Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matthew 4:12-23

“Called Together”

A colleague in ministry fondly recalls watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” seated next to his father while growing up as a child. “One episode I remember,” he said “was about the elephant seals in Argentina. Soon after birthing her seal pup, the mother, now famished, abandoned the pup on the shore so she could go feed in the rich waters off the coast. After feeding, she returned to a different part of the beach and began to call for her baby.”

“Other mothers had done the same, and all had returned at a similar time; I remember thinking they would never find one another. The camera then followed the mother as she called to her pup and listened for the response.”

“Following each other’s voices and scents, soon the mother and pup were reunited . . . from the moment of birth, the sound and scent of the pup are imprinted in the mother’s memory.”

“This fascinated me,” he said, “especially when (my) dad turned to me and said, ‘You know, that’s how it is with God. We are imprinted with a memory of God, and God is imprinted with a memory of us, and even if it takes a lifetime, we will find each other.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 1, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 286)

Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. His ministry unfolds in Capernaum in Galilee, an area with many Gentiles. Jesus made his home in this land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. It is a detail that Matthew highlights and in doing so, he points to the fulfillment of the words that come to us from our other reading found in The Book of Isaiah: “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” (Isaiah 9:2) - and that light is reflected in the proclamation made by Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Matthew connects Jesus to Isaiah’s message about the saving love of God. In Isaiah the prophet speaks of the light of a new king, probably referring to a new prince born after 732 BCE, following a time of war. Since the early church, Christians have associated this promise with Jesus, seeing Jesus as the “Prince of Peace” and a king in the line of King David.

Jesus calls to Peter and Andrew his brother and to two other brothers, James and John – all of them fishermen (sic). Peter and Andrew leave their nets behind and immediately followed him.

James and John do the same but they leave not only their nets but their boat and their father Zebedee. Such an immediate departure from work, family and home is surprising, if not troubling.

But it may be they were compelled to obey Jesus and to follow him, “almost as if they had been waiting all their lives to hear his voice, to be issued this call, so that when it came, they dropped what they were doing.” (Op. cit.) It may be that they were familiar with the words of the prophet Isaiah and saw in Jesus the light of a new king. Whatever the reason may be for their willingness to follow Jesus without hesitation or reservation, what becomes ultimately important is what Jesus sets about doing, as Peter, Andrew, James and John and others become his disciples.

Jesus went through Galilee, “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) It is a ministry that all twelve disciples will come to share with him.

In the generations to follow many, many others will make the same commitment.

The animated film “Happy Feet” premiered in theaters across the U.S. and Canada and around the world in 2006. At the time Lou Lumenick, a film critic for the New York Post, gushed: “Not only the year’s best animated movie, it’s one of the year’s best, period.”

“Happy Feet” was the story of Mumble, an Emperor penguin unlike any other Emperor penguin. Emperor penguins are born to sing, we are told. All except Mumble. It seems he was born to dance – tap dance.

As for his singing it was characterized less by mumbling and more by screeching. Like the elephant seals of Argentina, the Emperor penguins of Antarctica were able to establish a recognizable “voice” or “sound” or “song” between mother and baby. One would imagine it would be enough to hear Mumble screeching to recognize him.

What makes the story of Mumble important is the recognition that as different as he was, by being true to himself he made all the difference in the world. It is true that when Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John that they are all fishermen (sic).

But among the twelve disciples who initially followed Jesus we are told that Matthew was a tax collector. In many ways Matthew could not have been more different than Peter, Andrew, James and John.

As for the others, there is no clear indication of what they did in the way of work and livelihood. Aside from Matthew the others who respond to Jesus include Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James, Thaddaeus, Simon and Judas. That they were not all fishermen (sic) is significant. Like Mumble, they were also “different.”

And like them, you and I are also different. God calls each of us to a life of service – teaching, proclaiming and curing – and it matters that we are different.

We are called together – not to be like-minded in our political opinions and religious points of view – but “to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) We are called to be of the same mind – not of like-mind, but the same mind - doing nothing from conceit, but in humility to always regard others as better than ourselves. We are to look out not to our own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-11)

“Follow me,” Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) They hear his voice and they follow.

The challenge we face in our lives is to discern whether or not the voice we hear is the voice of God. Many years ago I served as the celebrant for a wedding ceremony in Lāhainā.

I learned from the bride during our visit in preparation for the wedding that her mother would not be attending the ceremony. “This is my second marriage,” she said. “The first one ended in a divorce. My mom attends a church that does not believe in divorce.”

“What brought the first marriage to an end?” I asked.

“He was verbally and physically abusive. It went on for years. I tried to make it work,” she said. “But after awhile it became too much. When I began to worry about the safety and well-being of our children, I realized it was time to end the marriage.”

It was difficult for me not to express my own feelings of rage about the abuse and about a church more concerned about “doctrine” and the way things are supposed to be. Was it God’s voice saying, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord, even if he beats you up!”? (Ephesians 5:22) A  more careful reading of The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians indicates otherwise.

There are other voices that clamor for our attention, voices that claim to speak for God. As disciples of Jesus Christ it is our responsibility, in the midst of many voices calling us, to know God well enough that we are able to discern what voices are consistent with the One in whose image we have been created; to know that we have been redeemed by God through Jesus Christ and to know that we are sustained by God’s Spirit in and through the body of Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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