Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Is your life ever hectic? Seems like you have too much going on all the time. Too much to do and not enough time to do it? Just one thing right after another and some things at the same time? Our Gospel text today, Matthew 4:12-25, is kind of like that. There is a whole bunch going on. Just a brief overview: Jesus goes to Galilee fulling a prophesy of Isaiah; He preaches repentance and the kingdom of heaven; He calls some of His first disciples (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John), Jesus teaches in the synagogues proclaiming the gospel; He heals every disease and affliction among the people even casting out demons; and He gets a crowd of followers. That is a lot of stuff. What to talk about? What to preach on?
However, there is a thread that connects this all together, well two threads: Jesus (obviously and that shouldn’t be downplayed) and one other thing. What? What is it? I gotta know! It is discipleship. Discipleship connects this reading together, knits it together like a comfortable sweater. Because, the theme is familiar. Matthew’s Gospel is all about Jesus, and Jesus mission is bookended by calling people to discipleship.
Let’s back up a second real fast. Matthew’s Gospel starts out with the lineage of Jesus. Then tells the Christmas story and the appearance of Gabriel to Mary to let her know that she was going to give birth to God’s Son. It then moves on to the story of the Magi coming (Epiphany) and the flight to Egypt until after the death of Herod. Then John the Baptist is introduced onto the scene. Jesus is baptized and then taken into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Now, in 3 ½ chapters what we get is a lot of stories of things happening to Jesus. It is setting the scene, like a long introduction. Jesus is passive in all these events. He’s waiting. Waiting for what? For His time. When did that start? The arrest of John the Baptist.
Now, the focus shifts. Jesus public ministry has begun. So, where does He go? Galilee of the Gentiles. I heard somebody call the Season of Epiphany the great evangelical/evangelistic season of the church. Matthew’s audience, the people he originally wrote to, were Jewish believers. So, where does Jesus go? The closest Gentile area near Israel. Not Jerusalem and the Temple - but to those outside the family of God. But, He does it to fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah. And so, the action picks up in verse 17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And, immediately following that He calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John as disciples. He calls disciples and what does He tell them? “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Become Jesus’ disciple and He will use you to make disciples – that is the message. And that starts Jesus ministry. So, what end’s Jesus ministry?
Go make disciples as you preach My gospel.
Discipleship might seem like old hat, “Oh pastor, we know all about that. Can you talk about something else?” If it seems like I talk about it so much is because it is important. It is important to Jesus. He spends His entire ministry calling people to faith! And if you do not think it is important there are two very real examples of why you are wrong just here in Topeka: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and Hope Lutheran Church. One has closed and the other is closing. Why? Not enough people to keep the doors open and the bills paid. With the closing of Hope there will no longer be a Lutheran Church on the east side of Topeka.
When we put on our blinders, when we ignore the people in the neighborhoods around our church and the neighbors around our homes, when we become a “compound” with high fences and barbwire on top whether physically or mentally we are no longer doing the Lord’s work. When we say that we do not want that – whatever that might mean – we do not want that kind of person here we have stopped fishing for men. In short, we are directly disobeying the commands of Christ.
Now, there are lots of ways to make people welcome in God’s house. The first is really, really complicated: invite them to church with you. The second is to talk with anybody you do not recognize, introduce yourselves. Make them feel welcome. Help them. Sit by them. If they are struggling with our worship practices explain things, show them. Get to know them. Grab them a cup of coffee in the lobby. Take a moment to walk through Christ through the eyes of somebody new. Would you know where to park? What doors to enter? Where the nursery is? I have been talking with our Evangelism Board about making a little Welcome Center to put in the Coffee Lobby. But, do you know what a Welcome Center needs? A smiling face.
“I don’t know pastor? That sounds a lot like evangelism.” Guess what? Discipleship is a lot like evangelism. James tells us that faith without works is dead. You show me your faith and I will show you my works. As we grow in Christ, as we grow in our faith, as we learn to trust His promises and salvation, as we learn what it means that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins – that changes us. We start to lead more holy lives. Our whole life becomes dedicated to God, to pleasing the one who created us and who loves us. The by-product of that is our whole life becomes a witness, a testimony to the gospel of Christ.
And, we realize something. To God we were that person. Paul tells us clearly, we were enemies of God. We were at war with Him. We ran from Him, hid from His light. We wanted to be God. Yet, it was that enemy of God that Christ came and died for. It was for the one that ran and hid from the light that Christ came and shined for. It was for the one who wanted to be God that Christ came humbly for, even enduring a death on the cross.
We, we were Gentiles, outcasts – hopeless, wandering, lost, wayward – and Christ brought us into the family of God. Through His spirit and the works of His disciples we were brought to the throne of grace, peace, and mercy. Almost all of us in this room were brought into the family of God through other disciples. Before we can remember, before we could walk or crawl, when the only way we could communicate was through screaming, we were brought to the waters of baptism and claimed by God. Through His work, we were brought into the rest. Through His death, we were brought into the life. May we continue to preach His Passion and resurrection to our family, our friends, and our neighbors. May we always be "fishers of men."
In Christ’s name. Amen.
And now may the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.