From the Top

Matthew 4:12-23

Beginnings matter. Just think how different our expectation would be if Star Wars didn’t begin with “A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far Away….” and see that crawl and we didn’t see that crawl telling the background information of Galactic Empires and rebellions.Or the beginning of the movie Up, totally setting us up as we see in a few short scenes the love story that is Carl and Ellie, or think about the very first episode of the series “Lost”– the eye opening, the disorientation, and the dog.

They set our expectations. They, if not point us in the direction we’re going, give us a few landmarks so that what we’re about to experience has some sense of context.

Its no different with Matthew as we begin following Jesus’ ministry. Three things to gleen are that: Jesus’ ministry begins as John’s ends after his arrest, that Jesus went someplace new to begin his ministry, and that when Jesus began calling the disciples, he didn’t veer far from his new home and the lifestyle of the residents of Capernaum.

Scripture seems to point that subsequent to Jesus’ baptism, his 40 days in the desert,  and then John’s baptism, Jesus assumes the mantle of foretelling that the Kingdom of God had drawn near. A page has turned. Much like Elisha assumed the ministry of Elijah

with John’s demise at hand, his pronouncements that one would follow after him now take root in Jesus stepping forward and living more fully into a public ministry. There was a season for John and now the season of Jesus’ ministry has come into being.

We have seasons in our lives when we are active and when we are resting, when we are leading and when we play supportive roles. I think the key is to, like Jesus, know that there’s a rhythm and a timing to this.

To mark this point of transition and coming to the forefront, he left his home and went to Capernaum. Now, depending on how you read this, it could mean that Jesus went to a place where he was unknown and obscure so that he would not be associated with the ministry of John in a time when it was dangerous to be associated with John, or he was going to the relatively cosmopolitan area that was near the major Roman road traveling north and south from Asia Minor and Syria to the north and Egypt to the south. If it was for the latter, then he wasn’t going to be obscure but for a strategic reason for the spread of the Good News.

I don’t know which reason he went to Capernaum and I’m not really sure that it matters why, but what I think does matter is that he did go. Elsewhere in Scripture we have the words, “a prophet is not without honor in his hometown”. Maybe Jesus knew this before the day when he was run out of his hometown. To tell the good news he needed to be away from distraction and prior narrative about him and his family so that he could be about the work of his public ministry.

We’re like this. Did you know that in many school districts, it is against school policy to go back into the school from which you graduated in order to do your student teaching and practicums? You’re too close, too familiar. There might be something difficult to say that you need to say and folk cannot hear, or maybe the other way around. People who come out of inpatient addiction recovery are told that if they want to have a good chance of staying clean, find a new circle of friends.

New places for new beginnings. Sometimes, responding to our baptism is a very comfortable thing. We receive accolades and recognition. But as the Covenant Service prayer says, sometime we cannot follow Christ unless we deny ourselves. And sometimes that denying self means venturing into the unknown, and it doesn’t have to simply be geographical in nature. For those of us who like control, to give certainty over to God for the sake of responding to our baptism and doing a new and different thing can be scary.

Which leads to a very natural third point: when Jesus called the first disciples, he related well to their context. It is assumed that for all his childhood and early adult life, Jesus trained, apprenticed and grew into the same role as his father: a carpenter (well tekton is better translated artisan, craftsman, or handyman but tradition hold carpenter, so we we’ll go with that).  Have you ever heard the phrase, “if all you have is a hammer in your hand, then everything looks like a nail”? Well, the point is that Jesus grew up in a different environment, different language. And so when he called the very first disciples into ministry, he eschewed the language of either woodworking or stone working. He adopted the metaphors a fisherman would understand: “I’ll make you fish-for people”. And they got it. They understood exactly what Jesus was inviting them to join in on.

It is so easy to stick to our language that we know.

As United Methodists we’re particularly good at this, especially when it comes to code language and acronyms. And sometimes we forget what that what is clearest and simplest is the best. We don’t always need to festoon with such colorful language that we obscure (see what I did there). We don’t need to use insider language or imagery. What we need to use is whatever language or medium that is clearest and most accommodating for people whom we graciously invite into the shared ministry of Jesus.

I’m glad the first children’s sermon I ever did is not on video anywhere. I’d be so embarrassed. Finding accessible language is important for the children in our midst, the teens in our community of faith, and all the people who are not yet here and maybe have no inclination towards church but yet find the need to seek out something beyond themselves as a reoccurring theme in their life. If we can find ways through our deeds which we practice, the metaphors which we embrace and the language we use to connect, who knows how many others can join in this ever-moving, ever changing movement of Jesus followers. New beginnings could be happening all around.

Yes, beginnings are important. We don’t need to doubt that. We know this from our experiences. What’s the phrase? “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Regardless, how we begin matters. How Jesus began his ministry mattered then and matters now.

Today is the last Sunday of January in 2014. That’s hard to believe, right? One month almost gone. But that’s okay. There’s still 11 months to come. We don’t know what they will entail. But what we do know is that while we are in the opening strains of this year, we might have some clues as to how this year is going, so far. Some things we like and some things we don’t.

If you aren’t thrilled with the way things are going, its not too late. You can still begin anew, find a new and different pattern of life, a changed way of attending to this journey we call our life with Jesus.  The invitation is there: maybe we’re out in the boat and its a fine days catch and its difficult to leave our boats and tend a different kind of nets. Maybe we’ve been casting from the banks and not only is our arm sore from casting but our creel basket is empty—we haven’t caught anything. Maybe we’re looking forward to an invitation to try something new. Maybe we’re somewhere in between.

Regardless of where you are on this continuum, Jesus’ invitation to begin new and refresh abides for you, for me and the world. What do you say? Lets go join in.