Isaiah 9:1-4 – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 – The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – Let there be no divisions among you… For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Matthew 4:12-23 – Matthew’s version of the call of the disciples. Light shines on those in darkness: Jesus preaches ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,’ teaches ‘the good news of the kingdom,” and ministers, healing every disease and sickness.
The Time After Epiphany
In last week’s gospel text, John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. This week we have the call of the disciples. Then we launch into the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount on January 29.
There is a logical progression to the season of Epiphany. Jesus’ ministry begins with his baptism by John in the Jordan. Then he is driven into the wilderness to be tempted. We will have this text at the beginning of Lent. Then Jesus comes out of the wilderness, chooses his disciples, and begins his preaching ministry.
In Matthew’s Gospel there are five great sermons. Each sermon is preceded by a narrative and concluded with the words, “When Jesus finished saying these things…” (Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους…), as B. W. Bacon pointed out many years ago. Read more about the structure of Matthew.
Matthew 1 is an introduction. Matthew 2-4 is the first Narrative. Matthew 5-7 is the first sermon: the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount
- January 29 – Matthew 5:1-12. Opening of the Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes.
- February 5 – Matthew 5:13-20. Salt and Light. Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.
- February 12 – Matthew 5:21-37. The 1st 4 of the 6 Antitheses, “You have heard… But I say to you…” Anger. Adultery. Divorce. Oaths.
- February 19 – Matthew 5:38-48, The 5th and 6th of the 6 Antitheses. Retaliation. Enemies.
- February 26 – Matthew 6:24-34. You can’t serve God and money. Don’t worry about your life.
February 26, however, is Transfiguration Sunday, so most will go with the Transfiguration texts. On March 1, Ash Wednesday ushers us into an early Lent. (For those who want to take a look into Lent, I put Lent-at-a-glance at the bottom of this post.)
So buckle up. This week we have the call of the disciples. Then we are in the Sermon on the Mount for the rest of the Epiphany all the way up to March.
The Call of the Disciples
Here’s our text, Matthew 4:12-23:
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.
At a continuing education event for bishops, I was introduced to a reflective method of looking at Scripture in a group. Apparently this is familiar to some of you in youth ministry, but it was new to me. It is called “I notice. I wonder.” What do you notice about this text? What do you wonder?
The presenter was Dr. Shauna K. Hannan, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC. The event was on ministry with the “Nones,” those who select “no religious preference,” on surveys. Most presenters agreed that the largest group of “Nones” was in the 18–35 age range. These folks feel that if church isn’t about relationships; it’s probably not worth the time of day. I could not agree more: our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. I think Jesus may have said something to that effect as well.
Leonard Sweet reminds us that millennials and many other folks in this postmodern age are looking for worship to be EPIC: experiential, participatory, image-driven, and conversational. Rich Melheim once posted some densely-packed ideas about this. I’ll post it below. Ask yourself: Are we perpetuating what was, or am I building a community of Christ-followers for this new age? Are our congregation working for butts in pews or making disciples?
What if the sermon provided not simply the content of the biblical narrative as a source for religious identity, either in the ‘strict’ prescriptive form of conservative preaching or in the ‘lenient’ suggestive form of mainline preaching, but also promoted lively interaction with that story? To put it another way, is there room in our homiletical imagination for an interactive sermon?”
—David Lose “Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World—and Our Preaching—Is Changing
With this in mind, consider reading a text like this in an adult class, small group, or even in a sermon (if there aren’t a bazillion people in that particular service), asking them to interrupt and comment as you read with, “I wonder…” Or “I notice.” Let them interact with the text. Resist the need to argue or disagree, so people aren’t afraid to participate. See what happens.
What do you wonder or notice about this text? My post today will simply be a series of questions. You could use these simply to prepare. Or you could actually ask some of these questions in a small congregation, inviting responses. Or, and I have done this, have an entire sermon of just questions. You should try this sometime. If you ask good questions, with the tempo increases, reaching an apex, and then settling on reflective questions, it can really work. It also positions you as the question-raiser, rather than always the answer-person.
- I notice that John is arrested fairly early in Matthew’s Gospel. This drives Jesus to Galilee where his ministry begins.
- I wonder if John’s arrest was the spark that set Jesus’ ministry on fire.
- I notice Jesus went all the way down to Judea to be baptized by John.
- I notice he went all the way back up to Galilee after John was arrested.
- I notice it says “he left Nazareth.” So when he returned to Galilee, at first he went back to Nazareth.
- I wonder why Jesus chose to begin his ministry in Capernaum, rather than starting in his hometown of Nazareth.
- I notice Matthew interprets Jesus’ start in Capernaum in light of Isaiah’s prophecy.
- I notice that Matthew edits Isaiah 9:1–2 and reinterprets it.
- I notice in that Jesus’ message is exactly the same as John’s (Mt. 3:2): “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
- I notice Jesus walks by the sea. I like to walk by the sea as well.
- I wonder if Peter and Andrew enjoyed working together as brothers.
- I wonder if they made a decent living, or if Roman and Temple taxes kept them in poverty.
- I wonder if they actually enjoyed being fisherman, or if they were looking for a way out.
- Since they were casting a net into the sea (v. 18), I wonder how far from the shore they were and if Jesus had to yell from the shore, so they could hear him.
- I wonder if they understood the implications of Jesus’ invitation to, “follow me.”
- I wonder what this meant for them economically, and for their families.
- I wonder how their spouses and families reacted when Peter and Andrew told them they were going to abandon the family business and follow a rabbi around the countryside on his itinerant preaching and healing ministry.
- I wonder how Andrew and Peter interpreted Jesus’ invitation to “fish for people.”
- I wonder how people hear the phrase, “fish for people” today.
- How might the church heed Jesus’ call to fish for people in a way that does not objectify them or manipulate them?
- I wonder why they left their nets “immediately.”
- I wonder if this was easy for them to do.
- I wonder if James and John Zebedee knew Peter and Andrew as colleagues, fellow fishermen on the sea of Galilee, working close enough together that Jesus could bump into them on his walk.
- I wonder if these events happened on the same walk and on the same day, or whether Matthew has condensed the narrative to make it flow more easily.
- I wonder if Matthew intends any significance to the phrase, “mending their nets.”
- I notice it says “and he called them.” Call language is present from the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel.
- I notice they also left the boat “immediately.”
- Since father Zebedee is in the boat, I wonder how he felt being abandoned by his two sons who went off to follow this rabbi.
- I wonder if the families of these fishermen harbored hostile feelings towards Jesus, for stealing their fathers, brothers, breadwinners.
- I wonder if, when Jesus came around, they expressed anger toward him, or whether they accepted and embraced what was happening.
- I notice that Jesus is teaching in synagogues.
- I notice that at least at this point in Matthew, the good news is not the life death resurrection of Jesus here, but rather the “good news of the kingdom,” which I take to be the content of Jesus proclamation as in verse 17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
- I wonder how people heard this preaching in their day and context. What would it have meant to them to hear that the kingdom of heaven has come near?
- I wonder why Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 32 times, which is found nowhere else in Scripture, when in so many other ways he is tracking Isaiah’s language and when the other Gospel writers use “kingdom of God.”
- I notice that the heart of Jesus’ ministry in this verse is three verbs: preaching, teaching and healing.
- I wonder what it would be like to have a church that focused its ministry on these three things: preaching, teaching, and healing.
Questions for discussion:
- How did you decide to do what you’re now doing? How did you discern?
- Has anyone ever “called” you to do something?
- Have you ever sensed God calling you to do something? What was that like?
- Read through Matthew 2:12-23 verse by verse inviting people to respond to each verse using phrases beginning with “I wonder…” and “I notice.”
- Read Isaiah 9:1-2 and compare it to Matthew 4:15-16. How closely does Matthew track Isaiah?
- Read Matthew 3:2 and 4:17. How does John’s message differ from Jesus message?
- Get a map and locate the wilderness of Judea, imagining where Jesus may have been baptized by John. Now locate Galilee, Nazareth and Capernaum. How far was Jesus traveling? What do you suppose drew him to travel all the way down to Judea for John’s baptism? How far is it? How long might that take on foot? Why do you suppose he returned to Galilee?
- Why do you suppose Peter, Andrew, James and John responded so quickly (“immediately”) to Jesus’ invitation to follow him on his itinerant ministry and to fish for people?
- How do you think their families felt about it?
- Read verse 23. What three verbs make up the content of Jesus’ ministry? How does that different from your church’s ministry?
- How might we be more open to hearing God’s call in our lives?
- To what new ministry might God be calling you now?
- To what new ministry might God be calling your church?
- What sacrifices might need to be made?
- How is your congregation preaching and teaching the good news of the kingdom and bringing healing to your community?
Lent A at-a-glance
- Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6 – Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving
- Lent 1: Matthew 4: The Temptation in the Wilderness
- Lent 2: John 3 (Nicodemus) or Matthew 17
- Lent 3: John 4 (Woman at the Well)
- Lent 4: John 9 (Healing of the Man Born Blind)
- Lent 5: John 11 (The Raising of Lazarus)
- Palm/Passion Sunday: Matthew 21 and 26 or 27
Rich Melheim’s comment in the ELCA Clergy Facebook Group (1.7.14):
Start with Leonard Sweet’s EPIC (experiential, participatory, image-driven, conversational). Go to Bill Glasser’s “In a quality school, everyone is the teacher” and change it to “in the quality church, everyone is the preacher.” Add a little Quaker/George Fox inner life “truth can come to anyone.” Mix in Luther’s “The priesthood of all believers.” Create together with Ani Patel’s OPERA (overlap, precision, emotion, repetition, attention). Consider the attention span of the television era (7 1/2 seconds) versus the fact that people won’t wait 7 1/2 seconds for a download today. Mix in the multitasking grazing mentality of netizens vs the channel changing behavior of the television generation. Consider the fact that you never really pay attention to where you are going in a car unless you are driving. Consider the fact that females are born with 11% more brain tissue dedicated to speaking and listening than men, and males are born with 2 1/2 times more tissue dedicated to sex, action and aggression. (If you don’t turn what you’re doing into action, they’ll turn it into aggression. Consider the needs of the human brain for oxygen, glucose and BDNF (brain fertilizer) in order to pay attention… none of which you get when you’re sitting in a chair or pew. Consider the fact that most of the people in your church hold access to more information in their purse or pocket than 99.85% of the human race has had access to for 99.85% of human history. Add the old “they’ll never care how much you know until they know how much you care” to the mix. And remember “you gotta open the kid before you open the book.”
Now, tell me, what does worship look like? Worship comes from the Old English woerth+scippe (the ship/vehicle that brings worth to God).
Now, tell me, what does liturgy look like? Liturgy is the work of the people. If you’re feeding them all the words, the images, the prayers, it’s not their work. It’s yours. (My son doesn’t even like printed word on a powerpoint screen. “Why should I pray that prayer? It’s not my prayer.”)
Now, tell me, what does preaching look like? Is it a kerygma – proclamation? If so, is it only yours? Are you the only one qualified to proclaim? To tell a story? To tell what God has done? To interpret what the text means to every context of every person sitting in your pews? Is it apostellein? If so, are you the only one sent out? Is it evangelion? If so, are you the only one with a good message? Is it prophetes? If so, are you the only one through whom God can speak forth this week?
If you are preaching a one-way story to people who are surrounded with hundreds, nay, thousands of stories every week, will your story be as compelling every single week as what they’re watching on netflix and youtube and HBO? Week after week after week, are you going to try to compete?
If it is only your story, you’re going to have to be better than anything out there. Nay, than everything out there.
If it is not only YOUR story, but also THEIR story, you will not need to compete. Netflix and YouTube and HBO can’t compete with their story. There’s nothing more real, more intimate, more personal, more interesting than their story…
And if you become the one who proclaims God’s story… and shows them how to connect their story with God’s story… and gives them the intentional place and sacred space to connect the two, speak forth (prophetes) bring good news (euangellion) and get sent out (apostallein), you’ll be equipping, training, recruiting, and motivating prophets, evangelists and apostles every week in every church.
Add FAITH5 (share, read, talk, pray, bless) and make it the expectation to connect your Sunday text with their highs and lows (context) “every night in every home” and you just might have a Sunday that spills over into Monday. And you may create a post-televison EPIC Sunday that gives them their new story for the week – a frame of reference and frame of reverence – that lives with them when they lie down and when they rise in the post-television world.