Readings: Matthew 4: 12-23; Isaiah 9: 1-4
Preacher: Ruth Martin
In planning an effective campaign you have know that the time is right, be in the right place, have the message ready and the resources, to carry it out.
At one level our Gospel story today has all the hallmarks of the planning and the start-up of a campaign. A campaign to recognise God, in and through Jesus, a call to action, the start of Jesus’ ministry. It is surely no coincidence that in our own current thinking about the mission for our parish, issues of timing, place and the message are in our minds.
The timing first of all. John the Baptist’s arrest was a catalyst it seems. John is the bridge in our scriptures between the old, prophet led communication of God’s will for God’s people, to God entering this work in a direct and human way through Jesus. The demise of John seems to galvanise Jesus. It is a turning point, just as from time immemorial lives changed by injustice, or loss galvanise campaigns.
Then the place; Matthew refer s to the land of Zebulon and Naphtali – connecting it to those marvellous words of Isaiah, the land that had been in darkness, linking the Hebrew prophets to the fulfilment of their prophesies , in place as well as the person of Jesus , as well as time.
Then the message; God’s kingdom is coming. In the next few chapters of Matthew we see what this kingdom will look like, the Sermon on the Mount blessings for the peacemakers and the poor in spirit, a different kingdom the one that most people would see as ‘kingly’.
Then the resources; the disciples, they have families, they are working, they respond swiftly to the call. In this Jesus disrupts but does not destroy, the way people have been living their lives. The kingdom of God does not exist to serve the family, but the family exists to serve God’s kingdom; the goal of the Kingdom is not to make us more productive in our work, but our work will be more effective when it expresses the will of God. The patterns of our lives are not made safe by God; God wants to rearrange them to suit God. Peter and Andrew do not stop being brothers, they leave their fishing nets, but they do not stop fishing; the past has not been wiped out, it has been transformed for God.
So where do we stand as disciples? At this time, in this place? I was really struck by the fact that Jesus called his disciples, in this Gospel reading, two by two. We hear about how the first four were called.
Here is one of my own links with this story.
The last time that I was out as a Street Pastor, two weeks ago, we needed four of us but there were only three. We keep together as a group but if there is any situation we can work in pairs. This particular night we did not have a man on the team either, and I was the youngest of the three ‘gals’ as we were called that night, and it was raining, steadily. We had only just called our prayer pastors to say we were on our way back at the end of the shift, around 2.15 in the morning when we had two very different situations to deal with outside Richmond train station. Firstly a gay couple who had been to Germany for the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide, with the funeral starting at the place where he had done so, which neither of them has expected. They were moderately drunk but very distressed and we were talking to them, when a very drunk and very young lady lay down on the pavement nearby and started kicking at anyone going past and some of her kicks landed on people who, being rather inebriated themselves , started kicking back. She then started walking or rather swaying across the main road, and repeating the same behaviour at the bus stop. We could not deal with both at once as we were only a 3, and it was now nearly 3 in the morning, and the young girl was the most vulnerable. In leaving our couple and going to sort her out, we offended the couple, who accused us of being homophobic in not continuing to talk with them and meet their need.
Had we been four and not three, we could have done both. That there were only three of us at that time in that place, curtailed what we could do for God.
Epiphany is , I think the most exciting season of the year; at Christmas we celebrate God made human, revealed in the baby Jesus, foretold by the wonderful words of Isaiah we heard to today; but Epiphany is when we celebrate seeing that great light, turning from darkness to light, and recognising God in our midst …..
The earliest disciples we hear about today saw Jesus in the flesh; they connected with the urgency of the message and turned their lives around. The flash of recognition could not have been so different to the conversion of Paul, which was celebrated by the church yesterday, a flash of light so bright on the road to Damascus that it blinded him. And he had to be led back into seeing again being utterly dependent on the followers of Jesus. There are people today who have that same suddenness of call, but for many, it is a slow dawning, a realisation. We do not have to abandon those we love, or abandon our past, but we have to allow our gifts and our personal past to be used for God’s priorities and not ours. At the heart of our lives as disciples is transformation.
Jesus recognised that his ministry had to start when John was arrested, the end of the old ways, the beginning of the new. It requires a radical trust, the trust that Paul had to have. As we plan our own next stages in our ministry in this parish, the call to us across the years is the same as it was for peter and Andrew; ‘ follow me and I will make you fishers of people’. Tomorrow for example is a recruitment evening for Street Pastors
The image of fishing for new followers of Jesus implies an explicit evangelism that can make most of us shudder. But coming alongside others, sharing the love of God in our own lives, being comfortable about expressing and owning our own faith, all helps others draw closer to God and makes it more likely that, in time, their own discipleship can dawn. That is the kind of fishing we do on a Friday night as Street pastors.
The question for each of us is how I can respond, at this time, in this place, to the message that the kingdom of heaven drawing near is through people like you and me, turning our lives to God’s ways and making that known. That is the gift that we can bring as the season of Epiphany draws to a close.