The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)
“Jesus Begins: Call, Communion & Commission” // A Sermon by Fr. Sammy Wood
1 Corinthians 1.10-17
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I know it’s just January, but look how far we’ve come: Through the suspended animation of Advent to Jesus’ birth at Christmas, to his appearance to the Gentiles at Epiphany, just last week to Jesus’ baptism, now today Jesus begins his public life. He leaves his hometown of Nazareth to live in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. This region — we visited it on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years ago — it is part of Israel’s “Breadbasket”, surprisingly green and fertile. So even though Capernaum was small, say fewer than 15,000 inhabitants, the Galilee fed a whole country, and it stood on an important trade route between Syria and Egypt, so it was densely populated with all kinds of people — Jews and Gentiles, Romans and traveling merchants. One commentary says “Nowhere could Jesus have had such a change of gaining a large following as in Galilee.” That’s just what Jesus sets out to do.
Typically I have 2 or 3 (sometimes more) main points in my sermons, but today I really have just 1 point. One point, but I want to make it 3 times, in 3 different ways. And here’s the one point: Jesus’ call to communion leads to commission. Let’s look at that through 3 “lenses”:
The first lens is today’s story in Matthew’s gospel: Jesus’ call to communion led to commission for the earliest disciples — From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” While walking 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 fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matt. 4.17-20)
Here’s what I find interesting about this story. Matthew says nothing at all about why they followed Jesus. Nothing about the psychology of the response, nothing about the actual “content” of the call, just that Jesus called, and they came. Immediately, they followed. That sounds strange to modern ears. If you want me to do something, you’ve got to sell me. Lay out your plan, pitch me an idea, get me interested in your cause, and maybe I’ll go along. But not Jesus in this story.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought this was remarkable, too. In The Cost of Discipleship, he asks why the disciples left their nets, and he says
For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, [they follow] at once. This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God . . . . [T]here is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road — only obedience to the call of Jesus.
Somehow the disciples saw through to the heart of things — they heard Jesus’ voice and knew he had authority to call them to leave everything behind and follow him without question or hesitation.
And their response was to change the course of their lives to be with — to have communion with — this man. There’s a word the church uses for this change of course, this turning around and moving in the other direction — “repentance.” Metanoia. And only once the disciples changed course to go with Jesus, to have communion with him, did their commission become clear. And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matt. 4.23) Going with Jesus meant a commissioning into these three streams of work Jesus was going: (1) teaching, (2) proclaiming the gospel, and (3) healing. If that’s what Jesus was doing, then they’d do it too. Their call to communion carried this commission.
The second lens — The second way Jesus’ call to communion leads to commission is in the life of every Christian. What do I mean? Jesus’ call comes to each one of us to follow or not to follow.
How do we become Christians? Take my kids as examples — Ellie and Patrick and Flannery, all three were baptized as infants. When they were just a few days old, Renee and I stood with their godparents at a baptismal font, and we took vows on their behalf. We renounced Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness. We renounced the evil powers of this world and all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We turned to Jesus as Savior, putting our trust in his grace and love, promising to follow and obey him as Lord of our lives. And like that (snap), my kids were Christians. But that’s not the end of the story. Last year at Ellie’s confirmation, she made those promises her promises. She heard Jesus’ voice and answered for herself, and someday, God willing, her brother and sister will too. God willing, all of us will answer that call.
And like the first disciples, if we would answer Jesus’ call, it always means changing course to enter into deeper communion with him. That’s repentance. Dallas Willard famously said repentance is: “To reconsider your strategy for living based on the news of God’s Kingdom that is available in Jesus.” I like that.
What is our strategy for living? Christians swap our strategy for God’s strategy, we repent and we run with all our strength to follow Jesus. Not just at our confirmations; repentance isn’t a one-and-done proposition, so God gave us sacramental confession. We go to confession to re-up over and over again, living lives of constant course correction — admitting we have strayed, feeling sadness for how we’ve abandoned God, and firmly purposing amendment of life from that point on. Then we get on the T, and we get angry at the woman whose umbrella is dripping on our shoes, and before you know it, we need to repent again. Growing in repentance takes our whole lives long.
And, like the disciples, following Jesus through repentance leads each of us as individuals and all of us collectively as the church into commission. Remember Jesus was teaching, preaching and healing. Matthew Green says “Wherever the church is truly carrying out the work of the kingdom, those three strands — challenging preaching, clear teaching, and healing (of physical disease, inner hurts and grip by dark forces) — will be seen.”
The last lens: Jesus’ call to communion led to commission for his first disciples; his call to communion leads to commission in the life of every Christian today; and, you may not see it, but Jesus’ call to communion is leading to commission right here, today, even as we speak. Look at your bulletin for a second — Where it says “The Liturgy of the Word,” that’s the first half of the mass. That’s when the call comes. From Amos, from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, form Jesus himself in Matthew’s gospel. The Liturgy of the Word is God’s call.
The hinge event comes in just a moment when we’ll all have a decision to make. When we kneel to confess “we have sinned against God in thought and word and deed,” don’t just go through the motions, mindlessly repeating words we’ve all got memorized. Really think. Think about your current strategy of living. Are you running after achievement or financial security? Do you want acclaim and applause, to hear someone tell you “you’re doing a great job, you are really valuable and important”? Are you running after pleasure or just running from God? Whatever your life strategy, to repent is to reconsider that strategy in light of the gospel. And then run to Jesus. That’s the second half of the mass, the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” Run to communion.
Call . . . communion . . . leading inexorably to commission. Go, when the mass is ended, back into the world. Go do the work Jesus is doing — teach our friends another story about the world, a truer story; proclaim the gospel that God has come to reconcile the world to himself in Jesus; and heal, as far as it lies in us to do so, every brokenness we can reach.
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Go Deeper //
- Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, TBST (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-varsity, 2000).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev’d ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1963): 61-62.
- Click here for audio of this sermon.