Called Together (Jan. 17 – 23)

Sunday, January 23
Third Sunday after Epiphany

Weekly Theme
Called Together

God of Blazing light, through the power of the cross you shattered our darkness, scattering the fears that bind us and setting us free to live as your children. Give us courage and conviction that we may joyfully turn and follow you into new adventures of faithful service, led by the light that shines through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Focus Scripture
Matthew 4:12-23:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, 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 lake—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.

All readings for this week
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Focus Questions

1. What is your own experience of having been called into a Christian community?

2. When have you been an unlikely and unexpected source of help for another person?

3. In what ways has your congregation sat in darkness, and then experienced the light of God’s love?

4. Would you describe your experience of faith and call as ever having a “gut-wrenching” moment?

5. Who are the followers of Jesus who have been “called together” with you? How have they made a difference in your life?

by Kate Huey

John the Baptist “goes before” Jesus in more ways than one: he proclaims the reign of God coming near in the person of Jesus, Herman C. Waetjen writes, but he also “prepares the way of the Lord by going before him into rejection and death in Judea.” There are many indications here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just as there were in the Nativity stories, about where this story will lead.

Epiphany is the season of light, and the first disciples are like those “who sat in darkness” but “have seen a great light.” The light seems to blind them to all that has gone before, to their everyday pursuits and previous commitments. Waetjen describes the first two disciples, Simon and Andrew, as poor (they have only nets, no boat), and the sons of Zebedee as more affluent because they have a boat (in Mark’s version, we read that they even have employees; they are a small family business, and their father undoubtedly needs their strong arms). Thomas Long sees these four disciples as “representative” of those who will follow Jesus in the future: “Jesus summons people from the fabric of family relationships…and from the midst of the workaday world…into a new set of relationships and a new vocation.” The same can be said, then, about followers of Jesus today: we come from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of families, all sorts of faith journeys, and yet Jesus calls us together, to leave our old lives behind, and to be one community even in our diversity. 

We might wonder how to connect the abandonment of our past relationships with today’s emphasis on “family values.” But is it possible that we use our faith or at least our religious commitment to put our lives in respectable, orderly comfort? According to Thomas Long, “The goal of the kingdom is not to serve us in being more effective and productive in our jobs. Our work is truly effective when it serves to express the will of God. The patterns of our lives are not made secure by the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of heaven rearranges them into the new design of God’s own making.” But Long says that all this disruption is “not to destroy but to renew,” and our lives are transformed in the process.

Upsetting our peaceful lives

Perhaps God is still speaking to us, then, in the midst of our efforts to focus on living comfortable, orderly, pleasant lives, in the midst of our attempts to use the gospel, in the face of our expectations that the church under-gird and promote such a life. God calls us, in our own settings, to repent, that is, to turn in a new direction, to open our lives to a radical renewal that may upset and re-orientate them. This radical renewal may contradict many middle-class, prosperity-driven theologies, for example, that seem to under-emphasize the call to work for justice for the poor. How willing are we to have our lives turned upside down in order to experience this kind of repentance? Jesus provoked many of his listeners with such expectations, but on the other hand, he inspired a number of them to leave everything for exactly such a reorientation and renewal. Their lives were never again the same, and probably not too comfortable, either. (There is an important distinction, of course, between being comfortable and being comforted.)

According to F. Dean Lueking, Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah to explain why Jesus goes to the land of the two tribes (Zebulun and Napthali, in Galilee) that had first experienced “the wrath of God” in the form of Assyrian oppression. In fact, at the crossroads of international trade routes, Galilee knew the heel of foreign armies as they marched through, or stopped to occupy the land. There were many Jews there, mixed with the Gentiles, hungry for good news, and it’s a wonderful image–again–of what is to come as the gospel spreads to the whole world, for all of God’s children. Out of that place of Gentiles–Waetjen calls it “the land of contempt”–comes light for the world in the person of Jesus, and that light is experienced as compassion for the suffering and hungers (both physical and spiritual) of the people.

Help from the most unlikely places

Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected of places and the most unlikely of people. When have you felt that you were a person “sitting in darkness,” longing for light to break forth in your life? Were you ever surprised by the way God sent help, or the person bringing it?  What kind of radical reorientation did this produce or require? What new and unexpected things has God done in the life of your church? How do you plan to share it? As you look around your community and around the world, what new works and wonders is God about?

The message that Jesus embodies, Lueking says, isn’t about judgment; it isn’t even about the light. Instead, Jesus is the light: “He is light and will give light, by his teaching and healing, by his suffering and his rising, and through the community of his disciples….” Lueking calls this “a magnificent Epiphany message,” but one that is “news that is both gut-wrenching and glad beyond all expectation.” Commentators agree about the importance then of the community of followers (those of us who have abandoned our nets and boats, and had our lives changed forever) as, in Lueking’s words, “a countercultural force, untamed and raw, summoning us away from all easy ruts to the new life of righteousness.” How many local congregations would be willing to include such words in their mission statements? Still, the story continues: light breaking forth in the most unlikely of places, in the midst of the most unlikely people (and for them, too), and light shining even today in the ministry and faithfulness of communities gathered in Jesus’ name. We ourselves are those most unlikely of people, the mostly unexpected sources of help and hope, and good news for the world.

For further reflection

Helen Keller, 20th century
I must not just live my life; I will not just spend my life. I will invest my life.

Francis de Sales, 16th century
In the quest to know God, may we do ordinary things extraordinarily well.

e.e. cummings, 20th century
Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 19th century
Alas for those who never sing and die with all their music left in them. 

John Buchanan, 21st century
[T]he world and the church are changing more rapidly than we can comprehend…some things are the same: the world and the church desperately need [our] energy, imagination, passion, impatience, intelligence, and love…one of the great biblical themes is that God calls…all of us to walk into the future without knowing exactly where we are headed, to let go of old securities and certainties and trust the God who promises to be with us wherever we go.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Revised Common Lectionary is © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.