01/26/20 – Picture Perfect

PICTURE PERFECT

January 26, 2020
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Isa. 9:1-4; Ps.27; I Cor.1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-23
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

It is a prized memento to have one’s picture taken with a celebrity. Restaurants proudly display pictures of celebrities who have dined there. Celebrities, whether they are movie stars, athletes or political figures have power and we want power or access to it by association. We covet being known by the powerful. We want to have their ear and eye, their money, their network.  To be seen with these powerful people declares our own significance. Yet, to have your picture taken with someone who loses their good reputation can create problems, as we have seen in the news media today. The pictures once place on the internet, can be seen by millions of people multiplied by that unknown factor of how long the internet – or the world — lasts. After contemplating that possibility, I think I’ll stick to photos with family and friends, who have as little celebrity as I do.

Paul warned the congregation at Corinth that identifying with Christian leaders rather than Christ himself would negate the purpose and mission of the church. Church members at Corinth not only claimed to belong to other people, but the ones they named were those with some status. Apollos was a well-respected preacher and teacher. Peter was an esteemed apostle who had traveled with Jesus in his ministry. Paul, accepted as an apostle by virtue of his dramatic meeting with the risen Christ, was a great missionary, church planter, and theologian. Church members had attached themselves to these superstars of the faith because they had status. Paul pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that they were following messengers of Christ instead of Christ’s message. Our gospel reading takes us back to the source. In describing four disciples’ first encounter with Jesus, Matthew gives us a snapshot of what following Jesus looks like.

Matthew tells us that Andrew, Peter, James, and John were fishermen who first met Jesus in Capernaum at the end of their workday. They had been just going about their business to support themselves financially. Their work was so familiar, so routine they could do it in the dark. But suddenly, Jesus spoke to them. Matthew does not tell us if the fishermen had heard Jesus speak about the kingdom of God. The gospel writer does not tell us if they had even heard of Jesus. Surely there is more to the story. But all we get is what Matthew thought was important. The fishermen left their homes, their jobs, and everything that was familiar to them and followed Jesus because he invited them.

Jesus, it seems, did not have to promise them anything. He did not have to cajole or coerce them. He did not claim any special power, but the fishermen must have sensed that power to have left behind the security of what was known to follow a man who was leading them into the unknown. It would seem they were walking out of the light into darkness, but Matthew tells us it was just the opposite. He even quotes the prophet Isaiah to make sure his audience gets the message.

When Isaiah wrote these words read today, it is believed to have been around the 9th century B.C.E. (1) The Assyrian Empire had already conquered ten of the twelve tribes of Israel who lived in the Northern kingdom. Only the remaining two tribes living in the southern kingdom, Judah, remained of the once-mighty nation. Judah was experiencing the darkness of constant fear. The Assyrian army was poised at the borders ready to pounce. The people of Judah were literally living in “the shadow of death.” The quote from Isaiah would have triggered a strong collective memory for Jesus’ first-century Jewish audience.

Darkness and death are metaphors employed extensively in the Bible. There are many kinds of darkness that envelope us; and, death can be experienced without the cessation of breath and heartbeat. Perhaps the fishermen Jesus called that day were experiencing some kind of darkness. Perhaps what they were doing to make a living no longer seemed like really living. Why else would they have been so quick to drop their nets and follow Jesus?

The Greek word for “follow,” “akaloutheo,” appears 87 times in the Gospels. (2) That gives us a hint of the significance of what those fishermen did when Jesus invited them to follow him.  I believe what Matthew is telling us is that by immediately stopping what they were doing and following, these fishermen were doing what is necessary to begin a life of real discipleship. They gave up a profitable vocation. James and John gave up a family relationship that was, at least partly, based on obeying their father.  In contemporary terms, this would translate as doing what was expected of you by your family or society.

The repentance Jesus talked about was different from the repentance spoken about in John the Baptist’s sermons. When Jesus spoke of repentance, he spoke of turning around on the path one is on and following Jesus on his path to the kingdom of God. In these few verses, Matthew captures the challenge of accepting the Christian vocation. No, I do not mean becoming a priest or a pastor. The Christian vocation is discipleship, and like old age, ‘it isn’t for sissies.’

Being “fishers of people” seems awfully radical for we who are comfortable Christians and want to stay that way. What we need to understand is that Christian vocation doesn’t mean giving up a job nor does it mean giving up all that you possess. It means giving up everything that is standing in your way, preventing you, from following Christ. But, that can be a tall order. And yes, Jesus told his audiences, very often, our money and possessions are the biggest obstacles blocking our way. But there are others as well. Are we willing to give up some of that precious commodity, time? Are we willing to give up those unquestioned assumptions that make us feel superior? What about the privileges we have but are afraid to admit we enjoy too much to share with others?

Paul warned in his letter to the Corinthians that following any person, theology, or ideology except Christ would lead the church down the wrong path. Doing so would divide them and cause them to lose sight of their common vocation to follow Christ and lead others to Christ. Being in Christ meant being the body of Christ in the world as a congregation unified in its mission. Paul did not expect that the people that made up that congregation would become clones of one another. The first Christian congregations brought together people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures. Paul understood that the only thing that would unite them was their faithfulness to and love of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that this mark of their identity, this common vocation, must become their defining identity and purpose. Otherwise, they would soon lose the mission, which had first brought them together. Throughout history, whenever the Church has shifted its focus to worldly power it has lost sight of Christ and engaged in very un-Christian activities.

To follow Christ, we are called to a vocation of caring for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and those we see as strangers among us. We are called to love as Christ loves. Following Christ is more than selecting a certain set of ethics or beliefs. The Gospels give us a narrative of Christ’s teachings and the way he lived his life. We are not given a step- by -step guide as to how to navigate the day to day issues and challenges we face today. To figure that out we need to do as Jesus did — follow his actions. We need to pray, study, immerse ourselves in God’s world with a mind and heart set on shining light into the darkness by sharing God’s love, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, we are called to be healers in a broken world. We are called to break down walls that separate people from one another. We are called to forgive in a world that spills blood over perceived offenses, which occurred many generations past. We are called to love as Jesus loved.

As he did for his first disciples, Jesus has promised not only to lead the way for us but also to walk beside us on the journey, especially when the journey is traveled in darkness. It is in the dark times on the path that Christ shines the light of hope and assurance giving us the courage to go wherever he leads. We have walked in darkness, but we can see the light because Christ has set it before us to guide the way and to take others by the hand with us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

1.Tucker, Gene M., The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. VI, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2001, p.36.

2.Metzger, Bruce M. Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, New Edition
Theological Book Agency, Princeton, NJ, 1997, p.13

 

 

 © Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2020, All Rights Reserved
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