Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23
In the name of the Living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes we need to shift our position for something significant to change or start with us and in us. One of the things our prophecy from Isaiah today shows us is that the Messiah, the great light was to start his ministry in a particular place. The land of Zebulun and Napthali – which roughly met on the shores of the lake of Galilee at Capernaum. Indeed as we read in Matthew’s gospel that is exactly where Jesus starts his ministry, shortly after he has heard that John the Baptist has been arrested. Instead of working as a carpenter, this is the point of the seismic shift in his day to day life, as he began to proclaim ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.
Not only did Jesus change his direction, he physically changed where he was based. Not only did this fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (which mattered to the gospel writer Matthew) but also in all likelihood made it easier to make the big changes he needed to, without people passing judgements like isn’t he the carpenter’s son. In Matthew’s gospel we don’t get at this point, the story of Jesus in the temple of Nazareth that appears in Luke’s gospel at the start of his active ministry.
Jesus then goes on to pass on this big change to others. I have often wondered if Jesus already knew the men that would be his disciples. Based on him being significantly away from his home area, I have to say I think this is really unlikely. So, Jesus goes up to Simon, Andrew, James and John as a total stranger and says ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people’. All this makes the fact that they did just that, all the more remarkable. We don’t get any sense that they dithered or delayed – they got on with it, left everything they knew and followed Jesus. I admire how wholehearted they were, and I know a little of experiences of God’s call – and can say when you know, you know. That doesn’t mean we know why or how or what, but sometimes there is an undeniable sense that somewhere is the next right place to be.
Incidentally, this was very much the sense of call I got wondering around Wincanton and Pen Selwood back in the summer of 2019. I had got a copy of your parish profile, and had stopped off after a trip to see my mother to get a better feel for the communities and have a look around. It could not have been clearer to me that I needed to give this serious attention and in due course after prayerful consideration, I put in an application. I have to say I had no idea what I was really going to be in for (as none of us did and I often reflect on arriving at the end of February 2020 – which is rapidly coming up to 3 years ago!). Call can be surprising and change significantly more than we bargain for and in ways we cannot imagine!
Making changes can be difficult for all of us – but being more like Jesus and following God’s call and drawing a line in the sand or starting from a different place can be helpful. Especially when the change is big.
In the Church at the moment there are lots of changes going on. In the Diocese there has been the retirement of the Dean of the Cathedral in the press last weekend. Then on Friday news that our Archdeacon Anne Gell will be acting dean, with Charlie Peer becoming our acting archdeacon. The best thing we can do in this situation is pray for the Cathedral, its leadership, people, staff and volunteers, and for Charlie our acting archdeacon. All the deaneries are looking at how to reduce stipendiary posts at the moment, and I am going to a meeting about options in our deanery for that next week. Please pray for that process too.
On a bigger stage in the Church of England, there has been lots in the press about an appointment of a ‘forward in faith’ Diocesan bishop and the next steps in the Living in Faith and Love process. The Church of England is in a period of change and shifting our starting position just as Jesus did. Different people have different views of all of this and hold them equally strongly.
I was particularly unhappy first thing on Wednesday morning, when that the Living in faith and love process news had been ‘leaked’ from Tuesday’s house of Bishops meeting before any official statements. Leaking like this should not be part of the way our Church operates, and remains a part of our political life that I particularly dislike.
As I said it is possible to think a whole variety of different things about all this. That the current path chosen by the house of Bishops is about right, or that it is too conservative or that it is too liberal. The proposals in short are to allow blessings services in church for same sex couples, offer a full apology for how the LGBT+ communities have been treated by the church, reduce the strictures on clergy in same sex relationships and encourage us all to be welcoming to everyone.
Personally (and you can disagree well with me about this) I would like to be in a position where I can celebrate all people’s loving committed monogamous relationships. I want everyone to be people as both our readings stated today that can see the great light of the love of God in Jesus Christ blessing the love they have for one another. I have been known to describe my role as being in the ‘loving business’ and I want to point always to a God of love.
In a passage I find particularly helpful in Galatians 3 it says – 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. Where we view everyone as equal needs to be the starting point for me and it is on that we need to shift the ground – and open the door equally to everyone. It seems we are still quite a long way from that at the moment, and on a journey which has many more steps along the way..
God’s love is so much larger than we allow for – one modern worship song using some old words says of God’s love – Here is love, vast as the ocean, loving-kindness as the flood, when the Prince of Life, our Ransom, shed for us His precious blood. Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise? He can never be forgotten throughout heav’n’s eternal days.
As Jesus said in our gospel today – Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Interestingly to end with a few words from NT Wright about the word ‘Repent’ in Jesus words, which is where I started talking about shifting our position. He says the trouble with that word too, is that people have often not understood it. They have thought it means ‘feeling bad about yourself’. It doesn’t. It means ‘change direction’, or ‘turn around and go the other way’ or ‘stop what you are doing and do the opposite’. NT Wright concludes. How you feel about it isn’t the really important thing. It’s what you do that matters. Amen
Here is love vast as the ocean (reproduced via under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton – William Rees. The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, NT Wright – Matthew for Everyone part 12004 SPCK.