Third Sunday in Epiphany, 1.26.2020

Why is today’s gospel, set by the Sea of Galilee, an EPIPHANY text? The Star of Bethlehem is long gone. WHERE is the LIGHT?

Today, we hear Jesus proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repentance is a turning around, a coming to our senses, having our heads screwed on the right way. All done by God’s hand, and God’s power. Where LIGHT suddenly pours in, and our eyes are opened. Today, we have moved from the light of the STAR of Bethlehem to the LIGHT of the world who is standing at the Sea of Galilee.

In preaching on repentance, it may be tempting for me to preach a sermon on, ‘Let’s work harder, people; let’s work on our virtues! Let’s get more disciplined.’ Tempting, but that’s a sermon where everything is up to US. That’s a sermon where God is missing from the equation. Where we think we do our own saving. That sermon smells of an attractive kind of heresy, Pelagianism, where we are under the illusion that we are saved by our own efforts. Work harder! Do more! BE more. You can do it! That’s the power of self-help language and positive thinking which has never been the good news of Christ. Useful, but NOT the good news of Christ.

Neither is repentance another form of New Year’s resolutions, and here we are conveniently still in January, our New Year’s resolutions still fresh in our minds. Where we say, “I will do more of THIS and less of THAT, and it will make me healthier or more on top of my personal targets.” Again, it’s private and personal, focusing on just us, the individual. Nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions, but that is not the repentance Jesus is talking about here.

Let us pray, “Your way, Lord, not MY way.”

“The Greek word for repentance is metanoeite which means something like “Be of a new mind!” Or, “Change your way of thinking!” [1] It’s closer to – turn around.

How do we even DO that?

HOW do we get a new mind?

How do we change our way of thinking?

We get glimmers of what is possible, and then sometimes the LIGHT comes CRASHING down among us, IN us, within us, through us. Grace breaks in on us.

If you remember at the end of Ch 1 of Luke’s gospel, Zechariah, the once cranky high priest, experienced the light CRASHING in on him and is forever grateful, after his wife gives birth to John. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

When Jesus preaches repentance today, he is not saying, ‘Be More Moral!’ That would be more law, that crushes and discourages. Christ comes into our world to set us free – from those things that keep us bound and prevent us from having a deep relationship with him. We may need to be freed from good things, in order to go deeper into a life with Christ.

Remember how Jesus challenged the rich young man to leave everything? The rich young man gasped! Everything! The rich young man understood his wealth as a sign of God’s favor. How could he leave his wealth to follow – Jesus? Jesus comes to turn upside down our understanding of what matters, including wealth as a sign of God’s favor. The rich young man could have had a RELATIONSHIP with God’s SON, instead he chose a relationship with his wealth, a dead end.

Let us pray, “Your way, Lord, not MY way.”

Can anyone here guess the first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses?   “Number one is. “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, ‘Repent ye, etc.,’ intended that the whole life of his believers on earth should be a constant penance.” Constant penance means a turning away from our navel gazing or our indifference to God and our fellow human beings, and a turning TOWARDS God and our fellow humans. THAT’S what Luther means by constant repentance. Repentance here means joining the human race, joining our fate with the fate of others. Taking upon ourselves the yoke that Jesus describes in Matthew ch. 11 as “easy and light.” We yoke ourselves with Christ and suffering humanity because Jesus did the same. He YOKED himself with US and our sufferings. Christ preaches, have a new mind! Turn around!

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls his apostles. They leave – not bad things – but good things.

“He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. “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.” Instead of casting a net, Christ is casting light among them, irresistible light, Epiphany light, LIGHT to see by, LIGHT to LIVE by. And the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James, and John leave what would seem to be impossible– their livelihoods, and their FATHER. How could they leave their father? What is Jesus offering? Jesus is offering HIMSELF.

He offered himself 2000 years ago and he STILL offers himself to US. Take him into your life, your one, precious life, and see how your life will deepen, strengthen, grow richer in the things that matter.

For us humans, it’s always a risk to follow Christ, to leave the known and follow him into the unknown. Who knows what will happen? It’s a leap of faith to step out and say YOUR way, Lord, not my way. YOUR way. Maybe just maybe our CREATOR and Savior has the best ideas possible for our lives. Following him into the unknown is the making of us.

Let us pray, “Your way, Lord, not MY way.”

When Jesus says repent, it would appear he is saying get more moral. That’s NOT what he’s saying. What Jesus brings goes beyond morality though it INCLUDES morality. The side benefit of being alive in Christ is a new appreciation for morality, and a new strength to BE moral because Christ GIVES us the strength to be more virtuous. We get a new appreciation for virtue. But morality begins and ends in a relationship with Christ. Christ makes it POSSIBLE to want to be good and to do good. Christ makes it possible for us to even SEE the cross; he makes it possible for us to even PICK up the cross, and Christ gives us the strength to ENDURE the cross and recover from the cross.

Now, with Christ, we contemplate how what Paul calls, God’s foolishness, is still wiser than human wisdom. If the cross is God’s foolishness, it still outsmarts the forces of darkness, violence and destruction. The cross is the KEY that unlocks the cosmos and sets US free, and in repentance we too are set free. When we SURRENDER to Christ’s power, we are set free. FREEDOM to be who we are, God’s children.

When Jesus calls the apostles, he starts with where they are. He doesn’t promise to make them scholars; they are good enough the way they are. Fishermen? Now they will fish for men., for people. It is irresistible. Now they will be working for the kingdom. Their world has expanded to include everyone, not just themselves or their brothers, or their father. Working for the kingdom makes brothers and sisters out of strangers. Working for the kingdom benefits the community.

When they throw down their nets, Jesus is going to be showing and teaching them this new way of looking at the world. The internal change that occurs in the new apostles spirals out of them and embraces the community.

Jesus is the LIGHT who makes the darkness cringe, as it is exposed to light and air.

The darkness scrabbles around trying to hide itself. Jesus is the LIGHT who swallows up the darkness.

We know however that those who use the darkness will fight back. Jesus’ cross is the proof of his commitment to us.

Where are we in this story?

Can we throw down our own personal nets and throw in our lot with Jesus, which always brings us closer to Christ and HIS will for us and the world? Are we ready to work for the kingdom in a newer and closer way with Christ? Is Jesus asking, nudging, us to turn, turn, turn towards him in a new way? Can we pray, YOUR way, Lord, not OUR way, which is always radical and always renews us and the world we live in?

When we contemplate global warming and how we’ve misused our precious earth, can we pray, “YOUR way, Lord, not OUR way? Make us into instruments of your renewal.

I thank you Lord for the gift of repentance.

You are always drawing us forward closer to you.

Thank you for the gift of yourself.

In you we live and move and have our being.

In you we are complete.

We pray in the name of Jesus, Your Son.


[1]Rolf Jacobson.