The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for the Epiphany Three, Sunday, January 22, 2017

Based on Isaiah 9: 1-4 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light

and  Matthew 4: 12-23  Jesus begins his ministry

Opening Prayer:

Dear God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry in our hearts and our minds and our bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight as we reflect together on your Holy World for us this day.  Amen.

This story about Jesus’ call to follow him so that he can make us fishers of people is dear to my heart and it’s a familiar one as it appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospel. 

It’s dear to my heart because it reminds me of childhood memories of being dropped off at church with my little brother and learning to sing hymns and respond with actions that helped to ground my early childhood understanding of what it means to be fishers of people  (or in the days before political correctness, to become ‘fishers of men’).

That said, the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry as described in the gospel according to Matthew, is so much more than one just meant for children. 

It’s one that also reminds me of that oft-quoted phrase attributed to the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead who said this:

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of thoughtful people to change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that every really has.”

Here, in the opening verses of the reading about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, we find him taking up the baton of leadership from his cousin, John, the Baptist.

Here with this version of events, we see Jesus move from one sacred geographical location to another-from his work as a carpenter in his hometown of Nazareth near to Mount Horab to Capernaum, a town renowned for its fishing industry located on the southern most tip of the Sea of Galilee. 

The geographic location of Capernaum as a site of Jesus’ inauguration is interesting for a couple of reasons.  

Functioning under the mandate of the Roman Empire during Jesus’ time, the region was previously occupied by forces from the Assyrian Empire some 700 years prior. 

Originally settled by the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, it appears that the folks at Capernaum have long called this area home, and, because of its location have long pined for a light to shine in their midst.

This background would not be lost on those first listeners to Matthew’s gospel as the link is made between the need for liberation in a geographical region long dominated by foreigners.

Here we encounter Jesus fulfilling the words of the prophet, Isaiah we heard read earlier this morning: “the people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.”

What a fitting story, then, we have for our listening ears this morning as we celebrate the second Sunday after the Epiphany, the occasion in the church year when we are invited to seek out the light of God’s love embodied in the person of Jesus in this story and in the light that shines with, through, and in us here and now!

But, that’s not all that’s on offer in our readings this day. 

We also have Jesus taking up the banner of leadership on behalf of his cousin, John, the Baptist who has just lost his life for speaking truth to power and for standing firmly in that truth.

Here, we meet Jesus proclaiming the good news to a new community of growing followers at Capernaum.

Here, using the very words of his cousin, John, Jesus calls out to people: “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near!”

Or to my listening heart, Jesus says this:

“Be of new mind!  Take hope and let us begin again to form communities where all are welcome, loved, and valued -communities where all are deserving of the label, beloved children of God.”

Further to that, we learn that Jesus begins the work of small group ministry formation, calling fisher people to follow in his way.

And, indeed, that is exactly what happens as two pairs of brothers respond to his call!

First, the story tells us Simon and his brother, Andrew, and then James and John, sons of Zebedee, drop everything they are doing- their families, their friends, and even the tools of their livelihood- fishing nets, to follow in the way of the Light of the world, the one who invites them this way: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The reading concludes this way:  Together this small band of fisher folk, these first faithful ones, enter together into the learning and the sharing of ministries of teaching and healing and proclaiming something new and relevant to the times: the formation of communities where all are welcome, all are loved, all are valued, and where all feel deserved of the label: “Beloved Children of God.”

And, again, I am reminded of Margaret Mead’s words: “Never underestimate the power of a small, thoughtful group of people to change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

These words and this story from Matthew’s gospel popped into my mind yesterday as a relatively small group of people (30-40 or so) gathered at Steveston United Church to discuss and respond to the variety of business issues before the court of Vancouver South Presbytery.

Together we voted on three of the remits before the court that will bring significant change to how we ‘do’ Church structure wise.  

Among other topics discussed:

  •  The pro’s and con’s of our responses to the remits proposing changes to the candidacy to ministry pathway
  • Mutual recognition of other denominational leaders

And

  • The topic of accountability and responsibilities of members versus adherents

All this we debated in earnest so that delegates could be as fully prepared and informed for the purposes of voting. 

Though the topic of remits and changes to the Church’s structure as we know it is a much larger topic than today’s sermon, it was not lost on me that we were meeting as a Christian community in a church in what was formerly a fishing community. 

Interesting coincidence, yes?

That being just one of the examples of Christian community being formed I have experienced lately, I want to share some others here at Knox that are ongoing.

Recently, a group of Knoxites gathered after worship for coffee and conversation about the media attention being paid to the topic of the Rev. Gretta Vosper’s stance on theology and ministry. 

The question arose at that gathering: Can we call ourselves Christian and at the same time be curious about what is being discussed?

And, again, I am reminded, “Never underestimate the power of a small, thoughtful group of people to change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever really has!”

Out of our coffee and conversation group that Sunday morning has emerged a Lenten Luncheon Lecture series on the topic “Who is Jesus for you?” where we will have a chance to gather with other curious ones to hear and discuss a variety of responses from local clergy to that very question.

How great is that to have another chance to form Christian community with friends and neighbours in the area to share and experience the light of God’s holy love shining in and through us!   Do stay tuned for more details on that event.

Last week, we had further opportunity to gather and discuss what it means to offer hospitality to those vulnerable ones, some of our community lunch guests who often turn to church communities to support their most basic needs.

Knowing that our world continues to be a dark and foreboding place where many are not treated as God’s beloved ones, we are invited to shine the light of God’s love in and through our most compassionate responses.

And, again, I am reminded of the power of a small, thoughtful group of people saying ‘yes’ to the invitation from Jesus to bring the light of God’s love to others.

A little later this morning, we will hear an update from the leaders of the Knox Stewardship and Social Justice team and friends about how the light of God’s love shone brightly last Sunday evening here at Knox as we welcomed 9 members of the Al Zaza family into our midst.

Together community was formed as we shared potluck meal, a program of musical fun and fellowship, and then together, created our Epiphany Banner. 

All this in the name of celebrating what it means to be faithful followers in the footsteps of Jesus in an interfaith gathering.

Anticipating that update then, let us continue to reflect on this morning’s story from the gospel according to Matthew.

And, let us lift our voices together in Christian community as we sing together another hymn that reminds us that Jesus calls men and women into ministries of leading and of following for the building of God’s kingdom through teaching, healing, and proclaiming the good news that each one of us is called to be the Light of God’s holy love for the whole of Creation during the season of Epiphany and always.

May it be so, amen!