Being SJLC 2014: Manage
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 4:12–4:25
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 25-26, 2014
“Being SJLC 2014: Manage”
The Gospel lesson for today is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he calls the first disciples and ministers to great crowds, “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23). As Jesus calls those first disciples, two sets of brothers – Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John – we are told that all four “immediately [they] left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:20, 22). This call from Jesus is what is before us today in Week #3 of Serving Jesus – Living in Community, our 4-week focus in this Epiphany season. Week by week, we are lifting up those four elements of our congregational vision: GATHER – DISCIPLE – MANAGE – INVITE. Thus far, we have looked at Gather and Disciple, which leads us to that third vision element, Manage, the focus of today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus begins his ministry up north in Galilee – not anywhere close to Jerusalem, but about as far away from it as you could get. It is interesting to note that Jesus’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), is exactly the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed (Matthew 3:2). And it is still the message we proclaim today. Did you notice the connection between today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 9:1-4) and the Gospel lesson? Isaiah’s prophecy deals with two of the twelve tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, whose boundaries made up the northern border of Israel. And because they were so far north, they were the first to feel the wrath of the conquering Assyrian army that swept through and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria in 721 B.C. That surely was a time of great darkness for the people. But in the midst of this, the Word of the Lord comes to his people who are so dejected and downcast: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). For the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali – for all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death – light has dawned. And that light is Jesus, who tells us: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus the Light of the world has come to fulfill the words of Isaiah’s prophecy, and in his presence darkness and death fade away.
So, what does that third vision element of MANAGE have to do with all this? We might wonder about this given what those first disciples did. When Jesus spoke to Peter, Andrew, James and John, telling them to, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), they dropped what they were doing and did just that – immediately, we are told. Not later on after they had time to think it over; not at some point down the road when they had all their loose ends tied up; not deferring and postponing following Jesus until there was a better time, but immediately. These were seasoned fishermen who managed a business. Did they just up and leave – just like that? James and John, we are told, left dear old dad, Zebedee, in the boat mending the fishing nets and took off to follow Jesus. How could they do this? That doesn’t seem like very good management to us. Are we missing something here?
The call to follow Jesus causes us to reassess and re-evaluate our life and how we are managing it; what’s important and what is not; what’s essential and what’s trivial. . That call may come beginning very early on at our Baptism. It may come later on in life when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith. It may come at various points along our faith journey, calling us from the old life of sin to a new and renewed following of Jesus. That call does not always come at a time that’s convenient for us, but it does come at the time that the Lord Jesus in his wisdom knows is the right time. When Jesus calls us to follow him, as he did with Peter, Andrew, James and John, a great adventure awaits us. In our following, Jesus teaches us a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us. No longer do we see everything revolving around me, myself and I, but we see ourselves and the world around us as vessels, vehicles and instruments to bring glory to our Lord and Savior. We see our time, our possessions, and our selves not as things we own, but as that which belongs to God. All of this makes no sense to the world around us, which continually tries to pull us back in and put a me-centered focus on managing life. This is what Paul writes about in today’s Epistle lesson: “For the word of the cross is folly [foolishness, nonsense] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The word of the cross goes against the grain of our human existence where we want to be in charge, to be in control, to have it all, and to be master of our own destiny. But the one thing we cannot be master of is our own salvation. Our sin and rebellion against God is so deeply ingrained in us that we are spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God. Help must come from outside us, and it has come through that One who brought healing to the sick, who cast out demons, who called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him, and who calls us to do the same. This is Jesus who gave his life upon the cross that we might be a new creation in him.
I can’t tell you how Peter, Andrew, James and John worked it out with their fishing business after Jesus called them. I don’t know this and Scripture doesn’t tell us this. Maybe it doesn’t tell us because in the greater scheme of things this doesn’t really matter. These fishermen-turned-disciples were still connected to earthly families and needed to support them. They still had to eat and pay taxes. But in following Jesus they viewed all of these things in a new light. How could their families and these obligations they had serve Jesus and his mission? No longer were these things ends in themselves, but they served a greater purpose. And what was true for Peter, Andrew, James and John is true for us as well. “Our calling is to help each believer grow in a life-style and world-view that are Christ-like, honoring the Lord with our whole life. We joyfully return to God everything He has put into our hands – all that we are and have. We strive to help one another discover our unique and God-given talents, using these in ways that will be a blessing to people inside and outside our congregation” (taken from St. John’s Vision Elements).
Part of Serving Jesus and Living in Community is godly, faithful and persistent management of the gifts entrusted to us from the Lord God. This is stewardship, plain and simple – not just of money, but of life itself. Make no mistake about it: godly, faithful and persistent stewardship of life and life’s resources is a tremendous witness that points others to Christ. May the Holy Spirit work powerfully in each of our lives as we follow Jesus and manage his gifts, for the glory of God and for the blessing of others. Amen.