The Rev. Courtney Reid, preaching
I come to you in the name of the one on whom all our hope is founded. Father Son and Holy Spirit. “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee...From that time on Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” When your friend and cousin has been arrested for challenging the empire, for angering the authorities with his calls to repentance and his talk of the kingdom of heaven, you might want to hunker down, lay low, resist stirring up trouble, but not Jesus. In the face of receiving news of John's arrest, Jesus leaves the wilderness, returns to Galilee and begins to call for repentance. Not a call for apologies and lament, but a call to return to God and follow God’s law, God’s good news. In leaving Judea, Jesus moves away from the center of political and religious power. He calls people to himself who have no power. He proclaims a vision that turns things upside down In the midst of Herod and his government attempting to silence the voice of John, Jesus begins his ministry and proclaims the inbreaking of God’s reign. From its onset, Jesus’s public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, confronts the empire which crushes and oppresses. Jesus brings the the good news of a God who sent us his beloved child to bring healing and wholeness, redemption and salvation to our broken lives and broken world. Into this work, Jesus calls others to join and today we hear Matthew’s version of the calling of the first four apostles - Peter, Andrew, James and John. “Follow me, I will make you fishers of people” Jesus says, and they immediately leave their father, their boats, and their nets and follow Jesus. Matthew spends no time telling us why these four fishers followed Jesus - their motivation, their rationale. Things we might all wonder about. But getting stuck there means we miss the point. They just go. No hesitation. No questions. Does this make them men of extraordinary courage, character, and faithfulness, something we could NEVER live up to. Not at all. These are the same apostles who will later doubt, deny, and abandon Jesus. They are as ordinary and fallible as the rest of us. And it’s important to know that fishing was no idyllic livelihood. Fishing in the Sea of Galilee was grueling, back breaking work, an insecure livelihood made more difficult by quotas, taxes and tolls required by the empire. Fishermen were among the lowest rungs of society trapped in a system that exploited and abused them. Conflict with the empire that taxed and stole from them was frequent. And it’s out of this situation that Jesus invites them to a new life. “Come and follow me, the kingdom of heaven has come near.” You don’t have to be part of Caesar’s empire. Biblical scholar Ched Myers writes, “Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” Jesus offers them the possibility of fishing in a new way, following a new livelihood, not for the benefit of the empire but in a way that looks forward to God’s reign. Come, follow me. Jesus’s call is to us as well. Turn away from injustice, from greed, from oppression and division. Turn away from the siren call of the empire. The empire that relishes divisions between people so that it might tighten its grip on power and control. The empire that hoards and misuses the resources of God’s creation. The empire that leaves destruction in its path. That believes war is the answer. The empire that believes people and relationships are disposable to be cast aside when no longer useful. The empire that believes terror and violence and poverty are all tools for it to use to maintain control. The empire doesn’t want us to turn away. It wants to control our lives, to keep us captive to its horror and to the never ending litany of bad news. But Jesus calls us to turn away, not to ignore or dismiss the oppression of the empire, but to repent, to turn away from its hold on us so that we might hear the good news and trust in the saving power of the one who announces God’s reign. Come, follow me. This is what it means to follow Jesus, to be a disciple. Discipleship is Jesus's call on our life and our response. It's not us defining our mission then inviting Jesus to tag along. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that "Discipleship is not an offer humans make to Christ. It is only God's call which creates the situation.” We all can name those whose lives clearly are an example of living fully in service to others, for the good of the world, who are following a call that to most of us may seem unimaginable, impossible - Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Oscar Romero, Cesar Chavez, Jean Donavan. You likely have your own list as well. And most of us are fortunate to have crossed paths with lesser-known persons who seem to have that same presence - using their gifts and skills and knowledge not for personal gain or fortune or recognition, but sharing the fate of God for the good of many, for the sake of the world. Come, follow me. Jesus calls all of us and we may experience that call as a gracious gift or a burden impossible to contemplate. And God does not promise that it will be easy, or without conflict, or without suffering. Disrupting the empire will get you in trouble. And that trouble led Jesus to the cross. The cross that Paul tells us is foolishness for those living in the grip of the empire but salvation for those who have turned toward Jesus. Repent, turn to me,says Jesus, for God’s reign is at hand. God’s reign of justice and peace. God’s reign where the hungry are fed and the captives are freed. God’s reign where the lowly are raised up and the mighty laid low. God’s reign where we are invited again and again to follow, to trust, and to be confident in Jesus’s saving message of healing and love. Come, follow me.