January 23, 2011
This morning we see the changing of the guard, as it were. John is arrested, and Jesus begins to move: he takes up his own home base in a small town in Galilee. And he takes up where John leave off; “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
It is interesting that challenging the form in which the kingdom of God is manifest among God’s people at the time is what got John arrested. He challenged the religious leaders of the day to REPENT. They were quite convinced that the way to be God’s faithful was by doing the right actions: no work on the Sabbath, eating with the right people, staying safely away from anyone who was an unbeliever. John and Jesus both challenge the idea that following those rules more scrupulously demonstrates that you are God’s people. They say that God prefers a changed heart that reaches out to embrace the widow and orphan who have no income or advocacy. God’s people welcome the stranger to the table, and offer compassion to those who suffer rather than shunning them as unworthy. John and Jesus are in good company, because that is what the prophets have been saying for centuries, but the prophets got in trouble for the same thing.
Jesus begins his ministry by gathering those who will learn at this side and continue his work: Disciples, we call them. Follow me, and I will make you fish for people, he tells the fishermen he meets at the shoreline. You can ask any acolyte who’s been through training with me what acolyte means. It comes from the Greek word, akolutheo, which means to follow. So an acolyte is a follower or disciple. Being the acolyte in our worship service is just a small example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As acolyte, a kid doesn’t just put a robe on over his jeans and tennis shoes, he bears the light of the Holy Spirit into our assembly, invoking and acknowledging the presence of God who calls us together. We wait for him or her to show us that the Spirit which calls us is present with us. Then we wait for her take that flame of the Spirit and carry it out into the world as we go out into our everyday lives.
Jesus is on the move. He has suddenly stepped into the limelight – a place for which his baptism has prepared him. He begins to gather around him the people he will teach and train. He will teach them to capture the hearts of people by presenting to them the love and mercy of God, stepped out of the Scripture and into the life they are living right this moment.
And he is still at work, doing the same. Only these days it’s us he calls to follow. We are the people whose lives are turned around – in our baptism, as we’ve been remembering, and also in the Scripture that we have before us this morning. In the coming weeks Jesus tells us what the people of God look like. They are humble, knowing that they can’t be the people they are meant to be on their own, but through God’s grace and forgiveness and power they are able to live to love God and the world God loves. They are called to follow by teaching, healing, proclaiming the Good News that the kingdom of God is here, now. He doesn’t call these new disciples to get anything, no promise of eternal life, or any particular favor. He calls them to give, to give a word of hope, to proclaim God’s favor, to give life and healing, and eventually, actually, to give their own lives.
The reason we read this story in the season of Epiphany is to notice when Jesus steps into the limelight, he gathers the most unlikely suspects to work with him and spread the message of eternal life. We notice that Jesus goes to the sick and miserable to proclaim hope and new life. We notice that the Word which is Jesus has come down to us this very day to call us to be his disciples – to proclaim the Good News in our world. Our work is as simple as sharing the hope we carry, sharing that we have a prayer life, by letting people know we go to church, by serving and giving to our church. It is also as serious as being Jesus in our world by our hands-on work to bring healing and safety and financial security to our community because we know our life with God compels us to do the work of Jesus where we are.
Jesus’ work on earth is not finished. There are still so many who need to hear the Good News of God’s presence with them. We are called to follow as Jesus’ first disciples were called. We may not be called to give up our vocation in order to preach or teach, but we are certainly called to be God’s hands and heart in our own world. “Jesus has no hands but yours,” said Theresa of Avila. When I write the Greek word akolutheo on the blackboard and tell my acolytes that they are called to a special work in our worship, which cannot begin until they bring in the flame of the Holy Spirit, their eyes widen and they stop. Suddenly it’s not just putting on a robe, it becomes work for Jesus. My prayer this morning that you will hear the same call in our reading today; your own call to follow, to do the work that only you can do for your neighbors, your community, your world.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.