Facing uncertainty with Faith
Isaiah 9 1-4
1 Corinthians 1 10-18
Matthew 4 12-23
The gospel this morning seems an insignificant little account of the beginning of Jesus ministry. Nothing outstanding – nothing too earth shattering, no miracles – yet on closer inspection Matthew is telling his story which is packed with significant detail.
It seems as though Jesus was waiting for a signal; waiting for the green light when he would launch into his Ministry. We do know from all the gospel accounts that as soon as John had been arrested by Herod and imprisoned in the terrible dungeons, Jesus immediately and boldly steps up to replace him. That in itself is an act of courage that we can so easily overlook. Although the Son of God, Jesus was fully human and the thought of being arrested as well must have been at the back of his mind – but he had been called, and his mission must continue.
Common sense tells us the best place to start a new venture would be among family and friends in your home town, but Jesus leaves home in Nazareth and moves to the area around the Sea of Galilee. This is a busy thriving area densely populated with Jews from all kinds of background. They were Galileans, tough, courageous, hard working and always ready for a fight. It was the headquarters of the Zealots and they were looking for a rebel leader. They were also a people despised by the Pukka Jews from Jerusalem.
Just like God, then, to go for the least likely place to start a ministry. He starts with the Jews, the Gentiles would come later and he continues John’s message of repentance.
Bishop Tom Wright tell that when he was a small boy he would lift the phone, dial random numbers and when someone answered would ask ‘are you on the line?’ When they said ‘yes’ he would shout ‘Well get off quick there’s a train coming’. It was a schoolboy prank, but warning of an approaching object or event is important; we need to know what is coming so that we can get out of the way or take the appropriate action. Jesus is on the line and he is saying the kingdom of heaven is coming. The other gospel writers’ talk about the kingdom of God, it is the same thing but Matthew was a Jew and Jews always avoided using the word God out of respect.
God’s kingdom the sovereign rule of heaven was approaching like an express train. Those who were standing idly by had better take note and get out of the way.
God’s kingdom means danger as well as hope.
If justice and peace are on the way, those who have twisted justice or disturbed peace will be in trouble. They had better get their act together and repent while there is still time. Repent means to change direction, turn around and go the other way, stop what you are doing and do the opposite instead. Each time we confess our sins we are called to repent. Not just say sorry, and carry on as before. God is demanding a change in behaviour, a change in attitude not just words.
So Jesus begins his ministry by calling Kingdom people. Had he worked out in advance the ones he would choose? Or did he just call random men to join Him? We don’t know. What we do know is that they heard the call and responded, which was nothing short of miraculous. Jesus deliberately singled out 12, they were to be the sign of the new Israel.
We wouldn’t have chosen men like these. They really were a mixed bunch. Five fishermen, one businessman, four had been zealots. There were brothers and friends and one outsider from the south, a mixed bunch of potential misfits. They had conflicting temperaments as well, impetuous, cautions, arrogant, humble, perceptive, hesitant, quick tempered, doubting, and one who was sure that he was always right.
I wonder does this list begin to sound a bit familiar? We are still kingdom people; we have been called to proclaim the sovereign rule of heaven. We too are mixed bunch, and we too have conflicting temperaments. As somebody said, why we are surprised the church has so many problems - it is full of sinners. That is the good news; Jesus didn’t come for the righteous he came for sinners, so we are in good company.
Like the disciples we have to learn to get on with one another and work together if anything is going to be done. We are not Kingdom people by chance, we have been called by name, called with our particular skill and gift, called to work as one.
If we were God we wouldn’t have called us
The bible is full of things we would NOT have done:
We’ve no food so let’s invite 5000 people to sit down and give them 5 loaves and 2 small fish. (The feeding of the 5,000.)
We have a sacrifice to burn and no fire, so lets really soak it with barrel-loads of water first. (Elisha and the prophets of Baal)
We have an incurable leper, so tell him to wash the leprosy away in a dirty river. (Naaman is cured of Leprosy)
We have an impossible city to capture so let’s get the local band to play trumpets and we’ll all walk round in circles and shout. (Joshua at the battle of Jericho)
We have a man born blind so let’s spit on the ground and then put mud in his eyes. (Jesus heals a blind man).
We’ve run out of wine so let’s offer them washing water instead. (The Wedding at Cana)
No, we wouldn’t do it like God, and we wouldn’t have chosen us. But here we are, called, chosen and we have to acknowledge it is not easy. For there is always the tendency to look back to the good old days rather than forward to the Promised Land, where there is uncertainty.
It is tempting to reminisce. When we get conversations like: “Of course it is not like it was when Rev Popplethwaite was here. He was kind and gentle and he taught me all I know. The two we’ve had since, and the one we have now, well I am sure they do their best, but there was that one who wore jeans and trainers and the other one didn’t bow to the altar enough and now we have a woman.”
As kingdom people we must keep looking forward, sometimes we may have to leave logic behind and trust God for the future, when we have to look for the fire from heaven when everything seems a bit damp. Like Naaman when he finally did what God asked, we must want to be whole and clean on the inside as well as the outside. Like Joshua, learn how to capture ground from the enemy even if we have to what seems foolish. It is all about seeing things from heaven's point of view. As the Poem goes, “Two men looked out from prison bars; One saw mud but the other saw stars.” Are we up for it today, to hear the call and follow the one who would never do it like us and trust Him for our future whatever it may hold? It is scary, for we all like certainty; but it is also exciting to think we are in God’s perfect plan for us as individuals, as members of St. Peter’s and as part of the Benefice.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Jew in Dachau during the last war. She described how life in the hell of Dachau was like looking at a tapestry from the wrong side, with all the threads hanging down and the knots visible and it was impossible to make any sense or see any picture at all. Only God could see the perfect picture from above. What she and we have to do is trust God to work it out for us and produce the perfect picture. Sadly she died in prison but with faith that God would sort out the loose ends. It might feel like a muddle for us at present, with the loose ends very visible, Karen waiting for surgery for her cancer, Sandy waiting to see what the future has for her, and the Benefice in the hands of the church wardens. We have to trust God that we will see the picture one day and only God who knows the beginning from the end will sort it out for us as well.