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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mt 04 12-23 Calling for Change

The scripture's about change. Here, thousands of years before the scientists, is scripture proclaiming that the global climate is changing. But not in the way atmospheric scientists say. Scripture says the global climate of is changing because of Jesus. Jesus is change.

Verse 12: "Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested,"

Jesus's cousin, John the Baptizer, has been thrown in jail for criticizing the fake royal family. That's a sign change is coming. For centuries, the prophets had proclaimed the coming Messiah. Now, the last great prophet has been silenced. The age of prophets is over. Things have changed.

More verse 12 and 13: "he (Jesus) withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,"

Jesus moves. Anyone moved or helped someone move? That's change. Jesus moves to "the road by the sea, across the Jordan, to Galilee of the Gentiles." Anyone connecting the Old Testament dots would remember that's where the prophets said the Messiah would come from: Galilee of the Gentiles. Jesus crosses the Jordan River, the river of repentance. "Attraversiamo" for those of you who liked "Eat, Pray, Love." Jesus crosses over. He doesn't cross over to a better neighborhood; he crosses over to what's essentially another world. He crosses from the land of his ancestors to the land of the Gentiles. Jesus begins his change of the world by changing his personal world.

It says in verse 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." Jesus starts his ministry among the aliens. Jesus isn't preaching to the choir; the choir's way back across the river where he came from. Jesus is preaching to everybody. The good, the bad, the ugly: everybody. By this Jesus is religious. And Jesus is political. Jesus is international. He's changing everything.

Verses 18 & 19:
"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. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.""

Verse 20 says, "Immediately they left their nets and followed him."

Not only is Jesus changing the landscape of faith, he's changing the people he meets. Simon Peter and Andrew, then James & John. They're dropping everything and following him. Jesus is changing people.

He's also changing the message. Backup to verse 17, which says, "From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.""
John used to tell people that the kingdom was COMING near; Jesus tells them that it HAS. Jesus changes the message from "fixin' to happen," to "happening, right now. Right in front of your face." Jesus changes people, and Jesus changes the message.

Jesus also changes how the the message is proclaimed. He's a new kind of preacher. He doesn't just stand up and talk on Sabbath mornings. Here's how he preaches (Verse 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."

Instead of staging an inquisition, instead of wagging his finger, instead of grousing about how bad the world is, Jesus proclaims the good news of the kingdom, and cures every disease and sickness. For Jesus, preaching and healing go hand in hand. You have to remember, the Bible didn't originally have punctuation, so it's hard to know sometimes where one idea ends and another begins. Maybe the good news itself was so good its proclamation helped cure every disease and sickness. Maybe the teaching, preaching, and healing were three parts of the same thing; different, but interdependent. Jesus changed the proclamation.

All of this is a huge change. A change of global proportions. Jesus isn't just the light at the end of the tunnel. He's the light reaching into the tunnel to pull people out. To the people of his time, this is totally new. Jesus is reaching out to the people who are outsiders. He's reaching out to the people who are sick. He's reaching down to the people covered in the sludge of life. He's digging in the dirt and finding people buried up to their necks in rubble. He's fishing for people in the best possible way. And the people are jumping into warm light of the boat as fast as they can. Many are basking in the glow, but some people are helping Jesus pull out more people. Simon-Peter and Andrew, James & John and who knows how many others are helping Jesus spread the good, healing news of change.

A changed landscape. A changed religious climate. A changed neighborhood. A changed message. Changed people. A changing world. The scripture's about change.

Which is weird because I don't know many people who love change. Some of you may be adrenaline junkies. Oh, come on. We're Presbyterians. But you know what our old school motto is? "Reformata Semper Reformanda." Reformed and Always Reforming. Historically, Presbyterians really like change. Just decent and orderly change. Change after it's been through a few thousand committees and voted on by a bunch of assemblies. We love change. Slow, incremental, imperceptible change.

I'm guessing the world is more complicated in 2011 than it was in 21. You can't just drop your nets and walk away from your job, your home, your family. You might want to sometimes. But you can't. They'll call you names and put you on medication. I don't think scripture gives us the example of of the fishermen dropping it like it's hot as a model for all discipleship. Gospel writers didn't have time to flesh out everyone's narrative and parchment was really expensive. The story's actually more nuanced than dramatic.

First. Stop feeling inadequate because you can't change everything to follow Jesus. Jesus finds fishermen. But he doesn't make them stop fishing. He just changes what they're fishing for. Instead of fishing for fish, he has them start fishing for people.

I've got a friend in the presbytery. He's an engineer. He worked long, hard hours to save up enough money so he could retire when he was 50. You know what he's doing now? He's working long, hard hours as a full-time volunteer engineer and home-builder for Habitat for Humanity. He still has his house, still has his wife and kids, still takes care of his responsibilities; he's just fishing (or, engineering) in a changed way.

Second. Stop feeling inadequate because you're not an expert in church, scripture, and all things religious. Jesus picked fishermen, and seemed to pick them somewhat randomly. "I'll take you, and you, and... OK, your brother, too." He didn't pick professional clergy? Why? Because he wanted to get things done.

I saw this story on the news the other day about a group of ladies who started making pillowcase dresses for little girls in Africa. It was a sewing group that met in the church basement. One of the ladies had seen picture of little girls in Africa dressed in rags. She heard that in many countries, a little girl with torn and tattered clothes is a prime target for being abused. So she got the group to start making dresses out of pillow cases. She says, "We are not only making dresses that are going to maybe be the first dress she's ever experienced, and that will make her feel loved, and special and cared for, but also a dress that could be potentially protecting her." Now, you won't find those words in scripture. But you will find words about clothing the naked, and protecting little children, and giving dignity to the poor. The work of that one sewing group has turned into a nationwide movement. If you want to find out more, go to www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com.

And again, it's not like these women threw their sewing machines in the lake in order to follow Jesus. They're like the fishermen, who just changed what they were fishing for. They proved, as did the fishermen, that you don't have to be an expert in the Bible to be an expert on Jesus.

Third. Stop feeling like you have to use words to preach sermons. Don't feel inadequate because every third word out of your mouth isn't "Jesus." Remember the third part of Jesus's ministry wasn't teaching or preaching; it was healing.

In all my years of ministry, I've never once had someone call up and say, "Oh, I have a fever of 103 and I'm in tremendous pain. Would you come sit by my bedside and read one of those sermons to me?" Unless you're suffering from chronic insomnia, that's not going to cure you. You know what you need? You need some chicken noodle casserole. You need some of that legendary bread that Connie makes. You need a card or a phone call that says, "Hey, we're praying for you." To be a fantastic preacher of the gospel, you don't have to use words; you just have to use cream of mushroom soup and add whatever's in the fridge. Again, you don't have to change what you're doing; you just have to change where it's going.

Jesus doesn't pick religious experts; Jesus picks people with a talent and transforms them into disciples.

So, you don't like change. Good. Because God doesn't need you to change. God wants you to let what's good in you be transformed - not changed - transformed into service of the Lord.