Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sermon for 23 January 2011, Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus, Still Lead On
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 23 January 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus, still lead on Till our rest be won; And although the way be cheerless, We will follow calm and fearless; Guide us by Your hand To our fatherland.
The Wise Men have come and gone. Jesus grew up, obedient to Mary and Joseph. And He has been baptized in the Jordan River, tempted by the Devil Himself in the wilderness. And now Jesus calls disciples of His own.
Last week, Andrew introduced His brother to Jesus. That was John chapter 1. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptizer. John told Andrew about Jesus. And Andrew told His brother. Now we see the meaning of John’s saying: He must increase, I must decrease:
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.
John—arrested? That’s news. Why? You know the reason, but we aren’t told yet by this point in St. Matthew’s Gospel account. The forerunner did what he had been given to do. Now it is up to Jesus to lead on until our rest be won.
Where does Jesus lead us? Galilee. Why Galilee? The first eleven verses of Matthew four tell of the temptation for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Then, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. Jesus was from the region of Galilee, specifically Nazareth. St. Luke records that He preached in the synagogues, including the one in Nazareth. And then, Jesus calls His first disciples.
Why Galilee? This wasn’t just a homecoming. He went there to fulifll prophecy. One of the Biblical images painted for us in the readings each Epiphany season is light. Jesus is light that darkness drear cannot overcome. Jesus is your light in the darkness. Think about the contrast in the hymn: If the way be drear, If the foe be near, Let no faithless fears o’ertake us, Let not faith and hope forsake us; Safely past the foe To our home we go.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."
Darkness. Light. He went to fulfill Isaiah. He went to be the light. He went to preach. Jesus hasn’t said much by this point in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. He spoke to the Baptizer and the Tempter.

And then we hear His first public words:
 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The reign of heaven is near. How near? It’s right there at the end of your arm, right before your eyes, in Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is found in Jesus. There is no way around Him, no way to the Father but through Him. And how does one prepare for the kingdom? Repent.
Repent? But Pastor, it’s not Lent yet! What’s with all this “repent” business? No it’s not Lent, but a Christian doesn’t need Lent in order to repent.

A good Bible study on Confession [by Korey Maas] looks at the Biblical foundation for contrition and repentance, and confession for the sake of absolution. Unfortunately, some Christian traditions depart from this genuinely Biblical foundation. How do differences in Christian teaching change one’s perspective on repentance?
The Bible talks about daily repentance. Some, instead, teach penance or crisis repentance:
Penance: A Sacrament for the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics. When someone repents, they must feel sorrow for sin, confess, and perform certain works to amend their lives (“make satisfaction” for Roman Catholics). The penitential system developed from the early Christian practice of counseling people after confession and Absolution. For example, if a man stole a sheep, the pastor would counsel him to return the sheep.
In practice, this has led to the stereotypical “Father, forgive me for I have sinned, it has been six months since my last confession,” followed by a series of Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
In the very first of the 95 Theses, Luther wrote: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” He further explains, “We pray throughout our whole life and we must pray ‘forgive us our [trespasses]” [Matt. 6:12]; therefore we repent throughout our whole life and are displeased with ourselves, unless anyone may be so foolish to think he must only pretend to pray for the forgiveness of [sins]. For the debts for which we are commanded to pray are real and not to be treated lightly; and even if they were venial, we could not be saved unless they were remitted [forgiven].” AE 1:83-85
Americans are much more familiar with the practice of frontier revivals, common in conjunction with the so-called “altar call.” Crisis repentance: For many Protestants, repentance is something done once or only occasionally, when one experiences a spiritual crisis. During the religious revivals of the 1800s, many introduced the practice of an “altar call” by which people are encouraged to commit or recommit their lives to Christ.
Often, Christians from this tradition assert that Biblically, salvation is a gift, and humans can do nothing to earn or deserve it. Yet, the “altar call” is alive and well in many congregations, and Christians or potential Christians are urged to make a decision for Jesus, an act of their own will, in direct contradiction to the Biblical teaching that salvation is a gift and Jesus words in John 15:16, “Remember, you did not choose Me, but I have chosen you.” The American practice of the “altar call” can be traced back to Charles Finney, a leader of what historians call the Second Great Awakening
. Theologically, Finney is troubling, because He denied original sin. Finney says that Christ could not have died for anyone else’s sins than his own. Therefore, Finney also said that the Word, Baptism, and Communion were powerless to forgive sins or convert.  A person must convert him or herself. He refused to attend any seminary, yet this false teacher is praised to high heaven within American Evangelicalism today.
What does Scripture teach? Daily repentance: Lutherans teach that repentance is not an occasional action but should be part of daily Christian life and prayer. Worship usually begins with confession and Absolution. Lutherans expect people to repent before receiving the Lord’s Supper.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Christian teaching on repentance should be this simple. Truth matters. The purity of Christian teaching matters. This isn’t just splitting hairs. There is a fundamental difference between daily repentance and crisis repentance or penance. Distortions are not the same thing as the original. Why buy an obvious fake or a sad imitation when Jesus gives the real deal free?

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." When we seek relief From a long-felt grief, When temptations come alluring, Make us patient and enduring; Show us that bright shore Where we weep no more.

Jesus is leading us to the bright shore of heaven. Along the way, He stops at another shore to bring some fishermen along.
While walking 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. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." “Follow me…” The call to discipleship is that simple, that direct, that serious. Jesus said, “Follow me…” and immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him. Jesus called James and John and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Repent. Follow. Immediately. Do these words make you uncomfortable? They should. You may not be one of the Twelve who were later Jesus’ apostles to the world, but you have been called to be a disciple. At the end of Matthew’s account Jesus tells us that disciples are made by means of Holy Baptism and instruction in the Word. That instruction doesn’t end with Sunday School or Confirmation. That instruction includes words that often make us uncomfortable. But we are not free to ignore them.
Repent. Follow. Immediately. These words are inconvenient for us. There is so much we would rather do. In five seconds, our sinful minds could provide five excuses for why we can’t. “I have a ball game to watch. I need my beauty sleep. I have to take care of my family—not an actual need, but just using family as an excuse. It’s summer and I’d rather be outdoors. I’ve already studied that topic or Biblical book once.”
Jesus’ call to discipleship is uncomfortable and inconvenient. And it’s difficult, unpopular, and not politically correct. Jesus calls you, His Christians out of the ways of the world to a place where He is. We are in the world, but we must not be of the world. Your Lord called you in Holy Baptism. Many of you have been confirmed. Live the life of the baptized. Life in repentance and forgiveness. Receive the Lord’s good gifts regularly. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.
Your Lord invites you as He did His four new disciples in the text. He leads on, but He does not use compulsion. What freedom of will we have can only be used to reject Him, His Word, and His house on His day. That is not the way of faith.
Faith repents. Faith follows. Immediately. No matter the cost. No delay. Is there some place in your life where you are not ready to follow Jesus completely? Repent. And follow. Immediately. Jesus’ call to discipleship is total, all encompassing. He wants you whole, body and soul. The cost of discipleship is high, but nothing under heaven is worth the cost of eternal separation. Jesus’ gifts last longer than anything on earth, any perverse pleasure, any other relationship. He is Gospel. He is good news. Follow. You won’t be disappointed in the life to come.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
Jesus, still lead on Till our rest is won; Heav’nly leader, still direct us, Still support, console, protect us, Till we safely stand In our fatherland. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.