Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus[a] 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.”[b]

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

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.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Our passage from Matthew this morning finds Jesus hearing that his cousin, John has been arrested so he retreats to Galilee.   Jesus, like all of us, needs time to retreat, regroup, process what he’s just learned.  So, he goes…along the way, it says that there is a prophecy fulfilled, the people in the lands that Jesus walked through, saw a great light.  Something has changed…there is light in the midst of darkness.  

The darkness at that time is probably much like it is today, folks are disconnected from one another, there are powers both inwardly and outwardly at work that keep people from living freely as they were created.  Powers inside of us that leave us that leave us enslaved to self-doubt, immobility, loneliness…powers that manifest themselves through consumption, selfishness, and a lack of self and others awareness.  We are isolated.  Those powers on the outside of us are similar as well, in our text, they are demonstrated in civic and religious power holders who want to maintain a sense of control and project power and relevance through fear and anxiety.

We are all in this darkness, enslaved.  Darkness is sometimes necessary to walk through.  It’s only when we are in darkness like the people of Israel were in our gospel text, like they were in the old testament text of Isaiah, and how we are in our own lives now, can we grow and lean towards the light when we see it.  

There is a certain sense of passing in this passage, Jesus and John are relatives, there is continuity in their ministry as well as a discontinuity as John hands off his ministry to Jesus.  John knows it’s time to let go….that Jesus’ love and presence is being made known to folks.  

Jesus steps through these areas mentioned carrying with a message of release, of freedom, and of being empowered through connection and inclusion with others and with a God who loves us and moves in, through, and around us bringing his an expansive view of the world filled with empathy, meaning, purpose, love.  

Jesus also continues John’s message of repentance…it is a reoccurring theme in Scripture.  When someone encounters this God that wants to free us, it can create within us a change of heart and mind, we can experience a conversion, a transformation.  But, we have to come through darkness and want to move towards the light….and we can’t settle for divided lives but remain committed to one another and to God as God calls us to follow…

The next few verses give witness to folks responding to Jesus’ call to them and giving up everything, right at that moment to follow him.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  They usually sought him out, but Jesus seeks out Andrew and his brother Simon.  He sees them fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men (and women!).  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Now, every Jewish boy wants to have a rabbi, Andrew and Simon may have felt like their time had passed them by, they were fishing with their father, we don’t know how old they were…but, it’s safe to say that they probably weren’t the first choices…but, they recognized something in Jesus, something good and beautiful, and said yes with their actions.  

Someone I’ve met and have enjoyed getting to know in the few conversations we’ve had is Jill Rowe, she talks about saying “yes”.  Her pastor, a friend of ours, Steve Chalke, said yes when the British government called them on a Wednesday to see if they’d take in 500 teenage refugees on a Friday, two days away. They had to work out to find homes for those kids…and they did!  A few months later, they have a thriving ministry to refugee children.  

They also have a church filled with folks of all ages.  Jill talks about how so many folks are turned off by the church, we focus so much on minor things and people just get tired.  They want to simply “get on with it” Jill says, get on with loving others, working on awareness, and serving others…saying Yes to God’s call.

We can poke all sorts of holes in scripture, that’s fine, but we are still left with the stories that have power in them…they are stories of God’s YES to us and a call for us to say YES to God and each other.  

Many times, when Jesus approaches us, we can try to close him off…or we can say Yes to what he’s asking of us…and change the world!  For refugees, for starting the church as Andrew and Simon did…and certainly for yourself.

Saying Yes, to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes the following may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply a follower of Jesus….and Jesus followers are simply world changers.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to be Jesus followers to get on with it, and change the world. 


Psalm 40:1-11

Thanksgiving for Deliverance and Prayer for Help

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,[a]
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
[c]I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.

John 1:29-42

The Lamb of God

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”[a]

The First Disciples of Jesus

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[b]). 42 He brought Simon[c] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[d]).

Such a great psalm reading, one of my favorites.  It’s also a psalm that the rock band U-2 plays at the end of most of their concerts.  It’s a longing of the heart, how long must we sing this song?  We long for life to somehow come together in some way, or even deeper, for life to be lived where we know others and are known by others…as well as knowing God and God knowing us.  

It’s amazing to be in an area or a stadium when Bono sings this song “40”, which is basically Psalm 40.  100,000 people fill these stadiums and sing this song at the top of their lungs.  When I look around I see folks with tears in their eyes.  Now, U2 is not a christian band, they are simply a popular rock band who happen to have a deep sense of God’s presence in their lives.  

I often think, wow, why can’t the church be like those stadium experiences?  Not the production, but the feeling of deep connection.  Now, church happens all of the time, it’s happening in those concerts, it happens down the street, and it happens in here.  I see folks all of the time that want church, they want to connect to the deeper longings of their lives.  They want to see God and to know that God sees them.

However, those of us in the church often get caught up in so much other things, that we forget that church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be a community of authentic friends going after this longing for God.  There are important things like buildings, programs, meetings, etc.  Often, we also are not able to let go of certain destructive things in relationships, it’s hard being in community together, isn’t it?  We have so many different thoughts, emotions, opinions…we sometimes seemingly can’t get on the same page or even the same chapter.  The church as we know it can become a place where we can’t see God because of our focus on our stuff…it leads us towards a blindness.  Yet, we still long for something more…we still long for relationships within ourselves, others, and God to be made well.

What amazes me about Fleming Road UCC, is that this church has the same issues as most churches, yet there is a core of us that stay with this, we are committed to one another and to working through things and you include others.  Most folks in society give up, move on, become church refugees.  That’s not a judgment on them or us, it’s understandable.  Yet, here, I know we have issues, but we are willing to have the patience to stick with it, to stick with each other I believe.  

So, the psalmist goes on to say that as we wait, we should wait patiently, and God hears our cry, God sets us up on a rock.  

Our gospel passage this morning finds John, the cousin of Jesus, proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the messiah, the promised one.  This passage has a lot of verbs like, “look”, “see”, “behold”, all coming from the same greek root word.  Have eyes opened to the reality of God in the flesh before us.  

John goes on to say that this Jesus is the lamb of God.  The lamb who sacrifices everything for us out of love.  There is a motif in scripture that humanity is always looking for a scapegoat….someone or something that we can blame our issues on rather than dealing with them ourselves and doing the hard work of self awareness and risking vulnerability.  

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, it’s important for us to remember that this has been true throughout history…we have issues, we can’t seem to own them, folks come along pointing towards a better way to live for the common good, we scapegoat them, then, often, we kill them.

Image result for martin luther king image

In Jewish custom, lambs or goats were offered as sacrifices, that’s where we get the term scapegoating.  They believed that they could place their sins, their shortcomings on a sacrificial animal and release it in the wild to wander away with their sins or selfishishness and give them a fresh start…or kill that animal.

Jesus comes on to the scene.  Jesus loves well and looks into the lives of others with grace and inclusion.  Jesus is scapegoated because the religious leaders of that time and others were exposed in their shortcomings and put on to Jesus their issues…which led him to the cross where he became the scapegoat for us all.  Jesus took it on and overcome being a scapegoat…Jesus love even overcame death and led to resurrection.

This is key for us in our understanding of the way of Jesus.  Jesus took on our stuff, didn’t let it define him, absorbed it, and then nailed it with him to a tree…he let it die and then resurrected to new life that he shares with us.

Our passage also shares that others saw Jesus’ belief in them, Jesus’ willingness to love and brought folks to them.  Andrew, a disciple of Jesus, always seems to be introducing others to Jesus…which makes sense, when we are excited about our relationship with someone, we want to connect them to others.  It’s good to pause here and ask ourselves, do we sense Jesus’ love for us so much that we want to introduce Jesus to others like Andrew?

When Andrew is introduced, Jesus asks, what is that you want?  That’s also a good question for us.  We are the church, the body of Christ, what do we want in meeting Jesus?  And, are we ok with playing church or do we really want to experience relationship with Jesus?

If we do want relationship, that changes everything.  First century Judaism understood that names meant something, they had meaning.  We get that on some level today.  But, devout Jews knew that if you knew someone’s name, if you had their name, that brought a sense of knowing and of submitting to someone else.  It was vulnerable to someone else to know one’s name.  

Jesus was introduced to others, he was given their names, and then he did something remarkable, when he met Simon, he gave him a new name, Peter, which means rock.  Later he would say that Peter, would be the rock that the church would stand.  

Friends, may we also know that Jesus has given us that same name, we are the rock.  We wait patiently for the Lord, he hears our plea, then he sets us upon a rock…a rock that isn’t a building or a system, but a relationship that is a sure foundation in a world that can often be shifting underneath us.  And, we have friends that we love…and as we fall in love with Jesus, we want o love them as Jesus loved them and help them, as well as ourselves, find the new name that God is giving to us.  


John 1:1-14

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

Its a new year!  I’m sure we all have hopes and dreams for this new year!

I know that I have some…but, it’s also to be reminded, over and over, that each year presents hard things, a struggle, but also growth and joy.  As we’ve said over Christmas, this is a time of the year to remind us that hope, joy, love, peace are wrapped up in Jesus coming to us, even in the darkest times of our lives.  I am reminded of this whenever I hang out with my spiritual director.  We often hear God nudging us to find God’s self in the darkest parts of our lives.  Through contemplation, prayer, and lots of running, I find a flow that weaves through my life and from the lives of others…all wrapped up with God’s flow that leads to growth.  

That flow starts with relationship.  We are reminded of the beauty of relationship all around us.  Sometimes it’s family, or friends, or church.  But, we know that we need relationship…and there is a beauty in relationship.

Being at the top of Mt. Whitney and seeing the world around us.  Or hiking through the desert of Joshua Tree with families that were so close to us that we considered them family.  And, even recently, hiking with good friends.  There’s a journey involved, it takes effort, and some hardship, but the view and the conversations usually lead to a sense of joy.

Even when we are alone, or having life situations that are hard to handle, beauty can be seen around us in the simplest of things.  I know this time of the year can be hard for folks, even this week, in visiting and talking with some of our church members, I have heard stories of how hard the holidays can be for some.  Yet, in those conversations, I also heard gratitude for our friendships together.

I think that’s part of the beauty of this season where the days are short…the author of John reminds us that God became one of us.  That’s why we celebrate.  That’s why we give and receive presents during this season.  As it says in Scripture, God is our friend and we have the opportunity to return that friendship with God and demonstrate it in how we love others.

Our passage this morning from John says that the Word, or in Greek, Logos, which means expression or form…word a descriptor.  The Word is God’s expression in humanity, with humanity.  God entrusted God’s self with us by humbling God’s self, emptying God’s self, trusting a couple of poor, vulnerable teenagers, with God’s very expression.  Amazing, what a story!!!!!!  Truly the real Christmas Story is immersed with mystery, beauty, and love.  

This expression, this Word, was with God and is God.  The writer of John is implicitly stating that The Word, and The Father, and later the Spirit are one essence together in deep relationship, creating, saving, and sustaining us and all of humanity, through relational energy or flow that is produced in their triune identity.  And, we, humanity, are one with Christ and brought up into that relationship.  In other words, with all that may be happening in our lives, this baby Jesus represents us, we are mysteriously and wonderfully being reborn, things are made new.  

Now, this is truly a gift.  Yet, it also says that we didn’t understand that God came to give us life, abundant life, life lived in the fullness of beautiful friendship with one another and with God.  We didn’t receive it, we wanted to settle for what we knew, we wanted to try to live into a past that really wasn’t all that great, but at least we could understand it, or so we thought…and still think at times.  

Yet, that Gift keeps on giving.  The word keeps on being expressed.  That word can’t be stopped…it says in verse 13 that it’s God’s decision to change everything, to encompass all of humanity in God’s expression, in Jesus.  It’s not our decision, it’s done.  God’s made the decision.

What’s more, God says that God’s place, God’s expression, God’s dwelling is with us.  Rev. Eugene Peterson, a PCUSA minister, wrote a paraphrase of the Bible called the Message.  Here’s how Eugene translates John 1:14:

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

The neighborhood, God moved into the neighborhood.  Now, you hear me say that word a lot.  But, being placed in my neighborhood, and as your pastor, I see beauty, especially the longer that I’m here.  I also see beauty in how Fleming Road UCC is moving beyond its walls to those in our neighborhood, loving them and seeing relationships flow.  

Eugene Peterson also says this:

Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.

I love it!  We want to grow?  We want to be the church God calls us to be?  We want to experience new life, new birth as persons and as a people?  Then, follow the example of God, follow the beauty of relationship, follow what the Expression, the logos, the word of God, Jesus does…go outside…as the church, we are Christ’s body, and that’s where we find life…outside!  When we are doing that, being that, we will see the generosity and expansive glory of God who revels in his love for humanity, his love for you!