January 22, 2023 St William Church in Naples, FL
Isaiah 8: 23 to 9: 3 + Psalm 27 + I Corinthians1: 1: 10-13, 17 + Matthew 4: 12-23
As we pick up Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus has just come from his desert time. We all have what I like to call “Desert Times.” Times of hardship, challenges when our faith, or motives, our obedience are put to the test. The experience of Jesus there was like a training exercise preparing him for what lies ahead, and the temptations he faced there were the same temptations the Israelites faced in the desert. They concerned food, trust that God would protect them, and the lure of idol worship. Israel nearly failed in the desert. Had it not been for Moses, they would have never come out into the Promised Land. Matthew’s new Moses, Jesus does not fail his Desert Time, and he emerges to lead us to the Promised Kingdom of God.
There are two things for us to take away from this celebration today, two things that God has to say to us as we begin this week that can carry us through the days ahead. The first is revealed in the behavior of Jesus as he begins his mission. He has no intention or any thought that he could or should carry out his mission alone. He not only shares his message, he shares his power as well. He comes out of that desert, and he begins to form the church through those Apostles; the church with which he shares his power to forgive, to heal, to comfort, and to feed the hungry. We can hardly miss what Matthew puts before us. To fulfill the Father’s will, to complete the restoration of paradise, the Kingdom of God, God needs us, and we need one another. There are a lot of people these days who don’t think they need anyone and some who do not think they need the church. Their lives are an endless desert of desperate loneliness and hunger for food that perishes. We come here into Communion because we know we can’t and should not try to go it alone.
The second thing we may take home today is that the creative Word of God meets us where we are. Peter, Andrew, James, John, met Jesus in their everyday lives. They were not in the Temple or the Synagogue. They were doing what they did every day. There is no doubt in my mind that their awareness or readiness for a Messiah made them curious or open to that stranger who walked by, and they got that way by having been in the Synagogue and Temple listening to the Prophets and the Wisdom of the Scriptures. However, unmerited and unexpected grace calls them, moves them, and frees them to change their lives forever.
There is no doubt in my mind either that some of their family and friends would have tried to talk sense into them. Going along with this dreamer/preacher who came out of nowhere and was way too much like John the Baptist was risky and just plain dangerous. The price they paid required a big change from a way of life they knew before and the relationships they had as family. It was not so much that they had to disown or abandon their family, but that they had to open up their sense of who was a brother or a sister. It was not so much that they had to stop fishing for a living, but now they had to fish for something that would give them real life.
In a few moments, we shall bring our meager offerings so symbolic of our lives to this altar praying that they will be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. Then we shall do what God asks of us: give praise and glory to his name. Jesus is still passing by and still looking at us. That may be all we need to know today, and all we need to hear because he still says the same thing to us that he said to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come after me. Follow me.”