Where We’re From and Where We’re Going

+ A sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on January 26, 2020 +

Text: Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-23

Audio: LINK

“Where are you from?”
It’s always struck me as a strange question, and one I often don’t quite know how to answer.
My family moved around a bit when I was growing up living in four cities in three states.
And while I had friends whose families moved far more often than mine, I was always a bit envious of my friends who had lived in one place their entire lives, who had friendships that started in kindergarten, who knew where they were from.
It’s a question I’ve heard a lot more in Seattle recently, and often rather pejoratively because of the large influx of new people in the past few years.
1b4ad0fb035945303e4871a3b4580abe-e1396141057353Where are you from?
And I can understand that, with a rapidly growing population and economy but with a less rapidly growing housing stock, prices have skyrocketed and the “old” Seattle seems to be slipping away.
Maybe that’s why I bristled when moving home after seminary in Chciago and someone wryly suggested I get used to the rain because it does that a lot here.
‘Yeah, I know,’ I thought. I’ve only lived here half my life. Thanks.

But sometimes I think the question of where you’re from misses the point.
I mean, while I’m proud to claim both Washington and Alaska as my home, I must admit that when I was a child I had zero choice in where I lived—I didn’t decide to live in any of the places I grew up.
But I have chosen to live here now, to invest in and work to improve this community, to put down roots in this wonderful part of the world.

In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Jesus and his family moved around a lot when he was young.
He was born in Bethlehem, lived as a refugee in Egypt, and then his family settled in Nazareth.
And today, we hear that “he left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum” on the Sea of Galilee.
I wonder how Jesus would have responded when people asked where he was from.

Whatever his reply might have been, I think it’s interesting where Jesus chose to live, where he chose to start his ministry, where he chose to announce the new kingdom of heaven.
He didn’t choose Nazareth, where he spent so much of his childhood.
He didn’t choose Bethlehem, the town of his birth and the royal city of David.
He didn’t choose Jerusalem, the holy city and seat of power.
He chose Capernaum—a relatively small town in Galilee.
At the middle of a crossroads between the Jewish people and the nations.
An area where Roman rule was strong.
An area that had a diversity of people from a multitude of nations.
An area that had seen so much war and foreign domination since well beyond the time of the Prophet Isaiah.
It’s in this town that he chose to live and start his earthly ministry.
It’s to these people who were living under Roman rule, whose ancestors were conquered by the Assyrians, who were mired in the gloom of uncertainty and captivity that Jesus proclaimed his gospel message: “Repent! The Reign of Heaven is near.”
‘Listen up!’ He cried, ‘things are changing. I’ve come to bring restoration to the things that were in shambles, hope in the midst of chaos, joy in your gloom. Change your lives, change your perspectives, live into this new kingdom that is coming in your midst.’

And what does this new kingdom look like, we might wonder.
How will we know this restoration and hope and joy Jesus is proclaiming?
Through preaching the good news of God’s love for all people, by teaching the people God’s way of life, and by bringing healing to people of all nations who are suffering.
This is how Jesus’ ministry starts in Matthew’s gospel and it gives us a glimpse of what is in store for the entirety of his mission.
It’s an opening statement, of sorts, inviting us to see that promise and hope this new kingdom has for us and for the world and inviting us to be a part of it.
Because from the very start, Jesus is looking for partners in his ministry—co-workers to help usher in this new kingdom.

FISHERS-OF-MENBut isn’t it interesting who Jesus decides to recruit for his mission?
He doesn’t go to the professionals, he doesn’t go to the religious elites, he doesn’t go to politicians or teachers or doctors, he goes to the lakeshore.
He goes to ordinary, everyday people. To fishermen.
“Follow me,” he calls to them. “And I will make you fishers of people.”
Come, live into the new reality of the reign of heaven, because I want to use your skills, use your abilities, use your lives to transform the world. I want you to build on what you already know so we can do things you didn’t think were even possible.
And incredibly, they listen.

It would have been so much easier for them to simply support Jesus, wouldn’t it?
To make a donation to his cause?
To offer their thoughts and prayers to encourage his work?
To politely hear him out and offer gracious platitudes before continuing on with their lives as normal?
But that’s not what they do at all.
These four ordinary people, these fishers, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, immediately drop everything have and follow Jesus.
They left their families, left their livelihoods, left any sense of security, left everything they knew and followed.
They fundamentally changed their lives so they could live into the new kingdom that was dawning.
They went to catch people in the nets of God’s reign of hope and grace and love.
They joined with Jesus to make this new kingdom a reality and transformed the world.

Last week, I echoed Jesus’ question in John’s version of the story where Jesus calls his first disciples: “What are you looking for?”
I asked you to think about what you are looking for when you come to church, what you are looking for when you follow Jesus, what you are looking for in God’s perfect reign.
Then I echoed Jesus’ invitation to you and to me to “Come and see.”
Come and see what’s possible when we work together.
Come and see something more than we could imagine.
Come and see what God’s reign on earth can be.
Because if we don’t know what we are looking for, how can we get there?
If we don’t have a vision of what is possible, how can we make it happen?

Today, I think Jesus is asking us a follow-up question: What will you give up to follow me?
What will you risk to live into the reign that I am bringing?
What certainty will you set aside to come with me in my mission?
How will you use your gifts to join me in my work?

You know, the time I spent in my Alaska home taught me a fair amount about fishing.
I learned there are different types of fishing that yield very different results.
There’s a more passive form of fishing where you lazily sit at a fishing hole or in a boat or even at a hole in the ice with bait on a hook and you wait, hoping a fish will come by and nibble.
And that’s a great way to fish—it’s relaxing, enjoyable, social, and sometimes you even catch something.
But there’s another way to fish too, one that’s more active.
It’s a method that’s used by commercial fishers, subsistence fishers, people whose lives and livelihoods depend on catching fish.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt requires going where the fish are—wading into the waters with a net or braving the tempestuous oceans casting giant nets into the seas.
It’s fishing that requires some work, that requires putting your body, maybe even your very life, on the line.
It requires risk and certainly isn’t relaxing.
And it’s exactly the type of fishing these four fishers knew so well.
Sometimes you don’t catch anything, but sometimes your nets are bursting with fish that fill the hold of your boat or the freezer in your garage.

So when Jesus calls his disciples, calls us, to join him and become fishers of people, I wonder what type of fishing we have in mind.
Are we content sitting by the fishing hole, sipping on a beer on a lazy summer afternoon, hoping a fish comes by and nibbles on our bait?
Are we fine supporting this work from afar, offering money and prayers and platitudes?
Are we ok waiting for people to come find us here, hoping they will like what we are offering?
Or are we willing to put everything we have on the line?
Are we willing to leave behind our certainties, leave behind our security, leave behind whatever may have worked in the past, and go to where the fish are?
To drop everything and follow Jesus wherever he is leading.
To leave the comfort and safety of this place and go into our community to find the deep concerns and needs of our neighbors.
To change our lives and live into the reign of God so we can better partner with Christ to make that kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the question that is facing us, dear Church.
As we consider our own personal discipleship, yes, but also as we consider our life as a congregation.
Did you notice that Jesus called pairs of people? That he brought them together so they could support each other and pray for each other and work together?
So as we, the people of Holy Cross, consider the possibility of building something new on our land, as we say that we want to grow our congregation, as we look for what God has planned for this community of faith, what are we willing to risk?
What will we put on the line?
What will we give up to follow Jesus?

On that day in Galilee, there’s no way that these four ordinary fishermen could have known what they were getting themselves into.
There’s no way they could have known the challenges they would face, the hardships they would endure, the tears they would shed.
But this invitation isn’t just about the hardships, it’s not a law we must follow.
This is pure gospel.
This is good news for these fishermen to experience the fullness of God’s love, to be ambassadors of that love, to bring this good news to their friends and neighbors and to people they’ve never met.

“Fishers of People” by J. Kirk Richards

And yet, it’s still incredible to me that when Jesus called they dropped everything they had, everything they knew, and followed him.
But in that courageous act, their lives were transformed; the world would be transformed.
They would travel across their land and throughout the known world proclaiming the love of God for all people.
They would see miraculous deeds and be among the first witnesses to the fullness of God’s power in resurrection.
They would become partners in building up the kingdom of heaven that has come so near.

On this day in Bellevue, Jesus is calling to us, to the people of Holy Cross.
“Come, follow me.”
Come and use your gifts to proclaim the love of God for all people in this place and see where it will take you.
Come see the amazing things that we can do together and witness the fullness of what is possible.
Come and leave behind the things that hold you back—set aside your fears, your assumptions, your old ways of doing things and see how the kingdom is dawning in this place.
Come, join me in building up the reign of God that is so near.
Come and follow me.

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