Sermons

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2017 Mass By the Reverend Stephen Gerth

 

Year A: Amos 3:1–8; Psalm 139:1–9*; 1 Corinthians 1:10–17; Matthew 4:12–27*

Two Sundays ago we heard the story of Jesus being baptized. Last Sunday we did not hear the very next story in Matthew, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. That lesson has long been reserved for the First Sunday in Lent—Matthew this year, Mark next year, and in the third year, Luke.[1] In the fourth gospel, the Baptist is known simply as John. Although he figures prominently at the beginning, he does not baptize the Word made flesh.

So today’s gospel lesson is Matthew’s introduction, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. We’re going directly to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew. But before we get there, I want to recall one moment from the lesson from John that we heard last Sunday.

Andrew and another never-named disciple came to Jesus, who asked them, “What do you seek?” They asked him, “Where are you staying?” Jesus replied, “Come and see.”[2] He made no promises about their future.

But in Matthew and Luke, who have Mark’s gospel text in front of them and make use of it, each in his own way,[3] Jesus encounters men who are fishing, and offers them the opportunity to follow him and to fish for men and women.[4]

John’s Jesus does not expect anyone to come to faith “immediately,” to use a word greatly favored by Mark, but also used by Matthew and Luke. What is true in all four gospels is that most of the men and women who encounter the Christ, even those who accompany him, come to faith and understanding slowly. In contrast to Mark, Matthew, and Luke—I think it’s correct to say—John’s gospel is the most gentle about this reality with those who are trying to follow him and to believe.

The greatest and most important stumbling block to faith in all four gospels is Jesus’ crucifixion. Flight and fear are the reaction of the twelve in all of the gospels, with the one exception being in John. The unnamed disciple, whom we know only as “the disciple whom [Jesus] loved” is at the cross with Jesus’ unnamed—in John’s gospel—mother.[5]

But just as Jesus himself brought Good News to Israel, the Risen Christ brought faith to his disciples. The story of the Bible is the story of God’s continuing presence and work in and among humankind since God made the human and breathed life into him and her.

Again, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John was, “Come and see.” The first stop of Jesus and his first disciples was the wedding in Cana of Galilee.[6] In Mark, the first stop is a synagogue where Jesus teaches and casts out demons. Then Jesus starts healing, “all who were ill or possessed by demons.”[7] He does the same with crowds of people in Matthew.[8] In Luke, Jesus first heals a leper. The word spreads. The crowds follow for healing “of their infirmities.”[9] In Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, these are the ministries and gifts the apostles were given after the resurrection.[10]

Jesus is a healer and an exorcist in all four gospels, but next week we will hear the beginning of the most famous sermon or discourse of the five given by Matthew’s Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.[11] The kingdom is already present in the person of the Son of God in word and in deed. The kingdom of heaven is already present among us and in us. Matthew’s Jesus is all about teaching us to obey God’s plan for our lives.

I’m a great fan of the late New Testament scholar Father Raymond Brown, but from time to time he reminds me that he was a faithful Roman Catholic Christian, and I am an Anglican Christian. In his last large book, An Introduction to the New Testament, he assumes that Peter did die in Rome[12]—although there is no reliable historical evidence that he did. And he writes that, “[Matthew] has served as the [New Testament] foundational document of the church”[13]—though he is not at all as careful about the word “church” as he is about most other issues.

The word “church” is a hard one for me to get my mind behind. The Greek word here, ekklesía, refers to a group that is gathered, called together. Yes, there were apostles in the New Testament church. The words “overseer” (“bishop”) and “elder” (“presbyter”) are used interchangeably.[14] For the record, there are no priests in the New Testament apart from Jesus himself[15] and the royal priesthood of the baptized.[16]

I’m not sure when groups of believers began to gain legal possession of buildings, but I’m pretty sure that it was a long time after the texts and letters that become the New Testament were written. We do know Christian communities have had buildings since the beginning of the fourth century. We know that underground Christian communities still live on in Communist countries—and perhaps even Islamic ones.

“Church” at its best means “baptized believers,” a gathered community, brothers and sisters in Christ who love each other and serve and care for each other and for strangers as Jesus taught.[17]

Since the deaths of my parents, I’ve experienced what I think many experience, the desire to talk to them—even more than the desire to see them. I confess that sometimes I try really to experience through memory their touch. I don’t think my parents are gone; they died in the Lord. My relationship with them is not over.

I think of my relationship with God, with Jesus, in much the same way. I want to talk, but I don’t expect God to answer in ordinary speech. I attempt to be aware of what the Spirit may be trying to get me to learn, see, do, say. Scripture is often a good place to start, when we want to listen to God, to hear, as it were, God’s voice, and to go fishing with him.

 

✠ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

[1] Matthew 4:1–10; Mark 1:9–13; Luke 4:1–13.

[2] John 1:35–40. Bible quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[3] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 111–116.

[4] Mark 1:16–20; Matthew 4:18–22; Luke 5:1–11.

[5] John 19:26.

[6] John 2:1–11.

[7] Mark 1:21–32, New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) (2011).

[8] Matthew 4:23–24.

[9] Luke 5:15.

[10] Brown, 289–90.

[11] Ibid., 173.

[12] Ibid., 221.

[13] Ibid., 171.

[14] Raymond E. Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections (New York: Paulist Press, 1970), 34–40.

[15] Hebrews 5:1–10.

[16] 1 Peter 2:9.

[17] Matthew 25:31–46.

 

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