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The Kingdom of New Beginnings


GOSPEL READING:

Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, 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.’

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 lake—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. 23 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.


SERMON

The gospel lesson for today is all about beginnings. How fitting then with that we hear it at the start of the new year. What is God going to begin among us this year? What new things are we looking forward to? What do we see beginning?

What causes new beginnings? Sometimes strangely the thing that causes a new beginning can be an ending. It seems that the catalyst that spurred the beginning of the ministry of Jesus was the imprisonment of John the Baptist, and the ending of his ministry.

The beginning of the ministry

The sun had set on John’s ministry, and it was time for the ministry of Jesus to Step up a gear. Apparently, his ministry had already been going for a year but Matthew doesn't speak of that time. For Matthew this move, this event is what spurred Jesus to a new action.

The place?

Jesus finds his mission field, he moved to a new hometown in an area that had been long fought over, that had been the frontier for every invasion, and was now once again under foreign rule. A land as Isaiah had said, that was “in darkness”. For him, it was the Assyrian invasion and conquest. For those in the time of Jesus, it was Rome.

We always seem to forget don't we but the places where light is needed most are the darkest places, that the places where Jesus is needed most are the ones where he is known least.

So where is the place where we should be beginning a new ministry? Perhaps it is our place. After all we were not put here by accident. We know there is darkness in the world around us here.

The beginning of the message

Here for the first time in this new phase of the ministry of Jesus we hear that the message has changed. Matthew tells us that from that time on Jesus began to preach repentance and the presence of the Kingdom of God.

The Beginning of the relationship

The beginning of the relationship between Jesus and the disciples was one very different to a normal teacher and disciple relationship.

Usually in those times when a rabbi took a disciple there was a long process of interviewing and testing. The parents of a young man would take him to the rabbi and try and prove to the rabbi how good a student he was. he would recite sections of the Tora from memory to show how devout he was at his studies.

Rabbis only wanted the best of the best for their students.

Jesus turned this convention on it's head. In calling ordinary men who had shown no interest in being a disciple, Jesus changed the convention. God has not changed his recruitment policy ever since, he still calls ordinary people in ordinary places to do extraordinary things.

For us, baptism

The relationship with Jesus is for so many people today a relationship that begins with a call. Just like he did with the disciples Jesus calls us while we are unwilling, when we do not even know him, to enter into a special relationship. We don't sit exams, we don't need to audition, we don't need to prove to Jesus that we are the best of the best and that he would be lucky to have us. Instead I sometimes think that maybe we should be a little insulted that he calls us. Remember the light is needed most in dark places, salvation is needed most for lost souls. Maybe he knows just how much we need him, just what darkness is in us, that he calls us to follow him.


Fishers of men: the beginning of our relationships.

But Jesus does not just call us into relationship with him. Firstly he calls us into the everlasting dynamic dance which is the relationship of the Trinity. He calls us to have the spirit of God within us, he calls us to be a child of the father, just as he is. Then he calls us into the work of the Trinity: he calls us to be part of a priesthood as we do his work as the great high priest. That work is to bring the needs of people before the throne of his father, and to take the blessings from his father to people, people who may not know him themselves. He calls us to do the work of the spirit. What is the work of the spirit to point to Jesus, to help us to understand and believe. We are called to do that too, to point to Jesus.

And he calls us to do that where? Not in a cave or in the desert, but in the relationships that we already have. With the people who we already know and who love and trust us. He now calls us to be that light in dark places. And we know all too well how many of those dark places exist in the world around us.


The miracles: Proofs of the Kingdom beginning

This Gospel lesson follows a bit of a progression, a movement, a flow. First Jesus up and moves, he begins something new. Then he speaks and teaches of repentance and the possibility of new beginnings. Then he finds people who were willing to turn (the literal meaning of the word repentance) and follow him, to embrace a new beginning, and now he shows people just what it looks like when that Kingdom of God breaks into the world. He does this with signs, miracles, that show what it looks like when the Kingdom of God breaks into the everyday broken world.


It’s time for something new! The beginning of right now.

And still Jesus calls us to repent, to be willing to turn from the way we are going and to take on a new way, a new beginning, a new thing.


Behold I make all things new.

God is in the business of new beginnings. We read in Genesis 1: “In the beginning”, and interestingly we read the very same words at the start of the gospel of John in the New Testament: “In the beginning was the word”.

God is in the business of beginnings. God is in the business of new life. God is in the business of resurrection.

I spent Friday night with my brother and my sister together helping my parents put prices on their possessions and prepare them for a garage sale that we had yesterday, and again today. It’s hard to put $2 or 50 cents on a memory, but it had to be done, as they are moving, downsizing, and their new home in a retirement complex won’t fit all their stuff. And that’s just how my dad described it all. In the end, it’s only stuff.

They won’t get a lot for it, but the few dollars they get might be enough to pay for the removalist this week.

But, here’s the thing: they couldn’t move if they hadn’t done it.

Sometimes there is no new beginning without an ending. Sometimes we need to throw away the past in order to move forward.

In order for there to be a resurrection, something has to die.

We have already confessed our sins, the thing that hold us back, the darkness that needs banishing by the light.

But are you really ready to let all that go? Our sins are painful, and harmful, but they are familiar, and we know them. We have learned to live with them. But living with them and not really giving them up means that we will never make space for something to take their place.

This week I really want to challenge us to let go of some things, and not go back to them. To really mean what we said in our confession of sins. Make some space in your life, without those familiar things that weigh you down, and ask God to fill it.

And trust. And wait. God is in the business of new beginnings. Yours just may be next.

Amen.


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