Emanuel Lutheran Church. January 22, 2023 Third Sunday After Epiphany The text is Matthew 4:12-23.
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the 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.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the Third Sunday after Epiphany, but that would lead us to believe that there was only one of these revelations that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
Granted, the epiphany of the Wise Men is celebrated as the primary acknowledgement of Jesus as King, and figures prominently in the doctrine of the Christian faith. But there were epiphanies’ before the Wise Men came to honor Jesus, and untold realizations of Christ’s nature have come about in the time since. Undoubtedly, Jesus’ mother Mary was the first to know of the divinity of her unborn child. Her husband, Joseph accepted this news after the angel assured him that the soon-to-be-born Jesus was God’s Son. When Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, the child Elizabeth is carrying leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth tells Mary that she is honored by the presence of the mother of the Lord.
Fast forward thirty years and John the Baptist now proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the Anointed One, the lamb who has come to take away the sin of the world. And, this morning’s gospel recounts the calling of Jesus’ first disciples; obviously, they have each experienced their own epiphany about Jesus. So, while we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the epiphany of the Three Wise Men, we should keep in mind that theirs is not the only realization of Christ as the Son of God. In fact, each one of us has had this same epiphany, or else we wouldn’t be here this morning. So, I invite you to consider your own epiphany, your realization and acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, and we’ll come back to this after you’ve had a few moments to think about it.
John the Baptist has caused quite a stir in the Jewish community, and many people aren’t very happy with the message he has been proclaiming. He announces, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” He is letting people know that God has come into the world and that they must change the way they are living, in response to this inbreaking of the Divine. The religious authorities respond to John’s proclamation by arresting him, and that is where we pick up the story this morning. Jesus has left the area of the Jordan and has begun to preach in Galilee. His proclamation echoes that of John the Baptist, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!”. Coming from Jesus however, this pronouncement has much greater meaning. For it is Jesus himself who has come into the world; the heavenly kingdom is represented on earth by God’s Son.
This is the proclamation he makes prior to calling his first disciples. And it is the pronouncement that will inspire epiphanies for two millennia. It is the calling of his first disciples that initiates Jesus’ ministry and sets in motion his mission to change the world; for indeed, the kingdom of heaven has come near, in the person of Christ Jesus. Brothers Andrew and Simon Peter leave their nets behind to follow Jesus, to become fishers of people. They, and Zebedee’s sons, James and John are absolutely ordinary individuals, whose identity has been forever changed. Once they were fishermen; now they are disciples of Jesus Christ. They have been called, they have experienced the epiphany that acknowledges for them who Jesus is, and they are now part of his ministry. They have entered into a new relationship; their previous lives are abandoned and they have assumed a new identity as followers of Christ.
This call, this invitation to join with Jesus results in a complete disruption of their lives. Imagine what it must have been like to abandon their livelihoods, and in the case of James and John, to walk away, leaving their father sitting alone in their fishing boat. And they wouldn’t be the last, for Jesus will eventually call the twelve who become his closest disciples, the apostles he sends out to preach the gospel; to tell the world that the heavenly kingdom has, in fact come near. Yet, as Matthew tells us they did so “immediately”; so persuasive was the call they heard from Jesus, the call to follow him, even at the abandonment of their former identities. They left everything behind to follow Jesus’ call to enter into relationship with him.
In church circles, the word “call” figures quite prominently; Pastors are issued a “Letter of Call” from the congregations they serve. And it is said that any who engage in ministry are answering the call, they are responding to an invitation from the Holy Spirit to serve God’s people in whatever circumstance they are needed. But this isn’t limited to clergy or others whose vocation is focused on the church. Every person who has experienced the epiphany that Jesus Christ is the Son of God has, in some manner been “called” to discipleship, to a relationship with Jesus, and to service to others. All are called to follow Christ. You have all been called.
A few moments ago, I asked you to consider your own epiphany, when it became clear to you that Jesus is God incarnate, and what that realization means for your life. In some way, you might not even recall when it happened, but just like the first fishermen Jesus called, you were invited to follow Jesus. “Follow me” he said to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John; and he says the same to you. You have been “called” by Jesus Christ to enter into relationship with him, to become his disciple, to share his gospel for the good of all. How you answer that call is completely up to you; we are all called, yet God gives us the free will to decide how we respond to the offer Jesus makes to us.
You haven’t needed to leave your father behind to try to keep the family fishing business going while you left with Jesus in answer to his call to follow. You didn’t abandon your nets to “immediately” follow Jesus as he began his mission of preaching, teaching, and healing. You didn’t answer Jesus’ call even though you felt “nothing good could come out of Nazareth” like Nathanael thought, yet he followed Jesus anyway. You didn’t walk away from your cushy job as a tax collector for the Romans as Matthew did, in response to the call from Jesus. But… you have been called.
How have you answered this call up to now? How will you respond to it today, and tomorrow, and every day in the future? This is an important question and one that each of us must solemnly consider. The call to follow Jesus may not require the kind of sacrifices made by former fishermen or tax collectors two thousand years ago, but the call to discipleship is no less genuine and no less profound today. And it all centers on relationship; with Jesus, with those close around us with whom we share our faith, and perhaps most importantly with those whom we have not yet met. Jesus offered Simon Peter and Andrew the opportunity to “fish for people”, that is, to spread the Good News of Jesus’ mission to others; it’s the same job we’ve been called to do.
It’s safe to say that the wider Christian church, the national ELCA, the New England synod, and Emanuel Lutheran, here in Worcester, are all answering Jesus’ call to participate in the mission of spreading the gospel.
In many ways the hungry are being fed, those without garments are being clothed, and those without homes are given shelter. This is what the church is called to do, in response to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me”. But Jesus didn’t call a whole church, or a synod, or an entire denomination; he called individual people to be his disciples. And this is truly how the work gets done, by ordinary people, who just like the first disciples were willing to disrupt their lives to follow Jesus. People who are willing to abandon their former identity to accept a new one, that of disciple of Jesus Christ. You are here today because you have had an epiphany and you have been called by Jesus. What are you going to do about it?
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, we have heard the call of your Son, who invites us into relationship with you. Help and guide us as we seek to serve you as the hands and feet of Christ. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who invites us to follow him as his disciples.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.