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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?

“Forever Changed”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 5:1-11
Jeremiah 29:11

 

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Jeremiah 19:11

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.


 

What a fantastic Gospel story we read today.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has begun teaching in the synagogues and word is spreading about him, but he’s not yet chosen disciples.  This is that moment in Luke, when the first disciples follow Jesus.

Since this story differs from the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Matthew and Mark, this raises the obvious questions of which story accurately reflects what happened, and that is an answer I don’t have.  Both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are almost identical.  That suggests that perhaps their accounts are more factual, but it can also simply mean they had the same source or that one of them used the other one of them as their source.  So ultimately, we do not have an answer to question of what actually happened.

But as is the case with much of scripture, I suspect the questions of substance are less about what transpired exactly in that moment and more about the truths communicated by each story.  As we’ve discussed before, Hebrew Rabbinic tradition cared less about facts, as we would define them in our modern world.  And as in all of life, every witness experiences things from differing points of view, even focusing on entirely different elements of the same shared moment.  They didn’t have i-phones, camcorders, or tape players.  So necessarily over time, stories – just like our memories – shift.  Perspectives would change from storyteller to storyteller.  What remained was truth.  And that is what we are called to listen for in these stories.

 

So here we have Jesus calling his first disciples.  It isn’t even so much an ask as a telling.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Come and follow me.”  Jesus simply states that from that moment forward, they would no longer catching fish but catching people.  And they leave everything and follow him.

 

Would you do it?

Would you leave everything and follow Jesus?

If you had been there, witnessing this life and love and hope never-before-seen, would you have left everything to follow him?

 

I honestly don’t know.  We have responsibilities.  We have rents.  We have mortgages.  We have aging parents.  We have children.  We have jobs.  We have obligations…

And so did they.

What made them so willing to step out with abandon into unknown territory following Jesus?

 

They have just witnessed Jesus teaching the people.  They have just witnessed the multitude in awe at his words.  Their own work wasn’t going so swell.  They’d fished the whole night, catching nothing.  And here, this traveling new preacher goes and tells them how to do their job?  Where does he get off?!?  I imagine they may have thought him naïve, arrogant, or out of place.  Couldn’t he just stick to teaching?  Why’d he have to meddle in their business.

Simon (Peter) protests, but says that because Jesus has asked, he will do what Jesus has said.  We don’t know if he did it grudgingly.  But it does seem clear he’s not keen.  After all, this was the END of their workday.  They’d been cleaning their nets in order to put them away.  They were done – hungry, sleepy, beat.  And here this teacher goes and starts telling them how to do their jobs.

How do you feel when someone purports to know how to do your job better than you do?

Have you ever been at the end of yourself and had someone say, “Oh, well all you have to do is do it this way.”

 

How have these moments made you feel?

What have they risen within you?

 

I can say that these moments have not risen kind and happy thoughts within me.  So while it is possible Simon and his fellow fishermen were eager to get back out and try again, I suspect they were anything but eager.  I suspect they were anything but optimistic.  I suspect the only thing they had going for them here was their obedience to Jesus.

And that is something.

That is something God can work with.  Obedience is a surrendering of sorts.  It places another person’s will ahead of our own.  It requires setting down our own intention and taking on someone else’s.

Obedience is hard.

 

But the hardest part of obedience is trusting that the one telling us what to do really knows what their talking about,…trusting that they know what is best,…trusting that they have our best interest at heart.  And this is why it’s so hard to trust one another in this world – because so rarely do others have our best interest at heart.  We tend to get caught up in our own needs too much to be truly concerned and aware of what others need.  Our own needs most often trump the needs of others in our lives.  And even when we do want to do what’s best for another, we rarely truly know what IS best for them.  This is why telling others what to do gets so sticky and dicey.

 

But this is also why God alone is worthy of our full obedience.

God alone truly KNOWS what is right and good and true.  God alone truly KNOWS what is best, what will work, what will lead to a future of hope.  God alone can see how one moment will connect to another.  God alone can foresee how everything fits together and all that is coming.

God ALONE is in a position to rightly guide us.

And in Jesus Christ, we have witnessed God pouring Godself out for our sakes!  Christ put his life on the line, laying his life down, all for our sakes.

 

In God alone, we meet the One able to lead us well. 

 

If we trust anyone in this world, may it be God.

 

I realize that for many of us God seems trustworthy for the big eternal stuff but perhaps not for the issues we face everyday.  Does God really even care about the stuff we are having to make decisions about every day?!?

I would say yes, God does care about all the decisions of our lives because God cares for us.  A God who knows the number of hairs on our head and the number of tears we’ve ever cried, surely cares for all of us, not just the “holy” parts of our lives.   Last I checked, hair and tears aren’t usually considered all that holy, and yet they matter to God.

That also means our finances, our jobs, our businesses, our decisions…

Our families, our households, our relationships…

Our everything matters to God.

 

AND God alone can rightly guide us.

Not only that, but God alone has our best interest at heart.

So we can be confident that wherever God leads, it is the very best for us.

 

Do you believe it?

 

Here Jesus steps into these young Galilean fishermen’s business and shows them that there is far more going on below the surface of the water than they can even begin to know.  Here Jesus shows them that he can indeed provide for all they need.  Here Jesus faces up against their livelihoods and blesses them with more abundance than they dreamed possible – blessing OVERFLOWING!  Here Jesus shows them that he is God and they are not.

 

And something clicks.

 

Life is so much better with him. 

How could they ever go back to the way things were before? 

 

 

May we meet the Living God in ways that bowl us over.

May we be obedient to God – following the Spirit’s lead in our lives – and SEE the Living God provide, blessings overflowing!

May we be so changed that going back to life as usual just isn’t an option

For we have met with the LIVING GOD, and our lives will never be the same.

 

Christ meet us, and may we never be the same.