January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scriptures

Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-25

The Righteous Reign of the Coming King

[a] 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 [b] 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.
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.
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.

Footnotes:

  1. Isaiah 9:1 Ch 8.23 in Heb
  2. Isaiah 9:2 Ch 9.1 in Heb

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus[a] 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.”[b]

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

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.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 4:12 Gk he
  2. Matthew 4:17 Or is at hand
  3. Matthew 4:23 Gk He
  4. Matthew 4:23 Gk gospel


Sermon: “The Weight of Filled Nets

 

Some of my best memories from growing up are of lazy summer afternoons spent on the banks of the Mehrtens farm pond.

My family and I used cane poles and bobbers, with which we hoped to catch carp, buffalo, as well as the occasional bluegill.

 I say “hoped” because, of course, fishing is never a sure thing, as this clip shows.

Three Stooges

Today’s scripture lesson is about fishing, too, but has nothing to do with lazy summer afternoons on the banks of a farm pond.

 The fishing industry in Jesus’ time was state regulated to profit a wealthy handful. Caesar and Herod sold fishing leases that gave “permission” to fish in the Sea of Galilee.

There were taxes on fish and processing, and tolls on shipping and transport. The rich and sophisticated looked down on fisher folk, but that didn’t stop them from turning a profit off their backbreaking work.

Those who fished were themselves caught in the nets of Empire and economy. We have our share of entanglements as well. Some are so subtle and small we don’t even realize they’re there. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous.

You’ve no doubt heard of microwaves and even microbreweries and distilleries. How about microaggressions?

Derald Sue, who wrote two books on the subject, says they’re, “The everyday slights, indignities, putdowns and insults that people of color, women, LGBTQ populations, or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people.

Here are a few examples from Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Microaggressions are part of the attitudes, stereotypes, and assumptions we all carry that we aren’t even aware of.

They creep into our minds and affect our actions, even if we have the best of intentions and would never knowingly say anything that was racist, sexist, or homophobic.

We battle them by, first, being aware of our own biases and fears. It also helps if we interact with people who are different from us and aren’t defensive when someone calls us on remarks that we didn’t think were hurtful or offensives.

Other times, though, the nets binding us are plain to see. Here, for example, are the results of Pew polling from late 2018 showing how Americans felt about the next thirty years of our country.

It ties in well with the title of an article by Michelle Goldberg in this last week’s New York Times that she called, “The Darkness Where the Future Should Be.”

“Pessimism is everywhere,” she writes. “[It’s] in opinion polls, and rising suicide rates, and falling birth rates, and in the downwardly mobile trajectory of millennials.

“It’s political and it’s cultural: at some point in the last few years, a feeling has set in that the future is being foreclosed.”

Americans weren’t always full of gloom and doom as they looked to their future. Consider the rosy outlook in this 1967 clip from The Twenty First Century, a series hosted by Walter Cronkite.

Clip

Ross Douthat, in his book, The Decadent Society, says that our era, “for all its digital wonders, has lost the experience of awe-inspiring technological progress that prior generations came to take for granted.”

We haven’t just lost hope in technology—it scares the holy hallelujah out of us.

  • Clearview AI is a startup whose facial matching technology will tell strangers not just who you are, but also fill them in on the details of your life any time you wander past a surveillance camera.

 

  • According to the Reuters News Service, South Koreans are learning what kind of expressions to wear for job interviews by computers that use “facial recognition technology to analyze character.”

 

  • Though no one gives him much of a chance, entrepreneur Andrew Yang is still alive in the Democratic primary because his campaign is based on the threat that automation and robots pose to society.

 

People are afraid, and not just of technology. They’re afraid of changing demographics and gender roles, afraid of climate change and what the world will look like just decades from now. The nets of hopelessness and fear are everywhere.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced the same kind of circumstances when he preached a sermon he called “Overcoming Fear” in Berlin on January 15, 1933.

The German republic was about to go under. People were afraid of groups like the communists and Nazis, who were fighting in the streets for control of the government.

“Paralyzed by fear, we’ve lost heart,” Bonhoeffer said.

[We’ve] lost the joy of living, our limbs heavy as lead. Perhaps, or most likely, we don’t even realize what’s happened to us; we’re already so used to this state of affairs that it seems natural to us. We almost like it that way, all this misery around us and in our own lives. What would we do if we couldn’t complain?

That’s the worst of it: we don’t even want to find a way out. That’s Fear’s final triumph over us, that we’re afraid to run from it and let it enslave us.

 

Fearful people are also anxious people who need to feel in control. If you don’t think that applies to you, see how familiar some of these symptoms sound.

  • When you decide something, do you run it by other people so many times they know what you’re going to ask before you ask it?

 

  • Do you make long, detailed to do lists, sometimes several times a day?

 

  • Do you do a lot of double checking, calling loved ones over and over again to make sure that they’re okay or re-reading emails several times just to make sure that they’re “perfect,” with no spelling mistakes?

 

  • Do you have a tough time delegating? Fearful people with a need to be in control are never sure something will get done “right,” that is, how they want it done, unless they do it themselves.

 

  • Are you a procrastinator, or do you avoid people, places, or situations that you don’t want to face? After all, if you don’t do something, then you won’t have to be afraid of what might happen.

 

  • Are you busy 24/7 to keep uncertainties and worries at arm’s length?

 

It all takes a lot of time and energy. It also takes the fun out of life. Anything surprising or unexpected is now a threat, not an opportunity.

Living as we do in a fearful time, the security of our nets and boats is tempting. Our need to be in control can leave us clinging to them rather than following Christ’s call.

When that kind of fear grips us, friends, remember whose name we bear. When we’re afraid, Bonhoeffer said…

We name the One who overcame fear, who nailed it to the cross and committed it to oblivion; we name the One who is the shout of victory of humanity redeemed from the fear of death—Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Living One.

 

He alone is Lord over fear; it knows him as its master; it gives way to him alone. So, look to Christ when you’re afraid, call upon Christ and pray to him, believe that he’s with you now, helping you . . . Then fear will grow pale and fade away, and you will be free, through your faith in our strong and living Savior, Jesus Christ.