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First Impressions

August 11, 2019
Matthew 4: 12-23
First Impressions

We do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from your mouth, O God.
And we confess that we are hungry for life.
Speak. We are listening.
Amen.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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 sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
I wish I could tell you that I met Jarrett on the PCM stairs,
piously preparing for bible study or something.

While those stairs outside Nancy’s office are indeed the site of our second meeting,
my first impressions of Jarrett were formed in my parent’s kitchen,
near the Montreat gate.

I was a senior at Asheville High School, he was a freshman here at UNC.
He and my older brother, Pen, were attending the PCM Fall Retreat in Montreat
Jarrett came to my house to meet up with another girl,
a girl he’d met at a different church retreat
a girl who happened to be a mutual acquaintance,
and thus knew her way to my house for a “visit” with
this then-long haired, wearing-clothes-two-sizes-too big fella.
Pen, Jarrett, that other girl and I ended up spending time together that Saturday.

To this day, Jarrett claims he had no interest in said other girl. . . .
and to this day, I am not convinced.

Yet, either way, the first impressions stuck:
Long hair and weird clothes: Fitting a mold is not Jarrett’s style.
He is always, stubbornly himself.
Going out of his way to tend to a relationship:
Though an introvert, he is a deeply relational and deeply caring human being.
Including the younger sister: Authentically hospitable, he throws a wide welcome.

You can’t always read a book by its cover,
but through these first impressions: the story on Jarrett checks out.

Today’s scripture is Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ public launch into ministry.
His big first impression.
Scholar Tom Long says that everything that will follow in Jesus’ ministry
is found in embryonic form here in our text.

The first move of Jesus’ public debut is literally…. a move.
Jesus hears that Herod has arrested his preacher cousin John
and he packs his bags for Capernaum.

Now, we are only in chapter 4 of this Gospel, but already this may sound like dejavu:

When Jesus was just a babe in Bethlehem, a Herod—this time Herod the “Great”, doesn’t take well to the news of another “king” being born, so Joseph moves baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt.

That Herod dies and the family moves back to Israel.
But then his son, Herod Archelaus, takes overrule in Judea,
and again after another warning of Herod’s violence, Jesus and family move again.

In our story, it’s Herod Antipas who throws John into prison, and so Jesus moves to Capernaum.

The pattern is clear: The threat of political violence by one of the Herods requires a move, each of which fulfills scripture, for Matthew is always careful to connect Christ’s story with God’s hand.

Our first sniff of Jesus places him in the company with all who flee their homes for fear of violence. As Fred Craddock says, Matthew’s stories are not simply historical recollections, they are current events.

Before Jesus even speaks a public word, he is already at risk.
Makes me wonder if the good news is always preached in the midst of bad news,
if following Christ will make us chronically unpopular,
and if our work together will just simply make others nervous.

Today there are no more Herods– whose names I’ll need to learn to pronounce,
but there still powers, principalities, politicians, profits, prejudices
that are fueled by a similar fear,
and if I understand the text,
the Gospel of Jesus Christ will always rub against their grain.

Once Jesus gets to Capernaum, he starts preaching, which is not altogether surprising,
for we’d suspect our first impression of the Rabbi’s ministry to include some teaching,
but what is striking is that this inaugural sermon. . . is the same sermon as his predecessor’s.

I mean right down to the word, Jesus comes onto the scene delivering the very message that John had delivered before him. John preached about repentance and the kingdom of God– and Jesus didn’t feel the need to jazz it up or change even one word. Just copy. paste. preach.

Now, most of y’all know our predecessor.
And I am here to say I think Jesus had a VERY GOOD IDEA.

I remember the catch of breath that would happen,
when Bob would conclude a masterful sermon,
and he’d just pause for a second, and then turn and sit down. Oh! To preach like that.

I don’t think Jesus was having writers’ block,
or that he was lazy in scholarship or lacked imagination,
I think it was that the good news was still good news.
The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

He said, Repent, The kingdom of God is near,
life as it should be, as God intends, is at hand,
justice realized, love wide, forgiveness freely offered, broken made whole
wake up, turn around, don’t miss it,
reorient so that you can participate in it, y’all.
God’s reign, the new administration of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s full-fledged Shalom,
isn’t something we have to kick the bucket to receive,
but we can fill our buckets with it now,
And we can partner with God as we pour it out on a yearning, weary world.

Yea, that sermon. It is still the same sermon.

It seems that in ministry, there is a deep honoring of the past,
there is a holy continuity of the gospel,
there is holding onto what is right and true.

I have a way of numbering my sermons for filing purposes.
This sermon is UPC1.
On August 25, God willing and the creek don’t rise, there will be a UPC2.

When Jesus preached his . . . shall we call it his “John the Baptist inspired” sermon
“old ” “orthodox” sermon…. he would have filed it as Capernaum1.
But Capernaum, it wasn’t a deeply traditional place.
It was a poor, small fishing village, filled with a bunch of outsider-gentiles
who wouldn’t know the “continuity of the gospel” if it hit them in the head.
Now a sermon filed as Jerusalem1, that would have made more sense.
Jerusalem was the place was where the Messiah should have his public debut,
being right there in the center of history.

But that’s not what we get here.
We get a tried and true message in a surprising and new context.

There must be something about the very nature of the gospel,
that is forever old and new at once.
There must be something about the way of Jesus,
who grows out of a tradition he never left and yet shook to the core,
there must be something about following him that will have us honoring the past, even as we disrupt it –dancing between what we’ve always known and what we never expected.

Does that seem like something you’re up for, friends?

Because watch out, Jesus’ launch into ministry is not a solo venture.
If we are paying attention at all in this first encounter,
we notice that Jesus begins his ministry by calling others to it.

And unlike normal rabbis who accepted disciples who had already requested the honor of sitting at their feet, Jesus takes the initiative.

Discipleship does not begin with our seeking out Jesus
and calling him to participate in what we are doing,
nah, it’s more of an irresistible response to the voice of grace.

Follow me! he says to those brothers,
it’s not even a question or a gentle invitation, its more of a demand,
and yet they go all in.

The Lilly Endowment recently funded a grant about Christian calling. The research showed that seminary graduates all reported that vocation (or calling) was a significant category in their lives.

Yet, at the same time, most members of the congregations they serve don’t feel called. It seems most church folks don’t see what they do outside of the church as worthy of God’s attention.

Is it because of the way those first brothers drop everything and immediately follow? It does seems quite dramatic, and unrealistic. Maybe we figure disciples were extraordinary first-century superheroes that we can admire but not identify with?
But here’s the thing.
They were fishermen remember?
Matthew says Jesus was walking the water, and the brothers were casting their nets in the sea—for they were fisherman. It’s such an odd phrase, “they were fishermen.”
I want to be snarky about it, like… what the heck else would they be?

But it’s beautiful really, because those brothers were themselves–
the ordinary people as they’d always been,
called in the middle of their ordinary lives. They were fishermen. Used to fish for fish, now fish for people.

Discipleship: Biggest change in your life, bar none. And yet… you’re the same person you were before… and doing the same thing, in a way. Just now, forever in the Way, the way of Christ, the way of love.

So my new friends,
we fishermen, florists, phlebotomists
we academics, accountants, athletes
when people meet us on the PCM stairs, or in someone’s kitchen,
what will be their first impressions of us?

Will they sense that we are shaped
by good news that will unceasingly
threaten hatred,
confront harm, and stand with those who hurt?

Will they see that we are deeply rooted in an old truth
that is always finding surprisingly fresh expression?

Will they learn that we are simply ordinary people —-working together,
to show forth extraordinary, extraordinary love?

I’m brand new here, just getting my first impressions of you,
but church, yes, I think the story checks out.

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.