Monday, January 01, 2001

Sermon notes on Matthew 4:12-23

The broken down houses in the village of Bethsaida at the north end of the Sea of Galilee highlights the loneliness of the place. It's been abandoned for centuries - this town of Andrew and Peter and James and John. Everyone has gone. One of the lonely houses here has been identified as the House of Zebedee the fisherman - marginally bigger and perhaps more prosperous than the neighboring buildings. In fact, one of the loneliest characters in the New Testament must certainly be "old Zebedee", himself, in this week's reading from Matthew's Gospel. Zebedee began his day in a boat by the Sea of Galilee with his two sons James and John. He finished it alone after the two boys stepped out over the gunwales onto the beach and became followers of Jesus. They formed part of a coterie of men and women following Jesus who proved a disruption to their extended families, who broke out of their niches in village hierarchies, who disappointed their parents and who ceased to function within their guilds and syndicates. As such they wasted an education and abandoned whatever promotions they had received to this point. Nothing was ever the same again. Not for them. Not for their families.

They might have been called quitters or splitters or leavers. Someone out there, no doubt, considered them an utter waste of space.

Now old Zebedee has no one to fish with. That's a shame. It's not by accident that the reader feels the poignant loneliness. He could not possibly have been made to understand that his sons had left something good for something better. His boys were simply up and gone.

These opening chapters of the Gospel are about exciting times - Jesus is calling together his band of followers. We are here reminded that we can start again in the midst of life - that the call of Christ comes to those who already have a history - that there are none of us nailed into place.

But every "turning to" is a "turning away" and every "yes" is a "no". How many doors have you shut in your lifetime? And do you regret these departures? In your cleaving to Jesus, in your excitement about his words and your recognition of the compelling part of his character which seemed to call you out directly, were you at all conscious that you were leaving something behind? Did you hear the door click?

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Sermon Notes on Haggai 1:15b-2:9

A project manager? Of course! A couple of good hammer-and-nail men. Even better! But why would you need a prophet on a building site? Maybe so God can be heard saying something to the people like the following:

“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”

This line from the prophet Haggai, beloved of stewardship preachers across the ages, comes from the mouth of one of the Minor Prophets. Along with his contemporary Zechariah and the prophet Malachi (who lived a generation afterwards) Haggai prophesied to the nation following the return of the Jews from Babylon and during the period of their rebuilding and reestablishment in the land of their fathers. This week’s reading from Haggai is significantly enriched by reading the events recorded in Ezra chapters 3-6 but particularly from chapter 4 on. After having received permission and encouragement from the Persian King Darius himself for the rebuilding of the Temple, and having seen the emergence of capable leaders, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, it was the people themselves who began to lose heart and to listen to those voices within and around them which suggested that failure was inevitable. Momentum was lost and doubts abounded.

Enter the preacher - the prophet: What Haggai does here is to remind the people that the resources they need to complete their work and to fulfill their destiny as God's people in the land never really were locked up in the hand of their adversaries after all. Nor were these cut off from reaching their destination because of the logic of the balance sheet. The needed resources - in this case silver and gold - were given into the earth by God and God can release them for his purposes.

Let the adversaries think they control them, then. God will shake those nations up. Let the balance sheet say what it does say. The chief weapon in God's hand is his word and the retelling of his mighty acts in the past. The proper response to God's promise, spoken through the prophet, is courage. The project will move forward when the hearts of men are turned.

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