Jan. 22, 2023

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, your lovingkindness always goes before us and follows after us. Summon us into your light, and direct our steps in the ways of goodness that come through the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Isaiah 9:1-4

1There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time [the Lord] brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2The people who walked in darkness
  have seen a great light;
 those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
  on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
  you have increased its joy;
 they rejoice before you
  as with joy at the harvest,
  as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
  and the bar across their shoulders,
  the rod of their oppressor,
  you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then | shall I fear?
  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I | be afraid?
4One thing I ask of the Lord; one | thing I seek;
  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek God | in the temple.
5For in the day of trouble God will | give me shelter,
  hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary, and raise me high up- | on a rock.
6Even now my head is lifted up above my enemies | who surround me.
  Therefore I will offer sacrifice in the sanctuary, sacrifices of rejoicing; I will sing and make music | to the Lord. 
7Hear my voice, O Lord, | when I call;
  have mercy on me and | answer me.
8My heart speaks your message— | “Seek my face.”
  Your face, O Lord, | I will seek.
9Hide not your face from me, turn not away from your ser- | vant in anger.
  Cast me not away—you have been my helper; forsake me not, O God of | my salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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.

There are parts of Matthew’s gospel that I absolutely dread as a pastor and preacher, but today through the end of February include the passages I love. I love watching Jesus gather follows and begin his movement with teaching moments that are so memorable and iconic. The truth is I am here, in this work of Christian ministry, because of passages like today’s. 

John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, came preaching, calling for repentance, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This morning Jesus both imitates that call but also makes it his own. He tells the crowd to repent. Repent is not meant to conjure up sorrow or remorse. It is about a change in perspective, a change in how we view the world. Get yourself a new orientation for the way you live; and then act on it. Jesus could be talking about individual repentance or collective repentance. I like to think he would welcome both. 

Last weekend I was at a continuing ed event in Southeast Georgia. Since I traveled all the way over there, I decided to be a tourist in Savannah for a day. One of the places I toured was the Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters. The mansion was built in 1819. It was only owned by the original family for a few years. In 1830, lawyer, landholder, and enslaver George Welshman Owen purchased the property at auction. He lived there with his wife, six children, and up to fourteen enslaved laborers. 

Over the next 121 years, the home was owned by the Owens family until the last descendent, Margaret Gray Thomas, bequeathed the property upon her death in 1951 to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences to be run as a house museum. My tour included the mansion, slave quarters, and garden. The basement of the mansion held large replicas of letters by the Thomas family in which they wrote, in dehumanizing language, about the enslaved people.

Another woman on my tour asked the guide what he thought Margaret would have thought of the tour. He answered that she probably would not approve of it. My follow-up question was, “how long has this been the script for the tour?” 2018 was the answer. And later I found a plaque thanking the donors who had made possible the “2018 Reinterpretation Project.” 

As our entire country continues to reckon with bigotry, antisemitism, racist actions, and racist systems, my tour of the Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters was both sad and heartening. This is what repentance can look like. I imagine the conversation among museum staff:

We were not telling the story of everyone who lived here. We dehumanized the enslaved people by hiding that history. Now we are trying to tell a more complete history. And when we tell a more complete history, we can see better the outcomes of that history. We build empathy, understanding, a broader view. We can better address injustices today and prevent injustices from happening. What does that conversation sound like in Southwest Idaho? What does repentance look like? What new perspectives does repentance draw us into?

Repent, Jesus says. Something new is on the horizon, breaking in now. So, get a different orientation, a different perspective. For better or worse this perspective is not going to make your life easier. When we are following in the steps of Jesus there is a lot in this world that should bother us: the increased wealth gap, the propensity for violence, every type of othering of people not like us, harm of the planet. And the church, the body of Christ, should be heartbroken by all of it and moved to action. To follow Jesus, as those first disciples did, means to be frustrated, heartbroken, and occasionally outraged by so much of what we see in the world.

But to follow Jesus also means to have hope. Why? Because Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John and, imperfect as they were, they followed him. They left their nets and two of them left their father. They leave him to follow Jesus who has announced that the kingdom has come near. As one scholar put it, “the kingdom born in this man, the kingdom of David, requires a transformation that all his disciples must undergo. The new David is not one whose [royalty] is immediately evident, but rather his power can be found only in the crucifixion. It will take new eyes and ears to see and hear the truth proclaimed through the cross.”

Following Jesus will be costly in so many ways, but when the imagination gets hold of the kingdom here and now, that is a powerful and life-giving force. God is the provider of light in darkness, as Isaiah and Jesus proclaim. God, through Jesus, proclaims that the kingdom of heaven is near. Emmanuel, God with us, in Jesus, is living proof that God’s reign is indeed breaking into the world. The kingdom is already present, not a hypothetical future nor a gift awaiting fulfillment of fine-print conditions on the part of the hearer. The kingdom has come. It’s near, it’s real, and it rolls onward. Our response is to repent. 

After my time in Savannah, I drove south to Epworth by the Sea, a Methodist Conference Center on St. Simon’s Island. The event I attended included around 700 people from many different denominations. If you had told me when I left that I would return ready to talk about the sacraments, I would have given you a quizzical look. But there is something about being in ecumenical spaces that reminds you of the gifts of your own tradition. Mixed into the keynote addresses about language, injustices, theology was a longing for sustenance. How is one sustained and nourished for the hard work of transformation and restoration? And my inner dialogue was, “I return to the Lord’s Supper and the promises it holds.” 

I know from my own experience and years as a parish pastor that there are many things that sustain Christians. I am buoyed by a walk on the perimeter of my subdivision where I get to the view the snow covered Owyhees or the budding fields. Lunch with a friend gives me laughter and encouragement. A phone conversation with my mom reminds me I am unconditionally loved. 

All of these things are sacramental, all of them have the potential to be means of God’s grace. But only in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper does Jesus promise to always be present. The Lord’s Supper stands at the center of our lives as Lutheran Christians. In that meal, we received Jesus’ presence into our very bodies. We receive God’s gifts of forgiveness of sin, new life and salvation. At the same time, as a community God makes us into the body of Christ, one with all in every time and place who share this holy meal.

It was this very community Jesus begins calling together today when he calls the first disciples. We become the body of Christ for the sake of the world. That is, we participate in God’s mission. Having been showered with God’s gifts, God sends us forth to take that love and compassion out into the world to the lonely, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, and those suffering in mind, body, and spirit. 

The first two promises we make in Affirmation of Baptism are to live among God’s faithful people and to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper. There’s a reason those two are first; they are how we receive the love and courage and nourishment for everything else involved in following Jesus. Gather together around the table with the communion of saints. Receive the gifts of bread and wine given freely. Trust the promises of forgiveness and new life. Hear the words, “given for you” and trust that you are loved beyond measure by the God who calls you.

Prayers of Intercession

Called together to follow Jesus, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Make your church one in purpose, proclaiming the message of the cross. Help us to work together across differences. Energize ecumenical partnerships, including the World Council of Churches and Lutheran World Federation (other ecumenical ministries in which the congregation takes part may be named). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We rejoice at the bounty of your creation. Fill the land and sea with your abundance. Bless harvests in the southern hemisphere and fallow fields in the northern hemisphere. Equip farmers to till and keep the earth sustainably. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

In Christ your reign comes near and calls all to repentance. Break the rod of the oppressor in every nation. Dispel the shadow of death in places of war and persecution. Grant us leaders who lift the yokes that burden those in need. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Be a stronghold for those in trouble and a rock for all who are afraid. Rouse communities to care for neighbors who need shelter, are facing maltreatment, or are isolated and lonely. (Especially we pray for . . . .) Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Sustain the ministries of this congregation and all churches in this community (neighboring congregations may be named). Nurture each congregation’s unique witness to your presence; foster mutual respect; inspire our cooperation in loving our neighbors. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

We praise you for the faithful who have gone ahead of us, both famous and unknown. Help us to leave our nets and follow, and bring us with them to the fullness of your promise of eternal life. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We bring to you our needs and hopes, O God, trusting your wisdom and power revealed in Christ crucified.

Amen.

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