The Harder They Come

sermon RKP 012614

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles 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.”  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  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.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  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.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  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.  Matthew 4:12-23

Last week we heard Jesus say, “Come and See.”  Which we learned that Jesus was ultimately saying, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.  And we will change this world together.”  This makes the most sense if one believes that this world is indeed in need of change.

One would need to accept the idea of sin as inequality, injustice, and oppression within human systems that impede The Kingdom of God from full manifestation in the world right here, right now.  This is generally more pressing for those that are being oppressed, experiencing injustice, or bound in those human systems that deny full equality.  Those that are bound in these human systems are separated and dominated for the benefit of power.  This power is what Jesus was offered from Satan when he was in the wilderness after his baptism.  This power is privilege and privilege is the root of sin.

Today we encounter Jesus telling more folks to, “Come and See.”  He is continuing his counter cultural march towards his ultimate death in Jerusalem.  He is calculated and unflinching in his action.  On his march towards the cross, Jesus is challenging power and privilege along the way.  Jesus is pushing back against the religious elite of his day making way for a new path for God to emerge.

What Jesus is doing screams in the face of how it’s always been.  Jesus rebukes tradition and demands that the power tied up in leadership be disseminated broadly.  Now replace First Century Palestine with Twenty First Century US and Disciples, Pharisees, and Sadducees with Presbyterians, Lutherans, or Methodists.

Jesus turns over the moneychangers tables in the temple declaring that these wolves have invaded the House of God with greed.  Peter affirms the place of Gentiles in the church and challenges the primacy of Jewish authority.  Paul abandons his role as part of the religious elite to minister to Gentiles and grow the church away from Palestine.  The church splits to East and West over doctrinal differences, each pointing fingers of disapproval.  Iconoclasts are displeased with the religious art and imagery of the Iconodules.  Re-baptizers muddy the church waters with demands of higher righteousness.  Martin Luther nails 95 theses on a door and transforms the church.  Reformers break off further over music, sacraments, and organizational structures.  From Palestine to North Africa to Constantinople to Rome to Avignon to Canterbury to New York to Dallas to Mexico City to São Paulo to Accra to Nairobi to Kerala to Beijing…the church keeps turning.  This is the church reformed, always reforming.

Change is part of our DNA.  Change is something that our faith is rooted in.  Jesus prescribes change at all levels of society.  The Gospel at its core is change embodied, a road map of change.  We see in today’s Gospel, change is something we participate in.  We are change agents.  Change begins when we drop what we are doing and follow Jesus.

Accepting the call to follow Jesus in change is about the last time we have full control over anything.  We do not get to dictate what that change will be.  As Christians this change is laid out before us.  As agents of change we are actors in the grand reclamation of the beautiful intimacy between Creator and creation.

Jesus will use whom ever he choses to bring about change.  More often than not, Jesus uses the outsiders of society, the broken, the lame, and the lost.  Jesus reclaims the brokenness bound up in income disparity.  Jesus convicts the religious elite by offering wholeness outside of its control.  Jesus proclaims that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Jesus calls a few fishermen and a tax collector to be the inner circle of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

From the ranks of the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the faithful, and the downtrodden come prophets, priests, and workers that transform this world as we hurl towards the promise of a new day.  We look to the hills, desperate for help.  Faithful we have been.  For 30, 40, 50, and sometimes 60 years we darkened the halls of church.  We have filled that pew and dedicated our life to the ways of God.  Sometimes that change feels like we are being left behind.

No one likes to be left behind or forgotten.  When we feel left behind or forgotten we may close ourselves off from the very thing that God is working in us.  We build up walls to those that seem different than us.  We isolate ourselves.  We may become judgmental of those engaging in change.  We forget the grace we have received and move away from that pool of grace we once calmly waded in.  The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

You see we are called to be love in the world, love that illuminates the saving grace of the Christ.  If we feel left behind by the changes happening around us, perhaps it is a call to affirm the good works of today with the story of the good works of yesterday.  Church is not a monolithic statue to our Beloved Creator but a diverse and complex witness of faith of all saints that strive and have strove to be lights of the Kingdom of God.  Dr. King said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”

Change is gonna come.  How do we engage change in a manner that no one is left behind?  Community is the answer.  We offer space to those that feel left behind or tired from the long journey here.  We offer space to listen to those with energy and creativity that will take us in to tomorrow.  We couple the us and them and fashion a we.  Everyone has a place in church for There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

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