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“Do You Hear God’s Whisper?”

Reverend Katherine Todd
Matthew 4:12-23
Isaiah 9:1-4

 

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the 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.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As 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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus 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.

 

Isaiah 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he 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.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You 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.
For 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.


 

 

In our passage today from Isaiah, I recognize this beautiful proclamation that those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, but what I’d never before noticed was the sentence just before:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he 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.

 

I have poured over commentaries and Biblical scholarship on this verse, because this phrase, “Galilee of the nations” is unique.  In fact the only other time it occurs in scripture is in Matthew, the other scripture we read today, where the apostle is quoting this very verse from Isaiah.

So what does it mean, “Galilee of the nations.”

 

Some look to the state of that area of Israel during Isaiah’s lifetime.  The Assyrian empire had overrun much of Naphtali & Zebulun, so it is reasoned that Isaiah is foretelling of a time in which this area, overrun & disgraced, will become glorious.

But this phrase, “Galilee of the nations” harkens to other phrases like “city on a hill” and “light of the world.”  Usually we think of Jerusalem specifically or Israel generally as being called to be this light for the nations.  So why here is Galilee being lifted up specifically as “of the nations”?

Is it because Galilee had been so overrun by people of other nations?

It is because Galilee itself will become this light to the nations?

 

Scholars are not in agreement about how to interpret this phrase.

But I find it noteworthy that wherever Jesus goes, there is transformation.

 

This remote area of Israel, not firmly secured, overtaken is worthy of mention because it becomes the land of hope.  It becomes the place from which those who have lived in deep darkness will find a great light.

 

A number of years ago several books came out by Bruce Wilkinson.  In them he walks the reader through more obscure texts of the Bible and opens them in a real and personal way.  You may be familiar with his most famous of these books, “The Prayer of Jabez.”

Well, I found his book, “The Dream Giver,” most encouraging.  In it he describes a character who is given a dream by God and allows us to accompany them on their journey of faith and doubt, support and resistance, hope and fulfillment.  What struck me most was that the character, upon reaching the promised land of his dream, is distressed by the terrible shape in which he finds the place.  While his dream had shown a city shining and bright, he instead finds a city dingy and dirty.

He is discouraged.  This land does not look like the promised land of his dreams.  But the author’s point is that dream, the vision, is of what God is doing THROUGH the character.  In other words, the city looks dingy & dirty now because it has not yet been touched by the gifts and vision of this person.  The place isn’t already brilliant.  Rather, the character will make this place brilliant.

 

And this passage from Isaiah paints much the same picture.  Isaiah is hailing Galilee as a city of the nations, but it isn’t anything great.  In fact it is rather despised.  But because of Christ, that whole land where Jesus spends most of his time ministering will become bright and shining, a land of hope and joy and freedom!

 

Christ has a way of transforming things.

Christ has a way of transforming us.

 

This is so very hopeful, because it means that indeed life and hope and joy and freedom can come into the most devastated. 

What are those places today?

What are those places in this city?

Can you name the neighborhoods in which you hesitate to go?

…to drive through?

…neighborhoods where the need outweighs the means,

…where loss is a daily experience?

 

So what if, a prophet today lifted one of those placed up, as a light to the nations, as a road to hope, as a place of hope and transformation.  Would you be amazed? 

Or if the outback of Australia, ravaged by fires, was lifted up as a verdant land, flowing with milk and honey…, would you be amazed? 

 

What situations has God laid on your heart?

What people has God placed on your heart?

What skill has God given you?

What connections has God provided you?

 

Because Christ lives in us, God is transforming the world still.  Today.  Through you.

That even the most devastated, desperate, fearful places may become rivers of hope and refreshing, places of justice and healing.

 

Can you imagine?

 

Jesus is still healing hearts, even those most devastated.

God is still causing people to dream dreams.

God is still planting vision in the heart of people everywhere.

Jesus is still transforming the world,

even and especially in all the most broken and ravaged places.

 

Do you hear God’s whisper?

“We Are One”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 10:28-31
1 Corinthians 12:12-27

 

Matthew 10:28-31

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.


 

This teaching by Paul is important.  It has been foundational in the development of our theology.  It is among the reasons why we believe in the beauty and sacredness of each person, differences and all.

But the side of this passage that I find harder and harder to ignore, is this part about inferior members of the body of Christ.  Now when Paul mentions these inferior members, it is to say that we give them more honor, so all members feel cared for and a part.  But that still implies that some folks are more important in the body of Christ than others.

 

Now, this passage definitely challenges the way the world designates and measures value and worth.  This passage reminds us that those we often despise are often invaluable; whereas those we lift up and honor are quite often inferior.  I appreciate how Paul challenges the world’s way of thinking about, measuring, and valuing others.  I appreciate how God’s way is quite often the opposite of our ways.

What I find harder to digest is the fact that God still measures.  From Paul’s words, it would appear that God does not put down the measuring stick, but simply that God measures with a different stick altogether.

 

Now, living in our society today, I find this notion that some are more valuable that others a tad repulsive.  It’s like a bad smell in my nose, that I cannot shake.  I don’t like this idea that some are more important than others.

 

In other places of scripture, we learn that God loves and seeks and saves all people.

I am much more comfortable with those passages.

 

But this passage, cloaked in comparison and measurement, is hard for me to accept.  And I must not be the only one, because everywhere, we have pushes to remove comparison and competition.  School field days are no longer competitions among peers.  More and more, they’ve become more like choose-your-own-outdoor-activity-fests.  The competition has been altogether eliminated.  And everyone receives a ribbon.

Part of me is okay-enough with this.  But then I’ve also noticed how young adults who’ve been raised in this new social order have very little self-awareness.  All you have to do is watch the auditions for any singing competition, and you’ll find person after person who cannot match pitch yet has dreamed of being a singer since they were a little girl.  All I can think is, “how did that young lady grow up her whole life without knowing that singing isn’t her gift?!”

It’s in moments like this that I feel the new social order of “everyone wins” is grossly inadequate.  It’s like we’ve traded one extreme – competition at all costs – for another – Everyone is a winner!

 

Whatever your personal taste may be, this idea of ranking one another or being ranked is controversial.  And yet, through-out scripture we hear these words of ranking, value, and measurement.  Now, this measurement, God’s measurement, is radically different and juxtaposed to our own, but it IS measuring, nonetheless.

 

Perhaps a difference is this – Jesus speaks to action, choices, decisions, inactions.  Jesus measures the acts of all people, while treasuring each person.  Not all acts are okay.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Some actions are right.  Other actions are wrong.  What we do and say and fail to do and say matters.  Some acts are full of faith, while others are full of fear and doubt.  But all the while we are reminded that God sees every sparrow that falls from the sky, and that we are of more worth than a sparrow.  All the while, we are reminded that God knows the number of hairs on our heads.

We are precious, honored, and beloved in God’s sight.

AND, we act in ways that are good and evil, right and wrong, faithful and unfaithful, courageous and cowardly.

Not all actions are equal.

 

But this explanation still does not satisfy OUR passage today, because the passage isn’t so much talking about actions.  It is talking about people, and their differences.

But no one passage is meant to be read in isolation.  They are a chorus.  When we hear them in conversation together, we are best able to discern the truth.  And it is no different with this passage.

While we are assured over and over in scripture that God values all, we also hear that God measures between different acts, good and evil.  In fact, God alone can accurately and wholly determine which is which.  God alone is in a position to judge.  Not all acts are equal.  In God’s eyes, it may be that not all people are equal.

All we know is that God alone is qualified to make that judgement.  We are not. 

 

Perhaps the key to understanding this passage is the phrase in verses 22 and 23:

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor,…

Perhaps Paul’s distinctions between the inferior and honorable members is simply a reflection of what WE think.  Is it possible Paul is merely speaking to the prejudices and judgements we make about one another, in order to challenge them with God’s way of thinking? 

We do not know for sure.

But what IS clear is Paul’s final assertion:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

 

We affect one another.

Each of us matters to the whole.

One person’s suffering, is all our suffering.

One person’s honor, is all our honor.

 

Now you may be thinking now of all the ways this does not seem true.  But we are part of one body, the body of Christ.  We are part of one human family.  We affect one another, both for good and for bad.  The harm or wellbeing of each individual matters to the whole.  “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul reminds us.

So in a day and time when we are as tempted as ever to label one another, to judge and dismiss one another, to reduce one another to their shortcomings or political persuasions, may WE be a people who reflect God’s heart for the world:

I came not to condemn the world but that all people might be saved.

May WE be a people who believe God that every person’s suffering and every person’s gain is a loss or a gain to us all.

May WE be a people who STOP ranking and sorting one another with the measuring sticks we’ve found in the school of the world.

May WE be a people who begin to perceive our own worth and the worth of others, more and more, with God’s eyes.

 

Each made by the hand of God, we are bound together as one creation, one human family. 

Baptized into the family of God, we are bound together, as one body of Christ. 

 

May WE love and care for all our members and each person, remembering that we are joined.

When one of us weeps, we all weep. 

When one of us is honored, we are all honored.

 

The Word of the Lord.