Matthew 4:12-22 (3rd Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 23, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson for today recorded in Matthew 4:
Now when [Jesus] 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.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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.
Let’s start today with a short story on priorities. A group of friends went deer hunting and paired off in two’s for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under an eight point buck. “”Where’s Harry?” “Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple of miles back up the trail.” “You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?” “A tough call,” nodded the hunter, “but I figured no one is going to steal Harry.”
Do you think somebody’s priorities were a little off? This little story reminds us that you and I need to take a closer look at our priorities because they can easily get off track. There are also times and events in life that force us to change our priorities. Just consider the changes in priorities in the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her family since the miracle that God performed by sparing her life and giving her such a successful recovery. I don’t know what her relationship with Jesus Christ had been, but I pray that she will be looking at things differently from now on if she didn’t know Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
So many times the Lord uses events in the lives of His people—good and bad—to call us back to right priorities, to His priorities. We do get off track and need to make course corrections. We do set up things as important when they really shouldn’t be our primary focus.
It’s really our human nature to do so. It’s who we are as sinners that we think primarily about ourselves, our needs, our wants, our desires, our goals. We are turned in on ourselves and therefore each person becomes their own priority. Why do marriages typically fall apart? Because at least one person in the relationship is thinking only about their wants and needs and not the Biblical covenant made with their spouse. Why do people steal? Because they are concerned about getting what they want and think that they deserve. Why do athletes take drugs to enhance their performance? Because they need to be the winners at all costs. What motivates you and me to lie and cheat, to swear unnecessary and casual oaths, to disobey our parents and others in authority? Our sinful priorities of “me first.” “I want things to be the way I want them to be, when I want them to be, and how I want them to be and nobody else had better say anything different”
But, if I’m the priority, that means my wife isn’t. If I’m the priority, that means that my children are not. If I’m the priority, then other people really don’t count for all that much. If I’m the priority, then God is out of the picture because I have taken over His role in my life. If I’m the priority, I act as if I’m god of my life.
That’s pretty bad. So what happens when tragedy strikes? I have to turn to myself for answers and help. And what happens when I can’t provide them? I lash out at others and blame them for messing up my life’s priorities. I turn to despair. Do you want to talk about living in a land of deep darkness? Then this is it. Do you want to talk about dwelling in the region and shadow of death? This is it. If my priorities are such that I am the god of my life it’s all over. Life becomes like a black hole, swallowing up everything in sins gravitational pull, with me powerless to stop it.
But thankfully I am not God. Thankfully, although all of us behave at times as if we are the god of our life, the one true God did not hand us over to darkness and death. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-5, 14)
In the person of God the Son, “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.” That’s you and me! There is Light that dispels the darkness of our sinful, mistaken, backward priorities. It is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, who comes to you and me with His Word of forgiveness and life. The great reality is that God’s reign in Jesus has broken into a dark and sinful world, to our world, to reclaim and save it and finally renew it. Individual men and women and children, you and me, are claimed and called by Jesus, graciously and freely through Holy Baptism and the Gospel Word. We are called with the authoritative voice of the Son of God into a relationship of discipleship with Him as our Lord and Master. Like the four fishermen, Andrew, Peter, James, and John, Jesus gives to us through the preaching and teaching of His Word the understanding that none of our old priorities will ever be the same or will ever again possess primary importance.
Those of us who have been called by Christ to be His disciples through Baptism and the teaching of the Word are graciously given new lives and a whole new set of priorities—God’s priorities! 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We are forgiven for all of our sinful and misplaced priorities. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19) By the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, our new priorities given to us enable us to put God first, “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We are no longer conformed to the world’s evil and messed up priorities, but we are “transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1-2)
As we travel life’s road, the priorities and patterns of the world work like ruts into which we slip. They pull us down into the ways of self-righteousness, self-interest, and bitterness. Only God can pull us out and so transform us through the mercies of His Gospel. And once we have been transformed, God calls us to greater service as disciples of Jesus. We serve the Lord as He enables us to do so with His set of priorities. Listen to how St. Paul elaborates on our priorities as disciples of Jesus Christ: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. . . . Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Rom. 12:3-13)
Those are God’s priorities for you and me in Christ. And along with each one of those priorities, the Lord Himself gives you the ability to keep them as priorities in your life and to accomplish them. By God’s grace alone, you and I can and do respond to the call of Christ through Word and Sacrament with faith in Him. After all, in your baptism into Christ Jesus, you are a new creation with a whole new set of priorities. They are the Lord’s priorities, which become yours through faith in Jesus. Now get out there and live those new priorities in the power of your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.