Sermon for the Third Sunday of Epiphany – 22.01.23

Isaiah 9:1-4 • Psalm 27:1, 4-9 • 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 • Matthew 4:12-23

Now I wonder if you have heard of George Foreman? Perhaps you have one of the famous ‘George Foreman’ grills on which you can cook meat in a more healthy way? Maybe you know his name from before he got involved in promoting cookware. Back in the 1970s George was a world famous heavyweight boxer. In 1977, after a twelve round fight against Jimmy Young, George almost died. He claims that he was given a second chance after he fell to his knees and prayed to God to spare his life. From that moment, that moment of conversion, he became a committed Christian and today ministers in his own church.

If you’ve not heard of George Foreman, maybe you remember the Hip Hop singer MC Hammer (he whose most well know release was Can’t Touch This). Following his fall from the spotlight and finding himself in a number of difficult situations, he decided to convert to Christianity and is now an ordained minister.

It’s easy to find many stories of people who can identify a particular moment in their lives when they chose to follow Jesus – when they describe their moment of ‘conversion’. From George W Bush to CS Lewis, you can find all their testimonies online.

But I wonder what your conversion story might be? When was that moment you decided to follow Jesus? Some may find these questions easy to answer, but I suspect rather more of us might struggle to identify a specific time and place.

Today’s gospel can be rather difficult for many of us. It sounds as if one day Jesus shows up and then we must immediately walk away from our old lives, leaving everything behind. That’s how St. Matthew describes it for Peter and Andrew, James and John and I don’t doubt that’s true. I know that’s how it has happened for some and that is a legitimate and valid experience. But it’s not the only way. Some of you might describe a story similar to mine; a continuous and steady experience of Jesus. Others might tell a story of struggle and wrestling, give and take, back and forth. Think about Jacob or Jonah. In truth, our lives are probably a mixture of all three of those experiences plus others. How does any relationship begin, continue and grow? There is no one way or even a right way. There are probably as many ways of being called, finding Jesus, being found by Jesus, whatever you want to call it, as there are people. It is unique and personal to each one of us.

The point, however, isn’t how it happened but that it did happen and it continues to happen. It’s never a once and for all, finally and forever, kind of thing. Our entire life is a conversion experience. We are always being converted, shaped and formed into the likeness of Jesus. Over and over again, Jesus comes to us saying, “Follow me.”

Following Jesus does not happen in the abstract but in the context, circumstances, and relationships of our lives. Our relationship with Jesus is grounded and experienced in the people and events of our lives and our world. So it was for Peter, Andrew, James, and John. We see that throughout the remainder of Matthew’s account of the gospel. He not only describes the life and ministry of Jesus but the ongoing shaping and forming of Peter’s, Andrew’s, James’ and John’s lives. That shaping and forming happened in Jesus’ teaching of the beatitudes, in his healing of the sick, in his telling parables, in his feeding the five thousand, in Peter complaining that they had left everything behind, in James and John arguing with the others and hoping to sit at Jesus’ right and left, in Jesus’ crucifixion, in his resurrection and ascension, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Every one of those moments echo with Jesus’ words, “Follow me.” Every one of those is as much a turning point in the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, and John as was the day Jesus first saw them by the Sea of Galilee. Turning points always resound with the invitation to follow Jesus. They are the intersection of our lives and his life. Isn’t that what’s happening in today’s gospel? We hear it in Jesus’ words. He only says two things: “Repent,” and “Follow me.” At some level they are two sides of the same coin.

So often we hear the word “repentance” and think, “Uh oh, somebody’s been bad. Someone better change their evil ways.” It can mean that and sometimes that needs to be the focus, but it also means more than that. Repentance is more than just a moral change. It is a life change, a turning point. We look in a different direction. We see with new eyes. We establish new priorities. We travel a new road.

The turning points of our lives bring us face to face with Jesus and they come in lots of ways. Sometimes they come as we planned, worked and hoped for. But at other times they are completely unexpected and take us by surprise. Sometimes they bring us joy and gladness. Sometimes we are filled with sorrow and loss. Sometimes they affirm everything we thought and believed and sometimes they leave us confused and not knowing what we believe. You’ve probably experienced all of those and more in the turning points of your own lives.

Think about your turning points, times when, for better or worse, your life was turned around:

  • Beginning or ending a relationship
  • The birth of a child or the death of a loved one
  • Words or actions that hurt another and forever changed the relationship
  • Starting a new job or the failure of a business
  • Discovering the passion that excites, inflames, and drives your life or feeling you’ve made a huge mistake and don’t know how to make it right
  • The plans and dreams that you’ve shared coming true or suddenly finding you have become the carer of a loved one whose health is failing

The list could go on and on. We could all tell stories of our life’s turning points. It seems as if our lives are a series of turning points, some big and others small. Regardless, with each turning point we see ourselves, others, and the world differently, we think differently, we focus on different concerns, we ask different questions, and we move in different directions. What they all have in common, however, is Jesus’ invitation, his command, to follow him.

Each turning point comes with the opportunity for and the promise of Christ to refashion our lives. That’s what Jesus did for Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “I will make you…,” he says. That’s what he does for us as well. He makes us more who we truly are to be. In him we begin to recognise ourselves.

This does not happen in spite of our life’s circumstances but in and through our life’s circumstances. That’s where and how it happened for Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Their turning point came in sailing the same boats, on the same lake, using the same nets, doing the same work they had done the day before, and the day before that, and the month before that, and the year before that.

Look at your lakes, boats, and nets, the circumstances of your life. What is the turning point you face today? What’s happening? What do you see? Somewhere in your life today is a turning point, a place of repentance. Maybe you know exactly what it is. Maybe you’ve not yet recognized it. Maybe you’ve closed your eyes to it. Regardless, it is there and so is Jesus, beckoning, calling, longing, desiring. He stands there and says to you, “Follow me, because I love you and you are mine.”

Fr Simon

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