26 January 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.
Jesus calling his disciples,
inviting them to follow him and fish for people,
has always been an inspiring,
imagination sparking topic;
upon which many a great sermons have been preached,
and many faithful listeners
have been encouraged
to go forth in similar fashion,
and make more disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s pretty dramatic
when two brothers leave their fishing nets and follow.
It’s downright exciting
when two other brothers leave their father behind and follow.
If only I had the charisma of Jesus! we think to ourselves.
We’d fill this old church with new disciples by the bucket load.
We’d become a mega church before you know it, too!
Over the years,
I’ve probably preached a few of those sermons.
I hope they were inspiring;
maybe, maybe not.
Over the years,
I’ve ridden the church growth bandwagon,
that worshipped at the altar of
growth for growth sake,
that, it is all about following the recipe
and bring in the sheaves,
reaping in the numbers.
In recent years,
I’ve grown skeptical.
I’m rethinking and doing a lot of praying
about what makes a disciple
I’m open to the observations,
Spirit led insights,
and opinions of others.
In regards to our Gospel passage for this morning,
my thoughts are directed to Jesus making his home in Capernaum,
the sea side village of about 1,000 people
on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee.
A community of a thousand is quite small.
People would be familiar,
families and tribe members would be known,
people would be neighborly
in both the positive and negative aspect of the word.
Gossip would be in the street,
behind closed doors,
at the market, and
in the Synagogue before and after services.
Simon Peter and Andrew certainly had come to know Jesus.
James and John obviously had become familiar with him, too.
It wasn’t like Jesus was a complete stranger
who issued an invitation out of the blue.
They had seen a great light rising from Jesus;
a light just as Isaiah had foretold.
He had been teaching in the Synagogue.
They had heard him preaching repentance
and teaching people to prepare,
for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
So, by the time Jesus encounters them on the shore,
the pump had been primed,
the advance work was completed,
the invitation simply sealed the deal.
They left with Jesus,
knowing full well
that they could return home at any time;
and after the resurrection,
Before you’re completely heartbroken
that I’ve just sucked
all the unbridled excitement
out of your historically dramatic call narrative
of Peter, Andrew, James, and John,
allow me to refocus
on the content of what Jesus was teaching.
Jesus was calling people to repentance,
because the kingdom of heaven was near.
Though it was thirty years ago,
I remember it just like it was yesterday.
A requirement of the seminary course I was taking
was the ability to define repentance
and all of it’s associated characteristics.
It would be inquired about back home
in written and oral ordination exams.
So we had better learn about repentance
inside and out.
Repentance was taught as a moral transformation.
It was rather one dimensional.
It was linear,
making it easy to memorize and regurgitate.
Repentance, we were taught
begins with a review of one’s actions,
feeling contrition or regret for past offenses.
Repentance includes confession,
either individual confession
or corporate confession.
One might call this “owning up.”
Speaking it makes it real.
Repentance makes the moral resolve
to stop the sin
and never engage in the sin again;
a complete 180 degree about-face
to begin life in a new direction.
Repentance must address restitution,
righting the wrong,
repairing the damage that was the result of sin.
Then, and only then,
could repentance lead to the request for
and the granting of
which is healing
in all it’s completeness.
Yes, I believe I could pass an ordination exam once again.
What if repentance isn’t one dimensional?
What if repentance was more than just a moral transformation?
Could there be a spiritual repentance?
An intellectual repentance?
Repentance is not unique to Christianity
or to our Jewish forefathers.
It is common to Islam, Buddhism, and even found in Hawaiian tradition.
More to the point;
Where is the face and hand of God
in this Christian cookie cutter recipe for repentance?
From our Hebrew heritage
we hear God promise to Elijah
that if anyone returns in penitence
that God will receive him back.
Hosea proclaims that repentance
bring healing to the world
and reaches to the throne of the Lord.
Isaiah proclaims repentance
brings redemption with others
and with God.
The Hebrew word is “SHUV”
which means, turn,
From the Gospels and letters of the Apostles
we experience a different word for repentance.
When John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, or Paul speaks
the Greek word that is used is “METANOIA”.
Metanoia is a compound word,
I am told,
Meta meaning “changed”
Noia meaning “mind or heart.”
Yes, there is a moral imperative here.
But there is more.
when Jesus is telling people to repent!
He is also inviting people to see things differently.
Change from your ways of sinning.
Look at the world differently,
with a willingness
God to change your heart and your mind.
he certainly was calling people to rethink religious life;
a lifestyle and culture,
at the time,
that was focused
on sacrifice and cleanliness,
strict adherence to the Law,
money, power, authority, and ego,
birthright and privilege,
A call to repentance
was also a call to reconsider
a take for granted religion,
to open yourself to God speaking, calling,
and to allow your heart and mind to be changed.
How does Jesus’ call for repentance
impact us today?
Certainly, there is a moral imperative tied to repentance.
Stop sinning, confess your sin, change your ways, make restitution, and seek forgiveness.
At the same time,
I’d suggest our Gospel for today
is encouraging us to think more than just one dimensionally,
to consider rethinking Church
in terms of spiritual repentance,
with the hope
that God will change our hearts and minds.
As an act of repentance
are we able to cast aside deeply rooted assumptions
and rethink Church?
The popular culture has much to teach us.
I’m privileged to chair the board of FLACRA,
Finger Lakes Addictions, Counseling, and Referral Agency.
I get to hear the inside scoop
in the world of addictions, treatment, and aftercare.
This world is rethinking itself,
in a similar way we may be called to rethink Church.
In the old days
the culture of treatment went something like this:
1. You have 3 chances to get clean and sober.
2. After 3 chances, you’re done with us. We don’t tolerate relapse. There will be no readmittance.
3. Break the rules and we throw you out.
4. You have to meet the State directed criteria for admittance.
5. You have to work harder than your counselor.
6. You have to establish goals and meet them.
7. You have to have money and / or insurance.
The fact is
this strategy is only modestly effective.
People are more complicated than these rules imply.
People that confront addictions are not simply moral failures,
they are people with dreams,
who want to change the world,
People with addictions are people chained by
that requires a soft touch approach
when possible and where needed.
Wellness is more about grace,
and living in that grace,
than simply meeting another goal.
Rethinking addictions has brought
fresh and new assumptions to the table.
At our last meeting this past week,
we were able to share
the world we hope to create.
It looks something like this:
1. Failure is never final
2. We take everyone
3. Once you are in, you’re always in
Wouldn’t it be great if Christ’s call to repentance
led us to rethink Church in a similar fashion?
that resulted in values and beliefs
1. With Christ, you always have a second chance.
We will love you, care for you, and support you
While you develop the necessary skills
to successfully develop and navigate
God’s call for your life.
If you fail, we will always welcome you back
and welcome you home.
When others fail,
you’ll become a part of the grace
that will never let them go, either.
2. We take everyone.
It doesn’t make a difference to Christ
and it isn’t going to make a difference to us:
if you have breath and a heartbeat,
you are God’s child
and we claim you!
All means all.
3. Once you are one of us,
you are always one of us.
You can move away,
call in sick,
even burn down the place.
It won’t matter.
You’re a part of the greatest alumni association anywhere.
God gave you to us,
and you’ll always be one of us.
You are closer than flesh and blood.
Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Carry this message forward to us gathered here today.
Yes, this is a call to
repent from our failures
and begin a fresh walk with Christ
into the light of righteousness.
Could this also be
to rethink assumptions
about the Church, organized religion, and our journey of faith?
Is the call to repentance
an invitation to see things differently?
The answer, my friends,
I’ll leave up to you.