Matthew 4: 12-23
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so 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— 16the 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.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18As 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. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus 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.
I can’t tell you what a gift it is to be here with you this morning. This morning during a pivotal weekend in our American history. A weekend when we need each other more than ever.
Our lectionary text today couldn’t be a better fit- isn’t it amazing how that happens!
Today’s text comes early in the book of Matthew and marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
The text is preceded by the baptism of Jesus, which you heard about last week, and by the temptation of Jesus.
Immediately before we meet Jesus today, he has spent time in the Wilderness where Satan offered him personal glory, power and comfort— at the expense of fulfilling God’s will to provide care, wellbeing, healing and connection for all.
Jesus has been tested. He experienced adversity and struggle, and has remained committed to the blessing he received at his baptism.
But the struggle is really just beginning. In todays text Jesus has heard that John has been imprisoned- the radical message of love, inclusion, and reversal of social order is seen as a threat to the Roman Empire— and Jesus knows things are about to get real. Fulfilling the predictions of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus goes to Galilee, to Capernaum by the Sea and declares that the time is NOW. The words of Isaiah, and in turn the words of Mary spoken at the start will become realized.
The powerful are brought down from their thrones
The hungry are fed and the rich will walk away empty.
For those in the shadow off death, the light has dawned.
A new world is being born that is about more than personal power and comfort. A Beatitudes world where the poor, the mourning, the meek and the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted are blessed as a new community walking together on a path of life where all are able to thrive.
These are the words of Matthew. The text that guides us and reflects wisdom.
But this is today. A weekend which feels odd, confusing, and heartbreaking, and inspiring, powerful and hopeful all at once.
My experience of this weekend starts back in October.
In October I helped host the first of a three part conversation series called Healing the Divide. In my work as the Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado- we coordinated a series in partnership with four institutions which can seem to be at odds on the surface: Iliff School of Theology, Denver Seminary, Regis University and The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. Our original intent was formed in the context of seeing the deep divides of our election season and wanting to build bridges and talk about difficult issues. And I have to admit— the idea was born in the fall, when I was pretty sure we would have a progressive minded president at the helm come November.
The first conversation was a huge success. People came together bringing real differences in perspective on the topic of religious freedom. We had a panel that included a top executive from Focus on the Family sitting next to a Muslim civil rights attorney and a female Catholic professor from Regis. We developed empathy and understanding for different views.
The next day- I was participating in a Rabbi Clergy study group I am a part of and a few people who were at the gathering were speaking of their experience. And then all of a sudden- my friend and long time power-house Rabbi Steve Foster looked at me and said, “I think you are wasting your time”.
Pretty sure the shock on my face was clear when I said, “tell me more” - because I actually LOVE these kind of conversations…
He went on to express that he has spent enough time with people on the far right to have no desire to spend anytime trying to build bridges— he would rather focus his time and energy on building up and strengthening his people who are working to win— to bring their views and policies to laws.
A good and fruitful conversation and debate ensued. This was October.
Then November happened.
In the days after the election I witnessed Facebook diatribes and trolling. Hurtful words flew between families and friends and strangers alike. And in the midst of this I knew I needed to be around people who were working for a vision of our country that I believed in.
Over the past two months I have felt a deep need to be around those who make us stronger. To gather with, to reflect with, to learn with, and to act with those who are committed to a vision of the world that is aligned with the gospel message of radical love, healing, grace, justice and compassion.
And while there are many who have said ‘wait and see… I can’t help but think that those words primarily come from people who are comfortable. Those of us who are less likely to be victims of policies that limit civil rights and freedom. Those who will be less impacted by losing health insurance, or by women’s health clinics doors being shuttered. For those of us who are seeking to live the gospel message-- we are wrestling.
It is easy to be tempted by the allure of personal comfort and personal power.
Jesus resisted personal comfort and power offered by satan in the wilderness, and then named a new reality. Named a world coming to fruition here and now where the hungry are fed, the poor are rich, the merciful and the peacemakers are blessed.
As soon as Jesus names the new reality being brought forth— what is his first step?
He begins to walk. He walks the shore of the sea of Galilee and begins to gather his people.
Jesus walks the sea of Galilee and his people come; dropping the status quo and picking up a life of working, teaching and living a radical new order of love, grace & hospitality.
And the people who come- his people- aren’t the scholars or religious experts or political power houses— they are fisherman. Unlikely people from unexpected places who are willing to let go of stability and economic security. Willing to step away from families and friends to be a part of a new reality.
As we walk into this new time post election, the future can seem mucky and mysterious. For many- there is deep concern that checks and balances of the power are being broken down- opening the door for a diminishment of democracy and possibility for greater oppression for the vulnerable. While we don’t know what the future holds- we do know we will be tested in new ways. We know that things are about to get real. It is time to gather our people.
Yesterday - many of us here gathered with hundreds of thousands of people in Denver and with millions around the world for the Women’s March. We gathered to stand up and call for a country where all are welcome, where all are given opportunity to thrive.
We started to gather in the morning- and as I drove downtown I passed people walking into coffee shops wearing pink hats, and groups of women piled into cars with signs laughing and signing. We started to gather at First Baptist Church, where more than 200 people were crowded into the basement for a Shabbat service led by Bnai Havurah singing and praying. People started to stream in- smiling and grateful to be together.
When we started walking we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had heard there many be about 40,000 people- so we knew to expect crowds. But as our group navigated our way down to Civic Center park- walking by people from all walks of life- gathering peacefully and joyfully- we saw that the number gathered was overwhelming and powerful. We stood for hours, navigated our way through crowds- all kind and thoughtful- people of all ages, from multiple backgrounds and life experiences— all gathered to call for a new reality- to bring forth a community and a country where no one is marginalized and all are welcomed and cared for.
Looking around- all I could think was ‘these are my people’. This is where I want to spend my time and energy— building up, empowering, strengthening those who are working for a world that looks like this.
And I remember the words of Rabbi Steve. I want to spend my time building up my people.
Now— I should say— I believe deeply in healing our divides. I believe in listening to those we radically disagree with. I believe in respect for differences and debate and dialogue. Our conversations on ‘Healing our Divides’ will continue— our next dialogue will be Thursday at Denver Seminary. I have developed great respect for the president of Denver Seminary— and I will spend time and energy working to build empathy across difference.
Ultimately- We are called to a way of being that is deeply rooted in ‘our people’ — in the community who is committed to ways of being that support life, healing, feeding and grace for all people in ways big and small. And we are called to be open to listening, learning and loving those who we radically disagree with. This is a tricky place to be- a ‘tragic gap’ as Parker Palmer calls it.
I believe we are in a time when our values will be tested. When our resolve to hold steadfast to the gospel will be pushed. When the temptation to prioritize personal comfort and power over feeding the hungry, practicing mercy and compassion and peacemaking will be strong.
And for that test— we need our people.
We need to build up and be with those who are committed to the world Jesus proclaimed as with us here and now. This looks like a commitment to showing up. To learning. To letting go of the status quo and picking up resilience and persistence and solidarity.
May we have strength and wisdom in these days. May we be peacemakers and be filled with compassion and mercy and justice. May we stand for love and grace.
May it be so.