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“Jesus’ Inaugural Address”
Matthew 4:12-23
When we really encounter Jesus Christ, our lives will never be the same
On Friday Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States.
Washington displayed all the pomp and circumstance as once again we transferred
power peacefully from one President to the next. And yet, there is an underlying
divide that seems greater than it has been in recent presidencies. The protests were
angry and loud in D.C. and around the country. Hundreds of thousands of women
made the trip to Washington and other state capitals yesterday to protest the new
President’s treatment of women. In his inaugural address President Trump did not
give many details about his plans. Instead he created a vision. “From this day
forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be
America First.”
Jesus’ inaugural address was a bit different. Following the arrest of John the Baptist
he returns home to Nazareth. Then he leaves Nazareth and moves to the city of
Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. There Jesus begins his public ministry. His
address was simple and to the point – “Repent, for the KOH has come near.” Not
very original – John the Baptist proclaimed the same message. Jesus spoke of what
his listeners must do as he announced what God had already done. Then he went
out to show the world the KOH.
Do you suppose the ordinary people in first century Galilee believed Jesus? Do you
suppose they believed that God's reign, God's rule, God's Kingdom, the complete
fulfillment of God's will, had come near? Would that have been a very believable
statement? Remember their situation. They were an oppressed people under the
rule of the Roman legions. And Rome considered Israel and that part of the world to
be a relatively unimportant part of the empire, so they never assigned the best
administrators. They were cruel and often frivolous. Life was not easy for these
people. Rome also had no sensitivity or respect for Jewish religious beliefs. Over
and over and over again in the first century, the Romans sought to impose their many
gods on the people. It was a tough time.
It didn't at all look like God's will was unfolding right before their eyes. It didn't seem
like the peaceable kingdom where God would reign in every heart and every family
and every village was near. It didn't seem close at all to them. And yet, here was
Jesus. The very first words out of his mouth in his public ministry were, "Repent!
The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Almost immediately after making this announcement, Matthew records that Jesus
called his first disciples. He walks right up to Peter and Andrew, then James and
John, and says – “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” It reminds me of a
bumper sticker – “You catch them. He’ll clean them.” Immediately they dropped
everything and followed Jesus. They left their business – their source of income.
They left their families.
Don’t underestimate the sacrifice, the change, the disruption that Peter and Andrew
and James and John and the others experienced. Don’t underestimate what they laid
aside to follow Jesus. These were people with homes and businesses and they
walked away from it all. In the Small Group on Tuesday, we talked about what our
response to Jesus might have been when we were in our 20's and 30's. Most were
involved with family and work and could not imagine giving them up to follow Jesus.
One wanted to ask Jesus to come back later.
Discipleship breaks into life as we know it. It’s really an intrusion. Life is not life “as
usual” for us anymore. It means a whole new set of priorities in life – a new way of
living life. When we encounter the call of Christ, our lives will change.
The call came to Martin Luther in a thunderstorm. Legend has it, on the night of July
2, 1505, after visiting his parents, Luther was walking back to the university where he
was studying law. A thunderstorm suddenly arose. A bolt of lightning struck close to
Luther, throwing him down to the ground. He was so frightened that he prayed to
Saint Anne, "Save me and I will become a monk." The thunderstorm passed – and
Luther was not hurt. Luther entered the monastery much to his father's bitter
disappointment. He excelled in his theological training. Luther’s call to follow Christ
in this way led him to challenge the church of his day. And, it led to his eventual
excommunication and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. [Emphasis, 2005]
One never knows when, where, or how the call to follow will come. But, when we
encounter the call of Christ, our lives will change.
The call came to Norman Vincent Peale at a fire. As a young man, this future
preacher and author was working as a newspaper reporter in Detroit. One day his
editor sent him to cover a terrible fire in an apartment building. He rushed to the
scene, flashed his press pass, and got right up to where the firefighters were working.
He soon learned that all the exits of the building were blocked, and that standing in a
sixth-floor window was a twelve-year-old girl.
There was another apartment building close by, separated by a narrow alley. From a
window in the neighboring building someone had extended a plank right into the
window where the girl was standing. People were shouting to the girl to crawl across.
But she was scared of heights. Several times she moved out onto the plank. But
each time she turned back in terror. Down below, young Peale lost his journalistic
objectivity. He called up to the girl, "Do you believe in God?" She nodded. "Do you
believe that God is up there with you, waiting to help you cross that plank?" Again
she nodded. "He is there," Peale went on, "for he said, 'I will be with you always.'
Now don't look down. Look straight ahead and think about God." Slowly the girl
crawled out on the plank, and in a few moments she was safe in the other building.
Down on the street, the crowd broke into applause. A police officer turned to Peale
and said, "Good job, son. You sound like a preacher." "I'm no preacher," Peale
replied. "The hell you're not!" said the officer. [Emphasis, 2005]
Peale was not be eager to answer the call. But, when we encounter the call of Christ,
our lives will change.
Not all “calls” are to ordained pastoral ministry. Entering into a new relationship – a
lifetime commitment to another human being – is a call. Quitting an old job to move in
a new direction with its challenges and uncertainties is a call. Leaving home to
pursue an education – setting down roots in a strange community, a strange church –
is a call. Bringing a child into this world is a call. Giving up an established career to
take on full-time care of an aging parent or a disabled child is a call. Letting go of an
addiction in order to face a life of freedom and new possibilities is a call.
We may not be eager for the invitation. We don’t welcome the change. We don’t
recognize the opportunity as the way to a better future. Perhaps we don’t hear it as a
call from God. But if we do, when we encounter the call of Christ, our lives will
“Repent, for the KOH has come near!” Life is not the same. The light of the world
has come. “The people who lived in darkness have see a great light.” Those who
are experiencing the shadow of death have the hope of a new dawn. In Jesus Christ,
God has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth. There is forgiveness of sins for
those who repent. There is new life for those who receive it.
So, when the call comes, answer it. Yes, it will intrude upon your life. Like Peter and
Andrew, James and John, you may find that discipleship leads you to do things you’ve
never done before.
Like reading the Bible – in church;
Or, making out a check – a big one – for a mission project;
Or, accepting a position of leadership;
Or, listening to someone – patiently – in love.
I do not know if President Donald Trump views the presidency as a calling from God.
But I appreciate the fact that he was willing to sit down with two moderate pastors of
our denomination. Rev. Scott Johnson is the pastor of the Fifth Ave PC in New York
City which sits in the shadow of Trump Tower. Rev. Patrick O’Connor is pastor of
First Presbyterian in Jamaica, Queens where Donald Trump was baptized and
confirmed as a boy. They call themselves “purple pastors” because their
congregations are neither Democrat nor Republican. Their 20 minutes together
ended with this prayer – and I ask us to make this our prayer with a slight change –
“Almighty God, all the people of the earth are yours. We are all your children.
Your will is done when governments are rightly administered, liberty is
preserved, justice is decreed, dignity is assured, and care is extended to the
most vulnerable of your children.
“This day, we ask that you would look with favor on President Donald J. Trump.
Protect him and keep his family safe. Grant to him equal doses of courage and
humility. Guide him as he makes countless decisions. Give him wisdom and
mercy. Enable him to find the right words: good words, true words, healing
“Our countries differences and divisions are vast. Deliver us, loving God, from
rancor and cynicism. Forgive our sins. Encourage us to kindness. Teach us
to mend the tattered places in this society. Give us hope and holy perspective
for the living of these days.
“Tender Creator, in some ways – important ways – we all want the same things.
We want opportunity. We want fairness from our government. We want
safety. We want order. We want clean water and fresh air. We want to come
home at night feeling like we are making progress, like we are part of something
bigger than ourselves, like we matter. We all want to matter.
“Give to us all, O Lord, in this time, common purpose and an uncommon
commitment to this great country. Help us to work together to achieve a more
perfect union – a nation that is more than the sum of its parts. Mold the
President into your servant. Help him to lead us in pursuing your extraordinary
vision. This we pray in the name of the One who calls all people to reconciling
and redemptive work, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen [Scott Black Johnston
email, 1/18/17]
The reality is, Christ asks all of us – in some way or another – from presidents to
pastors to individual persons – to give up our comfort and security and follow him.
We don’t know what form it may take. It may be financial. It may be personal. It
may be relational. But when we encounter the call of Christ, our lives will change.