A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Changing Our Minds Sermon on Matthew 4: 12-25 Epiphany 3 Year A January 26, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 9: 1-4
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-25

Children’s sermon: Version of Red Light/Green Light-have the children in the back of the sanctuary, and then you are upfront. Have printed off pictures that you show the children before you start the game: Jesus (one that is culturally and ethnically correct), and several pictures of people-be diverse in abilities, race, gender, etc. Tell the children that they will start with their back to you. When you call “turn” they will turn around and take a step to you when they see Jesus. If they don’t see Jesus, they turn around again. Play this a couple of times mixing up the pictures of Jesus and the other people. After a couple of rounds, stop and ask why they aren’t taking a step when they see the other pictures? Jesus says in our bible story today to “repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and then calls some disciples to help him catch people in God’s love. The disciples would also learn to turn around, and change their minds about who God was in the world. What do you think the kingdom of God looks like? Jesus says that the kingdom of God is all people! Look at all of these people around you-they are all the kingdom of God! Jesus says “change your mind, turn around and see that the kingdom of God is all around you and everyone needs to be included. Not some, but all. Everyday we can turn around and see people as part of God’s kingdom. It’s hard! We forget! But Jesus calls us and we can change our mind! We change our mind about people we’ve never liked before, or didn’t know before, or who don’t like us. But in God’s kingdom, we get to turn around all the time and see differently! Let’s play another round: Let’s pray:

There was the teenage boy who really liked this new girl who was in many of his classes. He would find a way to talk to her during class. Walked with her to their next class, asked her to the homecoming dance with clever lines such as “do you want to go to the dance with someone with two left feet?” and believe it or not, over and over, she said no. Mostly she was polite but didn’t encourage him either. She ignored him when she could. He was a little nerdier than she really cared for and this guy was NERDY. Played the French horn in the band, loved math, wore his letter jacket (with his academic letter) every day, part of the chess club, the physics club, you get the picture. He was nice enough, but in high school hierarchy, going out with him would be a popularity death knell. Being new is hard enough, but to have the nerdiest guy decide to pursue you? Sigh. But his guy was persistent, if not a little stalker like in today’s language. For two years he kept asking her out. The summer after their junior year, they both went to Lutheran Summer Music camp in Souix Falls, SD. The parents decided to carpool, the girl’s parents would drive them up and the boy’s would drive them back to Omaha. The girl paid her little sister to sit between her and the boy on the way to SD, which the younger sister happily accepted payment for.

The boy doubled down on talking to the girl while in SD. He carried her violin to orchestra class, sat with her in chapel. The girl tried to communicate that they were friends but that’s it. They went back to Omaha, and once again the boy asked her out. The girl’s mom said, just go out with him once and then when it’s terrible you can just say it’s not going to work out and he’ll leave your alone. So she did. The date was with his church youth group where his dad was the pastor. It was to go see the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” and the frozen yogurt. At the frozen yogurt shop, she ended up sitting with the boy’s mom…no really. But she enjoyed talking with him and hanging out with him. She was changing her mind, she was turning around to see him differently. They went on a couple more dates, she always drove as he didn’t have his license yet, and she realized that there was more to him and they had more in common than she had realized. Now it was still true that perhaps this wasn’t going to be a popular boyfriend choice with her friends. But she really liked him and decided to not worry about what the other kids might think or say about it.  But her mind was changed and so was her life. The boy is now my husband of 25 years Mike. As an aside, we were cutest couple runner up for the senior class, and the cutest couple broke up a week after graduation….who’s cutest couple now? Changing our minds isn’t hard, living and acting out of that change is.

In our gospel this morning, changing, turning around is woven throughout the passage. Upon hearing of John’s arrest, Jesus begins his ministry. Scholars speculate that perhaps John’s arrest spurred Jesus into action. We don’t know, but Jesus turned around from his hometown, his family, his people and went to a small fishing town in the middle of nowhere. Walking away from your family is no small feat in the ancient world. The writer of Matthew links this move to the Isaiah passage we read this morning, mostly to highlight that this was a region that was very diverse. Assyria had invaded 700 years before and ever since it was a mixture of Assyrians, Israelites and now people from the Roman Empire. In other words, there was not only one religion or ethnicity and most people there would be of multiple ethnicities at this point. Jesus shows up and says, “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word repent is translated from the Greek word “metanoia” which more accurately means, “to change one’s mind” or “to turn around.” Change your mind! Jesus says. For a different kingdom is at hand. Not the Roman kingdom or the Israelite kingdom-God’s kingdom. And that is very different than anything you have seen or have lived.

This kingdom makes you see everything differently. You see more than you did before and it can’t help but to change you. Jesus saw two young men in fishing boats and invited them to change their minds about their vocation and purpose. And then two more young men were invited to join. And Matthew states, they immediately did! We usually refer to this story as the calling of the disciples but theologian Barbara Brown Taylor shows us that this is really a miracle story. Why? Because changing our minds, turning from what we have always known is hard! It’s risky and it comes with consequences. When we change our minds, turn away from what we’ve always known for something new, for something beyond ourselves, it will make people around us uncomfortable, will make us the subject of gossip, and will have people questioning our sensibilities and logic.

Changing our minds and turning around away from what doesn’t bring us or our neighbor abundant life may not make us popular. Jesus would not have been considered a nice person to the families of these young men. Zebedee would have been upset that his own livelihood was now disrupted because of his sons following this itinerant, out of towner, Jesus. His boys were walking away from the only life they had ever known, from their futures and from their families.

We don’t know what made any of the disciples change their minds and turn from their lives to follow Jesus. And maybe we don’t need to. Maybe the point is that Jesus called them, ordinary people who probably didn’t think that they had any special gifts, training or credentials to follow and promised that the gifts they had, fishing, were enough to be used in God’s kingdom. When Jesus called, they turned around to see Jesus standing there, seeing them and offering them to be part of something new. They were called to see what Jesus saw: those whom the rest of society held at arms length at best, or ignored, shunned and demonized at worst, which would have included themselves as lowly fishermen. In verse 23-25, even Matthew only writes of people through their labels, not as full human beings. But Jesus goes to them, cures them and turns their lives around. Curing them wasn’t only about the effects of the ailments of these people, curing was restoring them to being seen, to changing the minds of the community who had marginalized and shunned them to see them differently and fully. The miracle is that the newbie disciples turned around and saw Jesus.
Jesus calls to us to turn around and see our lives differently. Jesus comes to us wherever we are-in whatever boat we find ourselves in-and offers us a new life. We are called to change our minds about how we are living, to turn and see who and what are being shunned and harmed and to reveal that the kingdoms of this world are not the way of God’s kingdom. We are called each day, to change our minds, to turn away from the lives that keep us comfortable, numb, and insulated. When we change our minds and turn around from ourselves and our own desires, it is indeed a miracle, as the world tells us to keep looking at ourselves. But when we hear Jesus call to us, we see people who need our love, care and partnership. This might make us unpopular, as it did Jesus and his followers. We follow Jesus not because he’s a nice man, but because he is God’s Son, and is disrupting the kingdoms of this world to reveal God’s kingdom at work.  Jesus turns around our way of seeing the world in order to see the world as God does-people to love, creation to nurture and abundant life for all. Amen.