Message Supplement for Sunday 26 January 2020: “God’s Invitation”

Today’s message from Matthew 4:12-23 finds Jesus in the early stages of his public ministry. John the Baptist had just been arrested and quickly fades from the gospel story. Meanwhile, Jesus began to wander and proclaim a compelling message while building his close-knit band of followers. Welcome to membership recruitment 101 for the kingdom of heaven.

Part of Jesus’ message is the concept of a heavenly kingdom, a realm of both present reality and future possibility. The kingdom of heaven is a place of new spiritual life and the aim of your spiritual fulfillment. Jesus’ use of the kingdom of heaven terminology becomes a centerpiece of his Gospel message. The kingdom of heaven is entered through redemption, that act of turning toward God and therefore spiritual awakening. Repentance is turning from self-destructive living so that nothing can interfere with your divine destiny.

Much of the time, people go about their lives in ways that follow tradition, cultural rules, social norms, and so on. In God’s kingdom, it operates differently in that love reigns supreme. Serving God therefore means more than just obeying rules and following the crowd. Does the kingdom of heaven make sense to you and do you feel motivated to respond to God’s call? Do you consider yourself God’s disciple? Asking such questions may help you clarify and reorder your priorities.

As Jesus gathered his followers, the first four were two sets of brothers: Peter, Andrew, James, and John, all of them fishermen, independent businessmen earning a living by the Sea of Galilee. These guys would be the equivalent today of the self-employed middle class (as were most if not all of Jesus’s other apostles). This curious fact underscores something distinctive about Jesus’ movement and early Christianity.

What happened to elicit such a quick response from the twin sets of brothers that Jesus invited? “And he said to them, ‘follow me, and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4: 19-20). Jesus’ invitation is astonishing. To fish for people is a powerful metaphor illuminating our task to love others. What would it take for you to drop everything and follow God fearlessly?

Jesus hadn’t been in public ministry long enough to have much of a reputation, so it doesn’t seem likely that the four fishermen knew much about this wondering rabbi. Even if they did have knowledge of who and what Jesus was, something must have churned within them. Jesus’s charisma certainly had something to do with it. Suffice to say that Jesus made a compelling case to the brothers such that they felt divine power and possibility.

Did Jesus perform magic on the brothers? No, especially since Jesus didn’t force anyone to do anything. Did Jesus’ words exert some miraculous influence? We may never know for sure about the precise mechanisms. It’s clear that whatever Jesus did or said was sufficient to wrest the men from their families, friends and livelihood. What are the implications and ramifications for you and other people of faith?

As to living in the world, “What would Jesus do?” has almost become a cliché about how to make an ethical decision reflecting Jesus’ values. Even more critical is being ready to hear God’s call when it is made. Spiritual wakefulness is a state of perceiving through faith the presence of the Almighty. Are you ready to hear and respond positively to God’s invitation?

Looking inward doesn’t come easy, especially if you suspect that something isn’t right. Many people don’t engage introspection because they’re afraid they’ll uncover darkness that needs changing into light (and they’ve decided that they are not up to the fight). It’s worth emphasizing that the kingdom of heaven is not a physical place as much as it is a state of mind, a spiritual dimension meant to encompass who and what you are becoming.

Are you ready to follow God? What destructive thinking and acting are you willing to surrender? This is a tough question because it challenges you to stake a claim in the realm of God’s promises. Through it all, you can yearn for completion through divine transformation. Act now and accept God’s invitation for a wonderful life.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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