(Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)
When I get home and I think other members of the family are home, as I walk into the house, I yell out, “Hello!” Sometimes, even if there are other family members at home, I don’t get a response, either because they are in my vicinity but focused on something else, or because they are not in my vicinity and so they don’t hear me.
Well, this is kind of what Jesus is doing in the reading from Matthew. Matthew 4:17 states, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.” Jesus returned to Galilee and shouted “Hello!” to get everyone’s attention, except his hello was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
After his first, “Hello!” of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” he continued with other “hellos.” He saw Peter and Andrew fishing and called out, “Hello!” except this hello was, “Come, follow me.” And, then, he saw James and John fishing and called out, “Hello!” and invited them, also, to come and follow him.
After these hellos, he continued with other hellos: teaching hellos, preaching hellos, and healing hellos. He traveled throughout Galilee calling out, “Hello!”
Jesus began his ministry and mission by calling to those around him. But what was he calling to tell them? He was calling to tell them he had arrived: “I’m here!” And he was calling to tell them that “the kingdom of God is near.” And he was calling to tell them the central characteristics of the kingdom of God, which are: people are gathered together, people are taken care of, and people are healed.
When Jesus calls, he calls us to these things: 1) himself and the 2) kingdom of God, which is brought near through community, care, and healing. What this all adds up to is discipleship.
The dictionary definition of disciple is: 1) one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another; and 2) a convinced adherent of a school or individual. How do we become a disciple of Jesus?
First, we have to hear his call. That happens in different ways for different people.
- Some are born into a family that attends church and they learn about Jesus through being raised in a church. These people hear Jesus call and they continue to listen to his call.
- Some are born into a family that attends church and they learn about Jesus through being raised in a church, but they stop going to church at some point. Later on in life, something happens and they decide to go back to church. These people hear Jesus call, they stop listening to the call, but when the need arises, they hear the call again.
- Some people have not had the opportunity to hear Jesus call. They may have heard about Jesus, but they’ve never heard him themselves. But, one day, they hear him themselves and respond.
After we’ve heard Jesus call and responded positively, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, we begin our committed relationship with Jesus. Again, that looks different for different people. Jesus calls all of us to follow him.
For Peter, Andrew, James, and John, that meant following him literally! They walked with him throughout the years he had left on the Earth, wherever it was he went: Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, South Lebanon, and other places we may not even know about.
Jesus isn’t here in body at this time, so following him isn’t as straightforward as it was for the original disciples! Instead of walking with him, literally, we walk with other disciples in a church. You see, Jesus’ actual body is not here on Earth anymore, but his spiritual body is: the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, and each church is a part of that body. So, Canton Community Baptist Church is a part of the Body of Christ. When we walk with each other here at CCBC, we are walking with Jesus and following his call.
Once we have heard Jesus, responded to his call, and are walking with him, he calls us to particular tasks, which will be different for each person depending on who that person is. Jesus takes into consideration the gifts of each person as he calls people to follow him. If we look at who is in our church and what they are doing, we can see this. Some are gifted musicians. Some are gifted with stewardship. Some are gifted with handling money. Some are gifted with hospitality. Some are gifted with organizational skills. Some are gifted with noticing what needs to be done and doing those things. Some are gifted with children. Some are gifted with teaching. And so on. Jesus calls us to particular tasks based on the gifts we have.
He also takes into consideration what each person needs to grow spiritually. Maybe you’re good at something but don’t have any confidence. Jesus may call you to do that thing so that you have to confront yourself, grow in self-respect, and use that gift to glorify God. Maybe you don’t think you have what it takes to do something but Jesus thinks you do, so he calls you to it even though you don’t want to do it! Now you have to confront your willfulness. Can you follow him even though you’d rather not?
How do we know when Jesus is calling us to something? It can be hard to tell, but a good barometer is whether you continue to feel pulled toward something. Is there something tugging at your heart, or mind, or spirit? Do you keep dreaming of something? Does the same thing keep showing up in your life? That may just be Jesus calling you to follow him – whether you want to or not!
Of course, what Jesus calls you to do can change over time. It’s not set in stone. We have to keep listening, which is why we pray, read scripture, worship, sing, study, and so on. We keep our eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and spirits open.
Jesus also calls churches to tasks, based on the gifts and talents in the church and on where it is located. Who are the members of the church? What are their strengths and weaknesses? To what is Jesus calling each person? Is there someone with a burning desire to move in a particular ministry direction? What is the community surrounding the church like? What are its needs and desires? Who are our neighbors? Are we being good neighbors to them? We have discussion and prayer meetings two or three times a year so that we can listen and discuss the ways that Jesus is calling each of us so that we can discern the ways in which Jesus is calling our church.
What if we don’t all agree to move in a particular ministry direction? What if one person feels called to move in a direction with which someone has a problem? Does that mean we don’t do it? No. It means we continue with discussion and prayer, and maybe we even add study into that situation, so that we can learn what the Bible and scholars have to say. Over time, it will become clear whether our church, as a whole, is being called to that particular ministry.
During the discernment process, conflict may occur in the church. That’s ok. Jesus had conflict with his disciples (remember “get thee behind me Satan”?) and the disciples had conflict among themselves (remember when they argued over which of them would be the greatest in heaven?). Wherever human beings are, there is the possibility of conflict! We can disagree, we can be conflicted, and we can still be the Body of Christ. Colossians 1:17 states, “He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.” The Body of Christ is able to hold all things together. It is big enough and flexible enough and strong enough to do so, for it is LOVE, and LOVE has the power to transform the negative into the positive. The challenge is to remember this and to continue to love one another in the midst of conflict. 1 Peter 4:8 states, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
Jesus calls us over and over again, as individuals and as churches, to notice him; to notice the kingdom of heaven that is near; to work to make the kingdom of heaven present through community, care, and healing; and to follow where he leads while doing so.
All of this can sound complicated, but it usually happens naturally as we live faithfully as disciples. Something to keep in mind, however, as we walk our disciple journey, is the imagery of “light” surrounding Jesus. The Isaiah reading states, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined” (9:2). Psalm 27:1 exclaims, “The Lord is my light and my salvation . . .”. And Matthew 4:16 proclaims, “[T]he 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.” If we are listening and responding to Jesus’ call faithfully, we will always be working toward light, bringing light, or being light. If we are working toward darkness, bringing darkness, or being darkness, then we have to examine whether we are following Jesus’ call or someone else’s. Sure, if there is conflict it may feel or be dark for a time, but the end result should be the illumination of the mind, heart, spirit, or, even, body (in the form of physical healing). We may walk through darkness, but the destination should be light. Psalm 30:5 states, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Jesus comes to us and calls out, “Hello!” May we not be too busy or too distracted or too far away to hear him. May we hear and respond to his call. May we say with our words and our lives, “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here. Now, what would you like us to do?” Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, January 22, 2017, the Third Sunday After Epiphany.
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