Radical Discipleship

Radical Discipleship

Sometimes the assigned lectionary readings obviously go together.  The weeks where the Hebrew Lesson, the Psalm, the Epistle, all contain a theological theme are easy to hear what the message of the week should be.  This Sunday’s passages from Isaiah and Matthew speak to a time we have been waiting for now being here.  They speak to a joyful time when burdens will be lifted and God’s realm will arrive.

The passage from Isaiah is a passage with which we are all familiar, we often read it during Advent as we liturgically wait for the birth of Jesus our Messiah each year.  It is a passage of expectation when comfort and joy will arrive and oppression will be no more.

And the phrase of those who have lived in great darkness now are in light links the passage found in Isaiah to the passage in Matthew.  In this passage, John has just been arrested which spurs Jesus into beginning his ministry.  Clearly the writer of Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the person and force that will usher in this time of light that is prophesied in Isaiah.

Listen now for the Gospel lesson for today found in Matthew 4:12-23.

12 Now when Jesus[a] 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.”[b] 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[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Jesus is beginning his ministry.  He was baptized, went into the desert to in essence to wrestle with his faith.  And during his time in the wilderness, his faith grew strong and his sense of purpose was defined.  He begins his ministry. And Jesus begins like a racer at the starting blocks, with force and determination and zeal.  He preaches that God’s time, God’s realm, God’s Kingdom is not in some far off time generations from now but is hear now with us.

And his speech is compelling.  In fact, it is so compelling that Zebedee’s sons Simon and Peter, after hearing Jesus talk, leave their father immediately, and leave behind their old life for a new one.  And instead of being fishermen become fishers of people.  We are a congregation that has been called to discipleship as well.  The radical call is to see Jesus as the light of the world that was prophesied in Isaiah.  It means that faith in the knowledge that God’s love will scatter the shadows of the world.  It means working to be unified in an ethic of love.

And then Jesus calls two other brothers ad they too follow him.  The story of these four young men does sound radical, I mean they just left their boats and nets to follow Jesus.  But perhaps the story can help us in our personal faith journeys as it requires us to look at our lives and see if we have boats we need to leave behind.  Are their metaphorical anchors in our lives of which we need to be freed?  I think the story isn’t so much about what is is we leave behind as it is to free ourselves of them in order that we can eagerly follow the teachings of Jesus.

We need to ask ourselves what the phrase the Kingdom or realm of God being here and now means in our lives?  It begs the question of who rules our lives and our world?  It means we must ask ourselves what forces, what motives, what interests, and what loyalties guide our daily actions.  And those are difficult questions to ask and I for one have a difficult time being honest with myself as I answer them.  You see, following Jesus and fishing for people requires us to have the freedom to let go.  We have to let go of those cherished nets and of our needing absolute control of our lives and our plans.  We need to be able to just put things in God’s hands.

The call of Jesus is not to future salvation but it is to contemporary action.  We are to fish for people.  And I thought of this this past Monday as we celebrated Martin Luther King Day.  Going to and from the church and other places I was listening in the radio to the stories on NPR of the people… the farmers, the college students, the Northern priests and pastors who all came down south to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement.  AS their stories were told, I was struck by their conviction that time was at hand.  They knew that things were struggling to be born in the society.  God’s Kingdom was upon them.  They answered the call to be the fishers of equality.

But God still calls and God’s realm is upon our congregation too.  Just this week the session of our church voted to ask our Presbytery to concur with two resolutions which will go before our national church’s General Assembly this summer.  One was an overture affirm civility in our growing polarized society and the other is to affirm the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (the Paris Agreement).  Who knows what will be born from those actions?

Each year the Mission Committee of the Church supports the main emphasis.  Last year we worked on issues around hunger and were awarded the status of a Hunger Action Congregation by the National Church.  This year, our emphasis on the Stewardship of God’s Creation has us involved in new Environmental concerns.  Who knows what will come of our work, but we feel being in Miami, we are in some ways at ground zero of the crisis in our country.

Yes, God still calls and God’s realm is upon us.  Just look around at the photos above you.  They represent the ministry of our little church this past year.  We have made a difference.  There are, of course, photos of us having fun in joyful fellowship but there are also photos of us standing in Homestead as we supported the children who were locked in the detention center, of us with the children at Francis Tucker Elementary School, of us, handing out groceries to the hungry, of our mission to children though our Child Care Center. These photos represent just a portion of the work and ministry we have done this past year as we live out our commitment to being God’s own.

Yes, dear Riviera Friends The Kingdom of God or God’s Realm is near and God has called us through our hearts and hands to help bring it to fruition. In two Sundays we will be celebrating our 75th Anniversary.  As we have planned and prepared for it, I have learned the wonderful ministries that have sprung out of this church and made a difference in our community and the world.  I have learned that we claimed our identity as a church that works for social justice so that all will know they are God’s beloved children decades ago.  And as we celebrate this anniversary, we do not just celebrate what has been but what is and what is to come.  God calls us saying the time is still at hand.  We are challenged as people of faith to answer where God calls us next, where will our faith take us?  Like the sons of Zebedee, we must always be open to what and where we are called to fish.

Amen.

Rev. Martha ShiverickRadical Discipleship

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