Matthew 4: 12-23, January 26th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of scripture from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter four, verses twelve thru twenty-three.”
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.
“Having heard this writing from the gospel let us now consider how the calling of the early disciples continues to be relevant in the Twenty-First Century.”
Have you been asked to serve in the life of the church? Does God beckon to you, calling to you to become more involved? Many could answer yes to these questions yet never respond. In the Preamble to our Constitution as the Riviera United Church of Christ, it clarifies our understanding about God’s call to us as people. Let me quote to you the first two sentences. “God calls people into the church to accept the costs and the joys of participating in and living out the vision and reality of the Reign of God as revealed in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God equips and guides disciples for the ministries to which they are called in the Community of Faith as part of the Body of Christ.” The question for you as an individual may be a resounding ‘yes’ I feel called to be a part of a church, possibly even this one. Or, it may be that you simply think it is interesting to hear how others, a long, long time ago, felt they were called to follow and serve as our preamble suggests. The challenge for all of us: is, or has been, and shall be, to clarify if we have been encouraged by the movement of the Living Spirit of God, of Christ even, to get involved in ministry at any level; whether it be in a big way or a small way.
This passage, from the fourth chapter of the gospel of Matthew is very special to me. The truth is, I believe I was called, by Jesus, in the same way these early disciples were. While watching the movie “Jesus of Nazareth” I felt the Holy Spirit go through me as Jesus spoke to me through the movie scenes where Jesus called these early disciples. Things have never been the same since. I share this only to clarify that the Living Spirit of Christ is still active in the world and calls people into service every day. That is not to say, everyone answers the call. Even I tried to shake off my experience as something other than what it was. Yet, every time I have shared it with others, who have been called into formal ministry, I find that I am far from alone. Many pastors, if not most, have a sense of being ‘Called’ by God in some mystical way. Many others have told me accounts about their ‘God’ experiences which leads me to believe that not all requests from God are heard or received the same way. The challenge is to discern, understand and perceive what is the truth for you.
What does it mean to answer the ‘call’ having been invited, summoned or mobilized into service by God? For me, it was a radical change in my life, at every level. Yet, it is important to point out and for us all to learn, that serving God, following the teachings of Christ, and becoming more actively involved in serving God through the church universal and attending the needs of others, does not always need to encompass all of one’s life. Not everyone is called to pastor a church or make ministry their full time occupation, certainly not in the Twenty-First Century. Yet, we are all ‘called’ to devote some element of our being to God through Christ, if we are to call ourselves Christians, even if it is just to seek to expand one’s faith. Consequently, it is our responsibility as individuals and as a church to assertion our part, our role in the life of the universal body of Christ. Being compelled to follow the teachings of Jesus and ultimately to get involved in serving the universal church of Jesus Christ is a process. Saying ‘yes’ or agreeing to go forward with the request is just the beginning. It’s a process that has many elements to it.
One of the first things needed is to determine what talents what attributes might you possess that would be beneficial to put into practical use for any perceived level of ministry. The Apostle Paul wrote that there are as many varieties of ways to serve – as there are a variety of gifts. There are different talents and abilities, thereby, there are various ways to serve. First Corinthians, chapter twelve speaks directly to this point. Paul also speaks about the spiritual gifts, which are bestowed upon us by Christ. Each of us are different. And many, like myself, I needed someone to guide me through the process. If you have been asked to serve on a committee or function, you will need to ascertain what it is you are being invited to do. Then you may very well need to be taught how to do so. When I moved forward with my sense of calling into formal ordained ministry, I needed to be trained! Three full time years in seminary, including two summers in training; as well as working as a student in churches for that same time period.
Every organization, group or association, has its needs. We probably won’t fit into all categories in each setting we consider. So, it is important to learn what you can do, discovering what you are capable of doing, then consider getting involved in a way that you can feel useful and thereby use some of those God given talents to do the will of God. Let’s take a quick look at this church – in particular. The Constitution and Bylaws of this church stand as the document by which we as a fellowship exist and how we are viewed and recognized by others. In Article (two) II, is the stated purpose of this body, this fellowship. A great deal of thought has gone into this writing, over these one hundred and thirty years, since the founding and the establishment of this fellowship was formed. The current updated version of our Bylaws tells us clearly what our purpose is. Consulting groups and members of our Conference Staff have influenced our implementation of many of the stated purposes, as we continue to strive to interpret their meaning within the current realities of who we are as a gathered group and what the needs of ministry are for us and the community we serve. Yet, the basic tenants of our purpose stand as written. Consider these elements as you reflect on where you can fit in.
You may want to clarify ‘why’ a church, or any organization exists before you jump into a new position or responsibility. The ‘why’ of something is always important. Consider this passage from our current Bylaws. “The purpose of this church shall be to worship God in word and deed; to celebrate the Sacraments, to realize Christian fellowship; to celebrate unity in diversity; to render loving service to people both within and beyond our Community of Faith, reaching out to the poor and oppressed and all who are in need; to assist people in learning and growing in the faith; to make the Gospel relevant to the lives of people who seek the grace of Jesus Christ; to invite others to share in the costs and joys of being Christ’s disciples; to strive for justice and peace in our community and the world; and to employ our God-given spiritual gifts and talents in the service and work of Jesus Christ.” That is one powerful sentence; which has given us more than a lifetime of things to accomplish and to do while being all that we are ‘called’ to be! As you reread and consider what it says, this purpose statement can be an aid to each of us as we consider where “we can be of maximum service to God and to others.” /anonymous source/
After our time of worship together today, we shall convene as the body of this church; as such we are representing the Body of Christ to who we turn to at every level and to whom we have committed to serve as clearly stated within the writing of our bylaws. Many have been called to serve in the structural units of this faith community and shall be properly elected today and or appointed to serve. At the end of the meeting I, representing the Riviera United Church of Christ, shall duly install these whom have answered the call to serve. It is my solemn responsibility to remind each of us, whether we stand for one of these formal positions or continue to serve is so many other important volunteer roles, that: it is God who calls us to serve; the Spirit empowers us to do what we do; and the Spirit also gives us the ability to actually do and accomplish the things we have agreed to do!
The invitation is open to all whom feel that sense of, that feeling, that intuitive knowing that this is something, I am, we are… meant to do. Getting others to understand our sense of ‘calling’ is played out in how we ‘live into’ what we do. I hope each of us shall consider our own personal ‘role’ within the realm which we feel compelled to be connected. Whether it be in the sharing of our talents, or some of our priceless time, or perhaps in our ability to contribute through financial assistance, every one of us can contribute to the wellbeing of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, or the Living Spirit of our Creator – here on earth.