When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–
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.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.
In 21st century America, we are invited to join, participate, follow, watch, pledge and try out a zillion different things. I’ve been invited to parties and participated in fundraisers; I’ve followed groups on Twitter, plan to watch the Super Bowl with friends, pledged a sorority in college, and auditioned for plays in community theatre. When I’m invited, I experience a range of emotions depending on the situation. Being invited to to follow someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean too much to me, while being invited to pledge my sorority may have changed the trajectory of my life as I entered adulthood. Invitations may be easy to accept or decline, depending on the attachment, commitment level and emotional involvement. But just being invited to participate can send a jolt of excitement (ok, maybe it’s not that exciting to follow someone on Twitter – but certainly more exciting to lead an organization or join a new group of friends in a fun Friday night activity). I am quite often caught off guard if I didn’t see the invitation coming (like someone asking me to lead a group when I don’t see myself as the leader before being asked) – receiving the request can be flattering and/or daunting, causing me to do a quick assessment of my skills to help me determine if I am up for the task.
Today’s Gospel reading finds Jesus fulfilling another prophecy related to charismatic John’s imprisonment and the unspoken freedom it gives Jesus to move to Galilee and really increase his presence as a teacher without the confusion of followers choosing between John and Jesus. But he knows he can’t do this without a long lasting group of followers. Andrew, Peter, James and John were most likely hard working fishermen who had little to no social standing in the community. They caught fish for a living; they didn’t run a bank, weren’t CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, nor were they lawyers or doctors. Their jobs were simple yet powerful – go out and get fish so people will eat. The parallel between the jobs of fishermen and the jobs of apostles can be drawn simply: you know how to fish, now let’s fish for people.
I have often wondered over the years, as this Gospel reading comes around, about how I would have likely reacted at the invitation to leave my livelihood and family to go and do some pretty crazy things without the security of my current life. Sadly, I always reach the same conclusion – I’m not very confident that my answer would have been a resounding yes. There is much evidence in my current life of resisting the call to serve, with most of those invitations not EVEN requiring me to give up much of anything. I am currently wrestling pretty mightily with a very radical and transformational call to ministry and if that is any indication, leaving my nets on the side of the Sea of Galilee seems like it may have been a pretty unlikely outcome.
So here is the great news…Jesus doesn’t really tap us on the shoulder and ask us to walk away from everything to do. Whew!!!!! His invitation is comprised of just asking us to follow him. Seems simple, right? Simple – yes. Easy to do – not so much. If you are anything like me, you wake up with great intentions for the way your day will go, or you go to bed on New Year’s Eve with a year’s worth of new commitments for bettering yourself, only to find yourself forgetting all about your commitments or well intentioned to-do lists. It’s hard to keep our focus on Christ and loving each other when we have to run to the grocery store on the way to the office to get the snacks for the meeting we will be hurrying to right after work and before we head home to fold laundry and make lunches for the next day (makes fishing on the Sea of Galilee seem quite simple after all!).
But following Jesus gives all those other things the appropriate purpose and perspective. Committing to adding purposeful study, prayer and actions that bear witness to our relationship with Christ can start with small habits in the morning when you first wake up, at the end of the day when you are ready to rest or all throughout the day mixed in with your other to-do list items. It’s somewhat surprising how quickly those “habits” become integrated in our lives when we do them with a purpose.
Following Christ may mean a drastic change in your lifestyle and commitments. Or it may mean adding in special time at the foot of the Cross each day. Whatever it means for you, the first step is accepting the invitation to accept that God has chosen and loves each and every one of us. The next steps are completely in your court.
The love of our Father is greater than we can imagine and our invitation to follow him sometimes falls on deaf ears. Help us to see you in the world, find time to spend with your in prayer, and to live our lives as followers of you. You are our All in All. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The First Disciples of Jesus
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
On Tuesday, I was given a very powerful gift. I walked into the school office at the end of the day to get some long overdue work completed as I waited for our PTA event later that evening. There are always a few kids whose parents are running a little late and the regulars were sitting in the chairs reading their books and waiting for their parents. Amidst the small group was a mom I knew – being new to our school this year, I am still learning the parents! This parent had two kids at my previous school and so we had known each other from there. She had a baby last spring and I always ask to hold him when she comes to school. Tuesday was no exception – I greeted her and offered my arms to this sweet angel and rekindled my love affair with him on the spot! She had some small talk with me, then asked if she could speak to me privately; we headed back to my office with her sweet pumpkin in my arms. Her other two weren’t with her at the time of our conversation when she asked me a favor. She needed to leave her car and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be towed from our school parking lot. After some gentle probing, she shared she was out of gas and money and planned to walk home with her three children; one infant, one with a brain injury and a kindergartner (the older two still in their car seats in the parking lot). The short version of this story is that I had a choice Tuesday afternoon. As a school principal, I quickly agreed to make sure her car was safe. As a Christian, I had to take it a step further. It was one of the best afternoons I can remember once I made the decision to embrace this encounter and lend a hand. She made it home in her car that day with hopefully one less worry on her plate.
Every day, we have encounters with Christ in our regular lives. My little encounter this week wasn’t on the agenda of my carefully planned out day. My opportunity wasn’t specific to my faith, but my choice was made easier because if it. John and the disciples had choices to make as they encountered Jesus. The historical context of describing Jesus as the “Lamb of God” was a descriptor that meant a great deal to the Jews. Before Christ the Messiah was crucified for our sins, the faithful used animal sacrifice as their method of forgiveness from God. Jesus’ place in the Kingdom of God was so significant as to negate the need for this ritual that was embedded into the traditions of the faithful. I’m going to guess that I would have been pretty skeptical of such a drastic attempt at change based on my track record. But the disciples embraced Jesus as the Messiah, and the encounter was life changing for them. They walked away from their families and their roles in the community to follow Jesus on a wild adventure. They embraced the encounter in a way that makes sense today, but must have seemed incredibly unusual and quite risky with benefits that would be hard to see at the time to the casual observer.
The opportunities may not be so dramatic and might not cause us to so drastically change the course of our lives, but they are present and give us the chance to serve in ways we never imagined. And if you are like me, you may miss them if you focus on YOUR plans, YOUR agenda and YOUR comfort level. My opportunity on Tuesday didn’t cost me much money or time, but the rewards I received knowing I could be the right person at the right time to help someone in need were immeasurable. When she thanked me, I thanked her too. She didn’t approach me to make me feel good, but I was so enriched by the experience. Sometimes God has plans for us that don’t align with our vision for ourselves. Taking the risk to embrace the encounters put in our paths can enrich us beyond imagination. Where is God working in your life to get your attention?
Lamb of God, Giver of Gifts and Knower of Needs, I pray for families in need. May I always be open to responding to any encounters where I can serve you through others and know that you will continue to challenge me to show love to all I meet. Thank you for trusting me to do your work in the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (from the Episcopal Church website).
I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering (probably out loud, as I was prone to do) why Jesus would need to be baptized by John if he was God. My lens as a child in the church was that children and sometimes even adults, went to the front (or back) of the church to the baptismal font for a big celebration on Sundays or other holy days. I knew it was special then, but it wasn’t until I had the honor of standing with my husband as he made the decision to be baptized as an adult in front of our friends and family that I had the full realization of the personal commitment of being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Then, a couple years later, our infant daughter was welcomed as the newest sister in Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever and I nearly lost it that day as the enormity of my responsibility as her parent and fellow Christian to raise her to know and love the Lord, accepting Christ as her savior on her behalf.
Baptism was a relatively new concept started with John. He brought people to faith and repentance with water, and with the promise of someone greater than him coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:1-8) John and Jesus grew up close like brothers, but had not spent a lot of time together as adults. John prophesied in the above lesson from Mark about the good news of Baptism in Christ, so I can only imagine how he felt to be in the position to be commanded to fulfill the will of God by baptizing Jesus himself. I can hope that John had more faith than I would have had under the same circumstances, “You want me to do what to YOU? Right here? Right now? Are you crazy, Jesus???? I’m just not worthy”).
There are some things happening in my life right now that make me feel a strong pull from God in directions that seem quite unusual, difficult, even a little bizarre. I don’t feel comfortable as I think about this plan that God may have for me that is not aligned with the plan I have had for myself. Following Him as he leads me into uncertainty DOES NOT MAKE MUCH SENSE. John probably felt the same way as he was tasked with the actual Baptism of Jesus. But fulfilling the plan is exactly what he did…and much more as we go on to read in the Gospel stories of his edgy and unusual life.
The baptism of Jesus was a necessary step in the completion of the Trinity. And each of us takes that step of joining in the relationship when we are baptized as well. For some critics of baptism in the very young who technically cannot make the decision on their own, here is my response: It is my job as a parent who decides to bring a child into the world and our family to ensure the choice of future of success and happiness. I am tasked with making education a priority, teaching values which support a child growing up to contribute to the world, and demanding that she is NICE in the world and to those she meets. But my most important job is to provide my child the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with God through Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit. That starts with baptism and continues in my expectations for her and the experiences we give her as parents until she goes out into the world in a few short months to make decisions far beyond our control but hopefully withing the realm of her life to date.
Jesus’ baptism fulfills God’s plan, but it also shines a light onto his bottomless forgiveness, love and compassion. Malcom Gladwell talks about finding his faith in this article, highlighting the so called “weapons of the spirit.” He discusses meeting a family who lost their child in a horrific murder, and their discussion of forgiveness and love – sounding so foreign under those extreme circumstances of love. Although I pray I never (and you never) have to experience a life changing event like that, the gift of baptism in my love has given me the weapons I need to approach any challenge I may have with love and forgiveness. I’m not worthy of the gifts I have received, that much is true. So as the receiver of those gifts, how can I be selfish and not turn around and share them with others who may or may not be deemed “worthy” in my human eyes?
We are living in a world where things happen that bring us great sadness. Terrible things happen to the most innocent among us and as we rock along in our well-planned life, a detour pops up that leaves us bewildered and confused. But God has given us all we need to approach these difficult situations with grace and love, giving gifts we didn’t know we could give because it what God calls us to do. It’s the most surprising thing to see when a yucky situation is met with love and forgiveness; let’s walk our walk with Christ making it less surprising to see and more of what we expect to happen when Christians face life’s challenges.
John baptized Jesus and we are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in fulfilling God’s kingdom work in our lives. John followed God’s command and we are called to do the same. Because don’t we all want God to see us and our work and tell the world he is well pleased with us?
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. The love and forgiveness you show to us every day is a gift we want to share with those we meet, even when we may deem them unworthy, just as we are. Teach us how to love one another without judgment and to respond to the challenges of our world in ways that make You well pleased. We ask all this through your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Visit of the Wise Men
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
I’m not always proud of my behavior. I strive to live out God’s plan for me every day and fall WAYYYYY short most days. On my best days, I work to remember that everything is not about me and that my job is to further God’s work in the world where I live. In some of my worst moments, I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself, gossiping about others, passing judgement and being pretty selfish. It certainly isn’t pretty and when I reflect on those memories I am not proud one little bit.
But some of my worst behavior has happened when I feel threatened. In high school, the cliques of high school girls didn’t bring out the best in me. I may or may not have behaved like a spoiled child in the face of the girl drama. As a parent, the threat of something terrible happening to my family has kept me from being rational in decision making and too protective when I needed to let go. In my job as a school principal, parents sometimes come to my office to scream, yell and make threats toward me and our staff. My default when threatened typically isn’t to respond with love and understanding. King Herod most certainly felt threatened by strangers coming to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king; sounds like it was news to him and not welcome news at that.
Herod’s response makes him seem pretty insecure (somewhat understandably in the face of the loss of his power, status and livelihood) and then he gets a bit sneaky. Go find this king so that I can worship him too, he says. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of malarkey in light of a few verses down the page in Matthew 2:16-18 when Herod’s insecurities leads him to make a pretty nasty decision to kill ALL the kids who meet the age criteria of this suspected king. Talk about acting irrationally in the face of a perceived threat!
And that is exactly what it was – a perceived threat. Not a real threat. Jesus was born to save the world, not to rule over a small group of people. But in the face of the threat to his identity, Herod did what seems unthinkable – certainly a drastic response to the situation. He acts out of fear of the unknown – and we are guilty of the same over reactions in our perceived threats today.
For me, I am fortunate to be able to live a life free of too many real threats to my safety and security. So when I feel threatened, it is typically to my reputation, my beliefs, my lifestyle or my ability to be the winner is some competition. But in most cases, the threat isn’t really about me. Jesus coming into the world as a baby was no more a threat to Herod than one of the cool high school girls was to my happiness back in the day. The threat wasn’t real, but based on a misplaced sense of self importance and our need to hold on to those things which we deem important to ourselves, rather than on the real threat of loss, pain and suffering.
This story tells of Epiphany, a feast day in the church where the manifestation of Christ is celebrated along with his baptism. The symbolism of light in the form of a star leading the way to three strangers coming to honor a king beyond the scope of their understanding, the fulfilling of prophecy (Micah 5:2) from ancient teachings and the fact that the revelation of God sending his Son to live among the people as one of them – they certainly qualify as an epiphany where we come to understand something in a new and different way. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas – January 6, 2014 this year, to be exact. We are still singing Christmas carols in church (give us a break – we focused on Advent every week since Thanksgiving!) and now we find ourselves with the first of a long line of threats to the life of Jesus Christ, even as he is still a very young child living with his parents in a small town in relative obscurity. The threat to the life of Jesus was real – yet he didn’t respond in anger, defensiveness or with malice. He offered his other cheek, his love to the persecuted and downtrodden and his heart and salvation to all who follow him – personal status being irrelevant. Striving to live with that unconditional love for others is what we are called to do and fall short of as humans. But we must keep trying every day to keep perspective and discern the real threats: the very real threat of a life without Christ at the center of all we do, in all we meet and in our every day work, actions and relationships.
I haven’t killed anyone when I have felt threatened (whew!!!), but I have made others feel things other than love from me. That’s on me, and my lesson from this reading is to stop, listen and react with love, even when it feels unnatural and contrived at first. I know I’ll get better at it the more I do it.
Light of the world, help me to view others through the eyes of your love. When I am confronted with fear, help me to see that in you, my life is secure. Show me the way to live every day with you as the center. To you are the power and the glory. AMEN.