Monday, January 23, 2017

Leaving Our Nets





Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-23
January 22, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading today is again from the book of the prophet Isaiah, this time one of the prophecies of the messiah. You recently heard this, if you were in church on Christmas Eve, but you heard even more verses than in this reading. Following the text you hear today comes the familiar “Unto us a child is born...a son is given…and his name shall be called “wonderful counselor, almighty God, everlasting father, the prince of peace. The promise is that in a time of struggle and anguish – captivity, brutality, hunger and poverty – in a time of deep darkness, God will send a savior. Let’s listen for God’s promise in Isaiah 9:1-4


1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.
In the former time he brought into contempt
the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea,
the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.


The gospel reading for today is from Matthew’s gospel. If you were in church last week you heard from John’s gospel about Andrew and his brother Simon finding Jesus and following him. But each gospel tells its own stories, and in Matthew, Jesus finds Andrew and Simon, and calls them to follow. Jesus has been baptized in the River Jordan by John, has suffered forty days of temptation in the wilderness, and has now heard that John the Baptist has been arrested by HerodAntipas. What we know is that John the Baptist will be beheaded. Jesus does not yet know this. He leaves the area for Galilee, in the northern part of the country.

He goes to Capernaum, in the territory that was once called Zebulun and Naphtali, after the two sons of Jacob who were given that land when the twelve tribes received their allotments of land. The writer of Matthew is careful to make sure that we make the connection to the prophecy in Isaiah. Let’s listen for the good news in Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus 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." 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. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.



The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.



Zebulun and Naphtali.
You can’t go visit them.
They are not there anymore.

They weren’t there when Jesus walked the earth either, and they hadn’t been there for seven hundred years. Zebulun and Naphtali were sons of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. Zebulun was the sixth and last son of Jacob and Leah; Naphtali was the son of Jacob and Rachel’s maidservant, Bilhah. They were also the names of regions held by two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Zebulun and Naphtali, the tribal territories, were at the northern part of Israel, vulnerable to incursions from across the border. They were the first lands to be taken and annexed by the Assyrians, and the people were subsequently deported. At that point, Zebulun and Naphtali were no more.

Now, that same region around the Sea of Galilee was under Roman occupation, and it was there that Jesus went – he withdrew to the town of Capernaum. Just as the scene was grim in the time of Isaiah, so it was in the time of Jesus. It looked bleak for the people of the covenant. Occupied by empire, the people of Israel were oppressed. They were in poverty; their poverty contributed to many kinds of illness. Their freedom of movement was limited, they had no voice or power or influence. Some had chosen to collaborate with the Romans – to be what would come to be called quislings – those who decided their best course of action would be to turn on their fellow countrymen and trade their integrity for a good post, power, more money, better food or higher status.

The future looked bleak, as if it would be night forever,
and they would not again see the dawn break,
never again feel the warmth of peace,
never again see the light of God’s love shining in the darkness.

Zebulon and Naphtali.
You can’t go there anymore, but you know that place.
Maybe you yourself have been there,
or you know someone who has been there.[1]

It’s a desolate place, where violence is the norm,
and chaos and gloom fall on you like rain.
Dense fog and dismal days are the daily forecast.
In the distance, you hear the sound of tramping boots of armies on the move,
and nearby you hear the cries of children, hungry and hopeless.
Each morning brings a gnawing hunger,
and you give up looking for it to ever be different.

But God has other plans for Nazareth, for Judea, for the world, and for you.
The light will shine in the darkness,
and the mighty hand of God will break the yoke of oppression.
Famine and despair will evaporate in the light of the sun.
All the boots of the tramping warriors,
all the garments rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.
You know his name – wonderful, counselor, mighty God, prince of peace.
And now he has returned to his home country,
the forgotten and desolate place from which the light will shine.
You can hear his footsteps now, and his voice,
as he walks along the shores of the Sea of Galilee,
and his message echoes John the Baptist:
turn around! change direction! be transformed!
because the kingdom of God is here.

How could you do anything but follow, transfixed, fascinated?
Here is the light that shines in the darkness
and he is calling your name:
Come, follow me.
Come, follow me.

When you step out of the darkness into a bright light, you’re blinded for a moment, until your eyes adjust. Everything looks a bit blurry, or maybe that is tears of joy in your eyes. The promise is true – you can see that now!

The light is shining right here and now, and all you need to do is follow.
You’d leave your nets, leave your hometown,
leave your father and the boat and the family business.

If you’re a fisherman, you’ll now fish for people.
If you’re a banker, your savings will be the souls of the hopeless.
If you own a restaurant, you’ll feed God’s hungry people.
If you’re a singer, your song is love.
If you’re a musician, you only play joy now.
If you’re a teacher, your classroom is the world, and your subject is hope.

Your occupation is his occupation:
teaching in the synagogues,
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,
curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Come follow me, he says.
And when you look into his eyes, you know that it is true.
You drop your nets – whatever they are.
And you go.
You just go.



[1] I am indebted to the work of John F.A. Sawyer, Isaiah, Westminster John Knox Press, 1984, for this concept.

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