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3 Epiphany - Matthew 4:12-23

There is a practice for meditating upon Scripture that I encourage you to try...with the annual


Read a passage and imagine being a part of it.

Visualize the smile of the excited child, the flash of realization in the student's eyes, the

tear cleansing the face receiving a Stephen's Minister's attentive care.

Stroke a clean new blanket with your cold, weatherbeaten, homeless hands.

Imagine and feel your way through the pages of this report, which condenses great stories

and struggles and laughter and insight and discovery and wonder and hope into summaries and spreadsheets, like remnants of an exquisite dinner collected in a doggie bag.

Ministry is so much more vibrant and interesting than reports about it.

So it is with today's gospel, which reads like Matthew's annual report: Jesus relocated, preached, called disciples, taught, healed and attracted people, because that's what he's

supposed to do.

Too many centuries of familiarity can make these words sound like business as usual.

But now read Matthew's account like you would audit a new church report.

When you do that, you will quickly realize it doesn't add up.

The timing is wrong.

The king has just arrested John for preaching about a different kingdom drawing near.

The message is wrong.

Jesus begins by preaching the exact same, word for word message that got John arrested.

The place is wrong.

Jesus moves to Capernaum, which is much closer to the king.

The personnel are wrong.

Fishermen had low social status and a reputation for being more dim than trustworthy.

The approach is wrong.

Family was the defining cornerstone of identity and purpose; you don't abandon them.

The financing is wrong.

How is Jesus going to pay for this people fishing expedition?, the treasurer wonders.

The market is wrong.

Targeting the sick is going after people who have been cursed, maybe rejected by God.

The whole thing is wrong.

Why would the kingdom of heaven come to a land of darkness and the shadow of death,

and call fishermen who do their unrespected work at night?

The whole story asks us to suspend disbelief and try to imagine a completely different reality

than what we know to be true.

Or, to use the Greek word, to repent.

Repentance is more than kicking bad habits.

Repentance is a total turning of the mind and change of the heart.

It is full and foundational preparation to live in a different, transformed reality that John

and Jesus called the kingdom of heaven.

And step one is to stop trying to work our way into it and to realize that it will not stop drawing

near in order to work its way into us.

This kingdom takes precedence over political orders and income and family and other false gods and secondary loyalties, and it takes whoever we are and whatever we do and transforms it into the bigger purposes of God: follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

Follow me, and I will lead you into darkness where hope happens beneath the surface of danger and trouble.

Follow me, and I will lead you to network and hobnob with the needy and the hurting.

In Luke's version of this story, Jesus invents a word: you will zogreo, you will catch people into life instead of catching fish into death.

This kingdom is a thoroughly different way of being.

"That's great, Pastor, but I've already tuned you out because I'm worried about other things, two of which you know about.

One worry is the outcome of today's vote, and the other is that you'll talk about it."

You're right, I am going to make your second worry come true, so that when you survive

that, you will have reason to hope you'll survive the first one too.

Today we will vote on a new welcoming statement proposed by our hard working RIC task force and on whether to designate ourselves a Reconciling in Christ congregation, which would commit us to public, specific, intentional, and unequivocal welcome of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation.

We are not all of the same heart and mind about this.

Today we will vote on a new welcoming statement proposed by our hard working RIC task force and on whether to designate ourselves a Reconciling in Christ congregation, which would commit us to public, specific, intentional, and unequivocal welcome of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation.

Regardless of the outcome, some will rejoice and others will mourn and maybe wonder whether they can continue being part of this community.

No matter how the vote turns out, someone I care about will be disappointed, maybe devastated.

If we vote...

(flip coin)

(HEADS): If we vote yes, it will feel like perilous sliding down a slippery slope to the undoing

of our faith.

We will overrule God and say that sin is not a sin anymore, that the Bible doesn't matter, that

anything goes, that people can do whatever they want because popular opinion is more

important than God's Word.

We will disastrously accept that what's right doesn't matter any more.

The truth will be silenced, John in prison again, while evil runs free and rules the day.

If we vote yes, our loyal defenders of sacred tradition and truth—you know, our Democrats—

will find themselves sitting in darkness.

(TAILS): If we vote no, it will feel like fear and hatred have defeated justice and love.

We will overrule God's gospel welcome with the same judgmental religion Jesus spent

his life working to dismantle and overcome.

Children of God we dearly love will not be welcome in our church, and our ministry will be

reduced to a hypocritical sham.

Our beloved will be punished for committing no crime, John in prison again, like an innocent

president impeached for nothing but a phone call as perfect as the beautiful variety of

human sexuality.

If we vote no, our loyal champions of freedom and perspective—you know, our Republicans—will find themselves sitting in darkness.

Wait, did I just lump you in with the wrong crowd?

I hope so, because that is what the kingdom of heaven does.

That's why the very first of Martin Luther's 95 Theses expounds on this very gospel passage:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" [Matt. 4:17], he willed the

entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Repentance is life's work.

It might happen in an instant, just like an alcoholic can point to the first day of sobriety,

but like sobriety, it requires a lifetime of discipline and daily choices.

It's as hard as leaving family and career behind for the unknown.

It's as hard as watching your mentor get arrested at the border for what they say and then

moving to D.C. in order to say the exact same thing.

It's as hard as honoring the faithfulness of the voter with whom your conscience cannot agree.

It's as hard as leaving behind people or beliefs we hold dear to reach forward to

something mysterious and uncertain that is somehow more dear and enduring still.

So often we just don't get it.

If we do get it, it doesn't last, or it scares us and we find a prison in which to hide it away.

We fall quickly off the kingdom wagon and into our old, familiar, self-centered, worrying ways, which leave us sitting in a pew of deep darkness.

Which is exactly where heaven's persistent kingdom shows up.

We cannot vote ourselves into or out of the kingdom.

The kingdom has already voted yes on us and keeps coming, relentlessly drawing near.

We don't get it.

It gets us.

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