Last week we heard Jesus ask, “What are you looking for?” Then he invited Andrew and his friend to come and see for themselves. Today, we are given a different version of this story. I hope that you will listen carefully to these words from Matthew’s gospel, to hear what Jesus is saying among the noises of everyday life.
READ Matthew 4:17-23
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peterand his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
How do you think people first heard Jesus as he began his ministry? How do you think they responded when they heard him say, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near”?
I suspect some people thought he was mad. And some didn’t bother to give him the time. But there were those who were intrigued. They wanted to know more. But what would make these four guys quit their jobs to follow this stranger?
“Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Many people today hear these words and think Jesus is saying, “Follow me, I know a back way into heaven.” Others hear and believe heaven is a place to escape this life – some kind of nirvana that’ll replace the hell they’re in. You might hear something completely different.
As for me, I don’t hear Jesus talking about leaving this world so much as I hear him asking what have I done, and more importantly, what I’m doing right now in the world. I hear him saying heaven has come down to earth. So how I’m gonna respond? What am I listening for?
Barrie Bates hears Jesus inviting us to examine our past…by taking an honest assessment of our present situation…which will give a clear indication of what our future might look like.
In addressing our past, Jesus says, “Repent.” I don’t know about you but this particular word used to raise the hackles on my neck. It carried such a negative connotation that it used to stop me from hearing anything that was said after it. I can still feel the harsh rebuke from those old preachers who’d wag their finger and told I was not good enough to be standing in the presence of God.
Truth is, Jesus is pretty straight-forward: “Repent.” If I am hearing him correctly, he’s not saying I’m not good enough. Instead I hear him say, “Ian, get your act together. Take inventory of your past. And let it go. Drop it like a fishing net, and follow me.”
When I tune my ear to Jesus I hear him telling me to stop holding onto all those little annoyances and petty gripes and senseless quarrels. I hear him say, let go of that stuff that weighs you down. And grab hold of God who lifts you up.
When I tune my ear to Jesus I hear him telling me that I am forgiven, loved, and free to live in the abundance of God’s grace right now.
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Jesus says, “Repent,” not because you want to get into heaven, but because heaven wants to get into you. This bring us to the present. “For the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It’s not on its way, but it has come. For some crazy reason God wants to dwell among us, to sit in our sin and to love us through it until heaven and earth are of one mind and spirit.
As Rohr often says, “You cannot not live in the presence of God. We are totally surrounded by God all the time and everywhere.” If that is true, then it tells me heaven is within our reach. In fact, “It’s so close we can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear it — if that’s what we’re listening for.”
In calling us to “Repent,” Jesus is inviting us to see signs of the kingdom fully alive and God’s abundant glory shinning brightly in us and all around us – especially when it comes to doing for and to others.
Thus Jesus tells Simon and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” He is calling them, and us, to participate in the work of God’s kingdom. That’s a huge calling – one not simply reserved for ministers but for all of God’s children.
Until heaven and earth are one, we need to shine the light of Christ on the darkness of places. We need to proclaim the Good News of God’s redemptive love. And we need to make known the glory of God’s marvelous works, so others will know they are of value to God.
When I hear Jesus say “Repent” I don’t hear a commandment. I hear a call to be a part of God’s community in the world, where the kingdom of heaven is revealed. I hear an invitation to be healed, restored, and redeemed back to my rightful place as God’s beloved child. And I hear a call from God to live fully and faithfully into that responsibility.
What is it that you hear? How do Jesus’ words penetrate your heart and soul? How do they cause you to react…to be a part of this community…in the kingdom of heaven?
While this church doesn’t have a building, we do have a mission: “To Love God, Love Others, and Serve Both.” We strive to be fishers of people, ambassadors of Christ, evangelists who tell their story so others can see God’s glory in their life. And as we start a new year, we hope that you will join us in this mission.
Jesus is calling all of us to do some radical stuff. His demands haven’t changed since James and John dropped their nets to follow Jesus – who went around “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people."
Think about those verbs – teaching, proclaiming, and curing. This is how people are able to see that the kingdom of heaven is within their reach.
As the body of Christ, we represent Jesus’ sacrificial love by offering ourselves to be a living sanctuary where others can find rest. Whether it’s you or me, or us all together, we are the church. Teachers and professors of God’s love in Christ.
We are called to be agents of change reversing the pain and suffering caused by injustice and war. We are to be the balm that heals the world of emotional, physical, or spiritual pain.
We are a community that loves and forgives and accepts all people just as God has been gracious to welcome us— if that’s what you’re listening for.
My hope for you today is that you will tune your ear towards Jesus. That you will stop fighting with the clanging noises of the world, and dance with our Lord to the divine music of everlasting life… to be a cricket singing…on earth as it is in heaven.
Bates, Barrie. Repent, Look for Signs of the Kingdom, and Follow Jesus. 01-19-2020. (episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/repent-look-signs-kingdom-and-follow-jesus-epiphany-3-january-26-2020) Accessed on 01-23-2020.
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And…daily meditations. (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013) p. 71.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”