Lay Reading 26th January 2020 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matthew 4:12-23 – New beginnings
Today is January 26th and we are just over three weeks into 2020.
Did you make any resolutions this year? If you did, how are they holding up?
New Year’s resolutions can be big or small. Do any of these sound familiar?
This year, I will eat less, drink less, exercise more.
This year, I will put down my phone and pay more attention to the people around me.
This year, I will find a place to volunteer and make a difference in the world.
Making a New Year’s resolution can be similar to expressing repentance. We make New Year’s resolutions because we recognize our ongoing need for making a changing in our life.
Repentance is acknowledging we need to make a change in our life for God’s Kingdom.
We know that we aren’t living up to the full potential God is calling us to.
We are sorry for falling short, and we promise to do better in the future.
New Year’s Resolution – Repentance – very similar.
Now that three weeks have passed, we may already have to repent for not living up to the resolutions we made. But that’s okay: God always accepts our repentance. And that’s why we continue to turn toward God. God will always be there to welcome us back.
There’s more to repentance than personal conversion, however. Being sorry and promising to be better is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. In fact, the “being sorry” part of repentance really isn’t going to help you change your ways until you get an idea of what that the bigger picture is.
Repentance is about a new beginning.
The Bible is full of beginnings; in fact it is how the Bible begins – in the beginning God created.
Thus the human race begins with Adam and Eve, and begins again after the flood with Noah and his family. In old age, Abraham answers the invitation of God to go away from home and begin anew.
The Bible presents us with beginnings over and over again, until at the end a holy city comes down from heaven to earth, and its name is not Jerusalem, but New Jerusalem, for it is a place to begin anew, the start of what will be forever new so there will be no more “beginnings”.
Some of the beginnings in the Bible are known as call stories. A call story recounts how somebody was invited by God to begin something new and unexpected.
One day Andrew and Simon, James and John get up to start the beginning of their work day. They walk down to the sea, and cast nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It is a day like so many other days. Nothing special. These men have engaged in this same beginning of the day hundreds of times before. This is what they do, for they are fishermen.
Amid familiar water and nets and fresh fish, rough wood of boats, rhythmic motion of waves, in the midst of this familiarity, for these four men, a beginning takes place.
Jesus turns up at the waterside. Have they met him before, heard about him? It does not matter. Today, as he calls them, a beginning takes place. He glances at these working men with their nets and their hard-won catch, and announces a new beginning for them:
"Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." The four hear this and follow.
Like every other call story in the Bible, this one is an adventure. Other rabbis and teachers wait for disciples to come to them. This Rabbi Jesus goes out and finds his own. He looks, not among the likely candidates, the best and the brightest, but down at the docks, where he interrupts fishermen at their work.
An adventure is something that comes to us, that chooses us. Discipleship is the great adventure, for the one who comes to us and chooses us is great beyond all measure. We are taken away from predictable lives, plunged into adventure.
Are these four men - Andrew, Simon, James, and John - ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them, that chooses them for a new beginning, this adventure of a new beginning in discipleship?
Jesus at the waterside does not collect resumes; he does not check references. The personal histories of these four do not determine their futures. Christ's call means a new beginning. He takes a wide-open risk by inviting them. They do the same in their response.
Subsequent events do not demonstrate that they are particularly fit for their call. Simon, who will come to be known as Peter, betrays Jesus in an even more boldfaced way than all the rest. James and John, nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, not the most agreeable pair to have around, indulge in dreams about their own glory wondering who will sit at his right and on his left, missing the point completely when Jesus announces that being least is the path to greatness in his kingdom.
Andrew rarely appears again on the radar. Maybe his flaw is playing it safe. Yet Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them to share in his adventure, and to be partners with Jesus in what they finally become.
In the call to discipleship of these four fishermen they leave behind their familiar world.
The beginning of their discipleship with Jesus is the end of their former safety.
They leave behind old securities: the waterside, the boat, the nets, those days of fishing that gave them their identity.
And even old Zebedee, the father of James and John, stands astonished in the boat as his two sons suddenly walk away. The new beginning requires that they must walk away into the new future.
They may be afraid, but not so afraid that their faith does not lead them forward.
The Bible tells us of this beginning for the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they claim no knowledge. It truly is a new beginning.
In the same way, our discipleship means a new beginning, one that appears before us again and again. We keep experiencing the end of safety so that we may participate in a new world. We find ourselves engaged in an adventure, for however strangely, however unfamiliar, Christ comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to be the next new beginning in the world.
In our Gospel today, Jesus announces the new beginning of his ministry with the words, “Repent! For the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
And Jesus is calling us to join in this work of new beginnings. His invitation today is: Follow me. It is up to us to build God’s Kingdom and bring a new beginning into this world. It is an adventure because a new beginning means we don’t always know what happens next. But we know that as disciples of Jesus that he leads the way – we follow him – and he promises “I am with you always till the end of the age”.
The peace of God that surpasses all our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.