“New Beginnings…”

Matthew 4: 12-23

January 22, 2017

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Scripture:

“Our lesson this morning is taken from the gospel account according to Matthew, Chapter 4, Verses 12-23.  May we each be called to hear and listen to these beckoning words attributed to Jesus.”

Matthew 4:12-23

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.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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 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.

“We have now heard the call from Jesus himself… let us now listen to our hearts as we consider our response.”

Sermon:

We recently discussed the importance of recognizing the newness of each new day.  Today, we will be considering how, like our analogy of each new day, new moments, new situations, and new beginnings compel us into new opportunities to serve God and the people of God!  To do so, we need to become prepared, through the teachings of Jesus which have been preserved and passed on to us to consider and learn from.  The best approach or way to speak about new beginnings is to focus on the here and now.  We have several obvious things, which are new here within our fellowship today.   We shall begin by discussing these most obvious sightings first.

Joyfully, today, we have welcomed into our fellowship some new members; six to be exact!  It’s a new beginning for them and for us as well.  The decision to join a church is an important and meaningful decision to make.  The act of following through and making the commitment to do so is worthy of lifting-up and celebrating!  Some have been with us for years already, to this we applaud their faithfulness and now their new commitment to be a part of this faith community into the future.  Others have come to us more recently, yet come with a solid background in church life and a desire to be a part of this faith community.  We welcome them into our midst and anticipate their experiences will enhance ours and make us a stronger church.  We shall endeavor to offer an extravagant welcome to each one of these our newest members.  In so doing we shall become a stronger church.

We also have some folks here today, whom have been part of this fellowship for a long, long time.  In them we see the backbone and history of our community.  Their continued commitment to this church is a blessing.  There is no denying this.  Yet, even for them, today is a new challenge.  Some of the ways we did it last month, last year or historically, have slipped from our grasp for various reasons.  Realities change, this is part of our human condition.  Our community has changed, giving us different skill sets, even us we mourn the loss of others whom have moved on in their journeys.  The community we serve has changed and they see us differently now.  Those that once saw us in one way now see us in another.  It is a new challenge to respond differently to these changes within and outside of this church.

We all face obstacles when we approach something or someone new.  We are not sure about what comes next.  This is the hard part, the getting to know what the situation or opportunity in front of us is.  Just as we get to know a new member or new visitor in our midst.  It takes some time to get to know them and they us.  When it comes to knowing another person we all ought to take our time and allow the dance of newness to take root.  It doesn’t need to be rushed.  Just as several of our new members have been here for several years before they committed to membership, there are many other visitors in our church family whom have been sampling our fellowship over an extended period of time.  Good, very good!  Strong and meaningful relationships often take time, before they germinate and take root.  There is no reason why this cannot be the case here in our church fellowship as well.

Getting back to the issue of new situations, this is another matter.  Sometimes, we do have the luxury of taking our time to evaluate the situation in front of us and sometimes there is no time.  Take for instance a simple drive on the highway.  A car in front of you abruptly stops.  In this type of situation there is no time to think – only react.  Your response will be to put on the brakes, while possibly trying to swerve your car to avoid the obstacle that the stopped car in front of you has become.  You do this with little control over the situation you find yourself in.  We all pray, this does not happen to anyone of us or someone we know.  In other situations, we have time to consider many possible solutions to a problem or situation before taking the necessary action needed.  Each one of us need to properly evaluate every event that comes our way and determine, one by one, the correct or needed response to every new experience in real time as they come about.  Prayerfully, many such moments will be positive new beginnings that shall propel us, pushing and pointing us toward new opportunities which shall enhance our community and our individual lives.

With these thoughts in mind let us now look more closely at our scripture lesson for today.  Here we find Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he sees some fisherman.  In this situation, Jesus sees “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen.” /Matthew 4:14/.  Let us pause here for a moment and clarify the setting.  The sea of Galilee is three miles wide and seventeen miles long.  It is not a setting where you would find the wealthy aristocrats from Rome – vacationing.  No, the Sea of Galilee, was not a tourist stop back then, as it surely is now.  It was the hub of the economy.  It was a place where hardworking fisherman made their living.  Extended families came together to maximize their ability to earn a living. They would pool together to buy a fishing boat.  Now it is important to understand these were net fisherman.  They went fishing at night when the fish could not see their net.  Jesus came along after they had fished all night and had caught nothing.  Jesus was offering them something new.

In a subsequent rendition of this same story, from the gospel according to Luke, chapter five verses one thru eleven, Jesus urges them to go ahead and let down their nets into the waters one more time.  Surely, Jesus’ suggestion was greeted with skepticism as any net fisherman knows you will catch noting in the daylight as the fish can see the net and will avoid it.  However, they, perhaps out of respect, give it a try.  The results are astounding for “when they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.”  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.” /Luke 5:6-7/ It is no wonder that they were willing to follow Jesus after such a display of his powers over the laws of nature.  ‘And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”’ /Matthew 4:19/

One theologian suggests to us that: As we look at this “The command, the invitation to Peter, Andrew, James and John to ‘Come, follow me,’ is not: ‘I wonder if you would consider the possibility of tagging along if you have the time, and it’s not too inconvenient.'” /David Ewart/ No the thing about doing something new, beginning something new, is this: you must totally commit to the new endeavor, without hesitation or reservation.  Jesus was not calling the disciples to have a casual conversation nor to make or to have a blasé, nonchalant commitment or relationship with him.  No, Jesus was clearly seeking committed followers to be in his inner circle as he put together his working team.  Historically, it is clear that Jesus was going to train and empower the twelve disciples to be the foundation of his legacy, his church, which we now know came together after Jesus was persecuted, crucified and all that transpired afterward.

Yet, without question both accounts of this call narrative, from our lesson today out of the gospel of Matthew and the accounting in the gospel of Luke, they tell us clearly how these men made a decision to radically change their priorities in life and follow him.  “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” /Matthew 4:20/ Now, as simply stated as this accounting is, their decision was made in a larger context.  First, we know that these ordinary fisherman, hard working men, they most certainly knew who Jesus was and had heard about the miracles and teachings from others who had heard him teach.  Their decision to follow him came in a broader context than just this one fishing event suggests.  In our own journeys, we are faced with decisions all the time.  Something like joining a church is such a decision.

In a very real way, each of us whom have decided to be a part of the church, as members, associate members and friends of this church, a decision was made.  If you are a visitor today, you too made a decision when you walked through the front doors of this church.  At least for today, you have decided you would come and worship here; thereby opening yourself to the atmosphere of worship which is being presented to you and which you are personally experiencing.  This may be a new beginning for you, just as our new members today are embarking on a new beginning, a new level of commitment to their call to follow the ways of a Christian church.  Each one of us has gone through our own process of decision making, and we have thereby determined whether we would be here, or not, and at what commitment level.

What kind of fisherman, fisherwoman are we meant to be?  The men in the boat that day, striving to make a fruitful wage to support their families, these were committed men.  Their choice, their decision to leave their boat, leaving their livelihood behind to follow Jesus in his ministry ought not, and cannot, be taken lightly.  This was a really big deal!  Choosing a church, deciding where to worship on a regular basis is an important one.  You, however, do not necessarily need to give up your career nor you job.  Just a portion of your time, talent and treasures need to be shared with your new community of faith.  This, of course, is only done to support the common good, the common goals of worship, fellowship and ministry in which we all share.

Prayerful, we, like the disciples personally called by Jesus, we step into our new opportunities within a context in which we fully understand and embrace.  We are not a large wealthy church with abundant resources, with which we can invest in a staff of pastors to lead every ministry we seek to embrace.  Rather we are a small, yet, highly committed fellowship of Christians seeking to be nourished and fed by God’s Living Spirit – while following the teachings of Jesus, the Son of God.  We are committed to serving the people of God through a sincere desire to welcome everyone to join with us in our church family; no matter where one comes from, nor the diversity of one’s heritage and/or orientations.  For many this offers a new beginning.  Let us conclude by again welcoming our newest members into their new beginning!  May you find your true call from God to be within this context.  Amen.

 

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