Being SJLC 2023: Gathering
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 4:12–25
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2023
“Serving Jesus-Living in Community: Gathering”
This season after Christmas and before Lent is called Epiphany, which means to manifest, or show forth. That is exactly what’s happening in today’s Gospel lesson as Jesus begins his ministry. The words from the prophet Isaiah, part of today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 9:1-4) and quoted in the Gospel lesson, were heard at Christmas: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” It’s all about the light and love of Jesus, who is himself the Light of the world (John 8:12), going out farther and farther, penetrating more and more into the dark recesses and shadowy corners of our lives and our world. Jesus’ ministry begins with a message similar to that of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The big difference between the two is that John pointed ahead to the promised One who was coming after him. In Jesus, who is that promised One, the kingdom of heaven not only is at hand, but finds its center and fulfillment. Where Jesus is, there is the kingdom of heaven. Where Jesus is, there is a gathering of people who find their center and fulfillment in Jesus. It is that word “gathering” that we focus on today as we begin a 4-part Epiphany series, “Serving Jesus-Living in Community.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Each year during the Epiphany season, we spend some time looking at what it means to serve Jesus and live in community. We shorten “Serving Jesus–Living in Community” to “Being SJLC.” And SJLC can mean both St. John’s Lutheran Church as well as Serving Jesus–Living in Community; it’s both/and. The next four weeks will focus on what this looks like in our individual lives and in our collective life as a congregation. Some years ago, we started to see life and ministry through the lens of joining Jesus on his mission. Bit by bit, this has come to define who we are and what we are doing in our life together at St. John’s. As we learned from Pastor Greg Finke, we see life through these five mission practices and their attending questions:
- Seeking the kingdom/How did you see God at work this week?
- Hearing from Jesus/What has Jesus been teaching you in his Word?
- Talking with people/What kinds of conversations are you having with people who don’t know Jesus?
- Doing good/What good can we do around here?
- Ministering through prayer/How can we help you in prayer?
As Greg Finke would remind us, “All of this in here (within the congregation) is for out there (outside in the community and world).” This gathering of the Body of Christ is for a purpose, and it’s not just about us. It is about us who are in here, or course, but it’s also about the people out there who don’t yet know who Jesus is, or who don’t follow him. They also are people for whom Jesus shed his blood and gave his life on the cross.
Nearly three years ago in June 2020, we revised our congregation’s Bylaws and regrouped how our governing body, the Church Council, is structured. We reduced the number of ministry areas to just five: Gathering, Connecting, Discipling, Living Faith, and Messaging. Messaging permeates and runs through the other four, and this is how we are structured as a congregation to join Jesus on his mission. And the first of these is Gathering, which includes all those ministries related to our weekly worship gathering: music, Lay Assistants, Altar Care, Ushers, Acolytes and Crucifers, Prayer Team and many more.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus gathered disciples around him: Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. As we heard in the Gospel lesson, they were all fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus called them to a different kind of fishing: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Always amazing to me is their response: immediately they left everything behind to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:20, 22). And then another gathering takes place as people from all over come to Jesus. Some came to hear him preach and teach. Some came to have Jesus heal their sicknesses and diseases. Some came to have him cast out the demons that were afflicting them. But they all came to Jesus and gathered about him. Why? Because they saw in Jesus hope for living.
So why are we gathered here today? Why do we come together in this place, at this time, week after week, Sunday after Sunday? Is it mere habit? Or guilt which drives us to be present? Or is there something deeper going on here? When everything else is stripped away, I believe that we gather together for the same reason that those people in the Gospel lesson did: because we see in Jesus hope for living. It is as Paul the apostle closes today’s Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 1:10-18): “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To many in the world, this weekly gathering of ours is foolishness and folly. It makes no sense to them. In fact, the original word here for folly (μωρία), is where we get our word “moron.” That’s how foolish it is in the eyes of the world. But to us who are being saved, this word of the cross is life and salvation. At the heart of our gathering is the cross of Christ, and this is reflected in the architecture of our Sanctuary. At the heart, the center, of the house of the Lord is the cross of Christ, reminding us always of the One in whose Name we gather; the One who has shed his blood and given his life as payment for all our sins on that cross. As Lutheran Christians, the theology of the cross is front and center in our gathering. It is not what we can do for God; it is what God in Christ has done for us. When Paul uses the word “power” in that final verse of the Epistle lesson, the original word for power (δύναμις) is where we get our word “dynamite.” This word of the cross is so explosively powerful that it can level mountains of pride and prejudice, breaking through hardened hearts and minds to expose the real need in each of our lives. And the real need is for a Savior: One who will step into the mess that we’ve made of our lives and of our world in order to buy us back from destruction with his own blood. This is at the heart of every gathering of Christ’s people around Word and Sacrament. That is why this gathering is so vitally important. This is why we do what we do, and it is from this blessed truth that we do indeed go forth to serve Jesus and live in community. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen
Join us next Sunday as our Epiphany series continues with the focus on “Connecting.”