1st Sermon in Matthew series for Sunday, June 16th, 2013
This morning we're taking a bit of a turn in our studies. Beginning in September and heading through the year, we took a close look at God's activity with Israel. We recall that God chose Abraham and his descendents for a purpose: to bring blessing to all nations. Then, after Advent, we paid close attention to the life of Jesus and how, in him, a new age had begun. In Jesus' life & ministry, God's Kingdom was breaking into history in a powerful way. Then, since Easter, we saw how the early Church grew, expanding rapidly into Gentile territory. We studied the decision made by the early Church in Jerusalem, and how the Gentiles were welcomed into God's project "as is" without any requirements of the law. We heard the gospel - that we today have been welcomed into partnership with God because of God's goodness, his grace.
This morning we're taking a bit of a turn, and we're going to take this summer to zero-in on what this partnership means for our life today. What does the life of a disciple look like? In Jesus, we see a model of a new way of being human - being human in the full realization that we are loved by God. At his baptism, the voice from heaven declared God's love for Jesus - and his life is a model for us of what it looks like when we always keep in mind that we are loved by God. In our passage from Matthew, this morning, we see this play out in the first encounter between Jesus, Simon and Andrew.
When's the last time you felt that you didn't quite measure up? That you didn't quite meet someone else's expectations? When's the last time you felt someone's scorn because you didn't act the way they wanted you to? When's the last time you felt this way at church?
Maybe you got the sense that someone judged you for something you wore at church? Or maybe you shared something - a story, or an idea - and someone shut you down? Perhaps you asked a question, and you were belittled by another's response. Maybe someone told you that something you were doing didn't really belong in church, or that you weren't showing the reverence you ought to in the sanctuary. Or maybe you felt eyes on you for some other reason. Somehow, you felt that you didn't quite measure up, that you didn't meet someone else's expectations. I didn't make these up - these are conversations I've heard about in the past four and a half years I've been here. Sure, you all know how to love each other - but you know, sometimes... sometimes we treat each other as though there's something other than grace that's holding all this together. As though our expectations, our requirements, our standards, our judgments are what got us on the team. This morning, I trust that this misunderstanding will get cleared up by what we see in the person of Jesus.
Let's take a look at verse 10, in Matthew 4. Verse 10 & 11 are the final part of the story of Jesus' test in the wilderness: " Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him." The Accuser had been hard at work trying to get Jesus off course - to base his ministry on something other than his Identity as God's beloved. "Jesus, base your minsitry on your ability to feed the crowds; base it on your miraculous power, on your popularity, or on your political power." In all of these, Jesus refused. Instead, it was enough for Jesus to know that he was loved by the Father. When enough was enough, Jesus sent the devil packing with this basic truth about what it means to be alive - "Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!" Training camp was done - and Jesus passed with flying colours; not because of some supernatural strength or power - he even had angels come to comfort him after this test was over. He was weakened by the ordeal. But he passed by simply remembering that voice at his baptism - "I love you, Son, and I'm pleased with you!"
Jesus nailed it by keeping these words in front of him all the time. That's what it means to be "perfect as Jesus is perfect". It doesn't meant to be as morally spotless as Jesus; it means to be oriented towards this same truth, the same goal, like he always was - the truth is that we are beloved by God. The goal is to always be oriented towards the love of God, to abide in God's love, to relish it, to savour it, and then it starts to rub off on us.
Verse 12: Now when Jesus 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." This particular prophecy speaks about a transformation - a transfer from darkness to light. The author of Matthew's making it clear for us: this Jesus is going to turn on the light switch.
One of the favorite games we play at Jr. Youth Gym Nights is a game we've come to call "Darkness". It's a very simple game, similar to Red Rover in some ways. Basically, we have one person in the middle of the Gym and everyone else at one side. Then we turn all the lights off, so that its completely black, and then everybody tries to get to the other side of the gym without getting tagged by the person in the middle. Problem is, you can't see where they are. Something that would be so easy to do - like avoid one person as you run across the gym - is made fun, but also very risky by just turning off the light switch. Now think of this in reverse, what becomes possible when you turn on the light? Perhaps some of you have had poor eyesight because of Cataracts; what happens after surgery? You can live a different kind of life, right? Here's Jesus living in the full awareness that He is a beloved child of God - and a whole new kind of life is possible. He lived life with the lights turned on - and he modeled that life for us.
Now you might be thinking, "wait Marco, Jesus lived that kind of life because he was God." Sometimes we think that Jesus was perfect because he was fully divine - that's a problem. Jesus was also fully human. This is what we read about in Hebrews 4:15 - "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin." Why did he not sin? Well, answering this question fully could last a while - but at the very least, it's because Jesus always knew, always remembered, that voice at his baptism. "I love you, Son, and I'm pleased with you!"
With Jesus' ministry there's a transfer from darkness to light. And Jesus lets people know that they can join in this new reality - this new way of playing the game of human existence. How does he let them know? Verse 17: From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Now, what comes to mind when you think of the word "repent"? Is that a 'happy' word? No. If you hear about some preacher preaching repentance, you imagine someone who's yelling at you about how you're not meeting God's expectations. The word's got a history that is, in some respects, lamentable - a history of making people always call into question whether or not God loves them. A truly demonic meaning for a word that Jesus used for the exact opposite purpose. What did Jesus mean when he called the people to repent? Basically, he was telling the people to turn around - to change direction - to change their mind and their action. Not because they'd lose the love of God. Change direction because the love of God is breaking-into this world - the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent. Change direction, because you don't want to miss what's gonna happen. You don't want to miss joining this new possibility that I'm bringing about. You don't want to be looking the other way when Jesus flips the switch and turns the light on; you don't want to miss the possibility of living in the reality of God's love.
It's not that God loves you only if you repent, only if you turn around. God loves because it's who God is. Repentance is turning your life towards this reality, to face it head on, to revel in it, and to be a partner with God's love. If you've got the winning lottery ticket in your back pocket but you don't go to cash it in, how much money do you have in the bank account. Not one dollar more! You've got the love of God written on the ticket of Calvary - in ink as red as blood - but are you gonna cash it in? Are you gonna repent, and turn your life towards the reality of God? Are you gonna let Jesus transfer you from darkness into light? Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Colossians; that Jesus, "has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13 NRS)
Have you cashed in your ticket yet? Have you turned towards Jesus? I know what some of you are thinking. "But Marco, you don't know how messed up I am." "You don't know what I've done." "Marco, you don't know the things I think about; or the things I've said to people; or the things I've said about people." I know some of you are thinking this. Come on! Who do you think I am? You don't think I'm messed up? That I haven't done terrible things? That I haven't had thoughts just as disgusting as yours? That I haven't said things as hurtful? Who do you think I am? Or maybe you're resisting this from a different angle. "Marco, God loves me? Ya... right... you don't know what I've been through." "You don't know how disgusting I feel." "You don't know how dirty I feel." "You don't know what people have done to me." I know that some of you have that ticket in your back pocket - worth more than any kind of money - God loves people, but God's love isn't a reality for you. Your life is just too messy. Too broken. You don't quite meet the requirements. You don't quite measure up. Maybe you've even been made to feel that way here in this church. Maybe by something I've said or someone else. Well, I hope with this next passage of scripture, you will come to see something different.
Verse 18: "As Jesus 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." I want you all to close your eyes - this is gonna be a profound meditative exercise - just kidding. No. But close your eyes. Picture what's happening here. Jesus has come to the Sea of Galilee. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? Then Jesus calls out to Simon and Andrew. Imagine that you're on this boat. What are you seeing? What do you hear?
You can open your eyes now. If you were feeling all serene and peaceful - then you've never been on a commercial fishing boat. Not that I have, but I've gone fishing enough to know that Simon and Andrew's boat was no spiritual mountaintop experience, no serene beauty. Ever hold a Jack-fish? What are you feeling? Now imagine handling a net? What's that feel like? Rough... and slimy... and full of fish guts, fish eggs,... oh yeah, and slime. Lots of slime. You're handling fishing nets. That gets on your hands right? Just your hands? Nope, it's all of your body. You've got fish guts, slime, and eggs all over your shirt - that's if you're wearing a shirt. We have evidence to suggest that Simon liked to fish with as little clothes on as possible. So, now imagine Simon and Andrew completely caked in Fish gunk. And here comes Jesus, the pure and spotless lamb.
Let me ask you this: what piece of your wardrobe would you put on if you knew you were having your first meeting with Jesus? I know there's a few of you who love to get all decked-out with the best of your clothing for Sunday morning worship. I can respect that. But you know what, God is not interested in our clothes but the intentions of our hearts. Now if that's part of your hearts intention, to show God your best in this way. I respect that. But just know this - God loves you the way you are, God loves the full deal, even the weak parts - every wrinkle, zit, stretch mark, and scar. He made your birthday suit, after all - and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
When Jesus got to Simon and Andrew's boat - he saw them at their messiest, at their absolute dirtiest - as unclean as unclean could be. You'd think from some of what you read in the Old Testament that Jesus would have been sickened by how unclean they were. But he wasn't. He didn't tell them to go have a shower. Nope. "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." I can imagine Jesus saying, "Simon... Andrew... if you think working with fish is dirty - just wait till I show you the people I'm gonna send you to... then things will really start to smell. People's lives are messy, dirty, broken - and Simon and Andrew were in the thick of it on that boat. Their lives were marred, messy, just like the rest of us. The guts and slime caked on their arms was symbolic of their life as a whole. All of us have got slime and guts all over us. Sometimes we think that Jesus won't come near us when we're all full of junk - in our minds, thoughts, in our hearts. That somehow we got to wait a while before we can come to Jesus. That we first have to figure out our messes before we can come to Jesus. In fact, our own messed up lives make us so anxious that we start looking at other people's messes to make us feel better. That's why we all have our favorite sins we like to accuse others of - its because, in the background we're anxious about how messed up we are... BUT AT LEAST I'M NOT AS MESSED UP AS THAT PERSON.
I may have my problems, but at least I wear my best to church. At least my kids sit and behave. At least I don't waste my money on _________________. We've all got fish gunk all over us, but we make ourselves feel better by looking at the slime on other people. You know what? Enough of that stinking thinking! I've had enough of it in my life. I've had enough of it in the life of this church! Jesus comes to us like he did to Simon and Andrew - he comes to us exactly when we're messed up, exactly when we're at our smelliest, exactly when we're at our stinkiest, exactly when we're having the dirtiest of thoughts, exactly when we're at our lowest, exactly when we're doing the worst of things. Jesus comes to us and asks: Can I make you an offer? Can I show you a different kind of fishing? Do you want a transfer from darkness to light?
You see, Jesus is the light of God bathed upon humanity. In him, we see a perfect image of God; but instead of it being a mountain that we have to climb, Jesus is the light that has dawned upon us. The light that clears the path and shows us a new way forward. He's the one who wrote the ticket of God's love in his own blood - all we have to do is cash it in. Turn around and face a God who meets you in the messiest part of your life and says, "Can I show you something more beautiful? Can I show you a new way to be human?" Jesus came to Peter and Andrew and their stinky boat - they didn't have to come to him first, he sought them out. He called out to them and offered them a new identity, quite literally. You are fishermen... let me make you fishers of men! A new human existence is possible with Jesus - in fact, he modeled it by always keeping his eyes on the truth of God's love. He wasn't some moral superman that we can't follow - he just always remembered those words at the Jordan. "I love you, Son, and I'm pleased with you!"
Hear those words for you this morning. Memorize them. You are God's beloved. You don't have to get out of your mess first, before you meet Jesus. He comes to you on the messy, smelly, filthy boat and he invites you to follow him, to journey on a whole new light-filled life with him. This morning, let's join the disciples and allow Jesus our light to shine on us, and bring us to light, to wake us up to a new way of being human, a new journey into the Kingdom of God. Let us join them and be bathed in the light of Jesus. In that light, we might find that we begin to look more and more human - created in God's image. We begin to get some of the slime off of us. In that light, the smelly boat of life becomes an ark, where a new beginning is possible. Turn to him, and be transferred to the Kingdom of God's beloved Son Jesus. Turn to Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. Amen.