  January 2018  
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