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NORTH MAIN SERMON JANUARY 23, 2022

THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY 

 

Isaiah 9:1-4 New International Version (NIV)

[a]Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.

 

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 New International Version (NIV)

A Church Divided Over Leaders

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

Matthew 4:12-23 New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Begins to Preach

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”[a]

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus Heals the Sick

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

The Season of Epiphany is framed by two key events in the life of Christ: his baptism which we explored last week  and his transfiguration. In between these two major experiences, this liturgical season covers Jesus’ entire life and ministry. It’s a season of deepening in spiritual growth. It’s a time to share God’s Hope for all of us..

There’s an interesting element, though, in the Season of Epiphany. A hidden message is  contained in these passages. One that will likely surprise you.

Just as the Season of Epiphany explores and celebrates how God incarnates in the life and ministry of Jesus, so it invites you to explore and celebrate the presence of God within your own life and ministry. What this means is  Just this: if you have a body, then you have a soul. If you have a soul, then you have a slice of the living Divine presence within you. As a follower of Jesus, you are called to be Christ-like in every way. That means you also harbor twin natures or impulses — both human and divine. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus is to cultivate the full expression of both your humanity and your divinity. This week we continue to focus on the gifts of the spirit, not necessarily the physical gifts that we can see. While last week was to emphasize the unity of the whole community of faith through baptism, this week shifts to the individuals who are gifted among the Congregation. . But even there we note that individual gifts serve the whole, even in ways that aren’t always seen so readily. With Jesus as your Guide, ask:

·         From Isaiah 9:1-4 comes a very important message…

·         One of the most pressing problems in our society today is depression. Millions are affected by it; perhaps some people we know or are related to people who struggle with depression. The prophet Isaiah ministered to a nation gripped by depression because of their circumstances. Although to many it seemed there was no hope, Isaiah proclaimed that even in the midst of despair, God is able to bring life and light and hope.. Today there  is a call to identify workers within the church who may have some of the “humbler” tasks and thank them.  Perhaps even more difficult, or more unseen, would be to recognize those unofficial gifts that help the church be hospitable and energized. Who are the unofficial greeters or hosts, those who make even first timers feel like they belong? Who is always there to lend a hand when something needs done at church? There are many who share their gifts in ways that even they might not have recognized unless we really look for it. There is light and hope in this world.

There are needs all around you: in your family, in the congregation, in the community, in the denomination, in the country and in the world. Enough that it just might feel overwhelming. Consider this: Feeling overwhelmed is the sensation that comes when you try to control outcomes, or resist the movement of the Spirit. Yet, you are divinely designed to be a co-creator with God and you are called to do something, no matter how small. In some ways this may fight off depression and lack of hope. 

. The Darkness of Despair Feels Overwhelming
The reading of verse 1 is obscure but clear enough: gloom, anguish, and contempt are the daily bread of the people of Israel, who have borne the brunt of an Assyrian invasion of 733 B.C. Verse 2 fills out the image: "The people who walked in darkness...." It is not that darkness has come at nighttime, or that it has been created or arranged for some purpose in a closed-in room; darkness is what the people have lived with, day and night, week in and week out. To walk in darkness, to live "in a land of deep darkness," is to lose one's sense of reality, of bearings, of memory or hope.

What Isaiah describes is a kind of communal defeat and despair, an experience most of us have never known. We have all, however, witnessed such events, such tragedies, or read of their occurrence in history. Famine, genocide, plague, civil war, holocaust—all of these are instances where a crisis is so great it leaves the entire community or country in a chronic state of shock. We have to imagine such was the existence of these oppressed people during this time. They walked, but to where? They lived, but for what purpose? Any person who has experienced acute depression know the weight of such darkness.

 BUT .. God Brings Hope in the Midst of Despair
Into the deep darkness comes a bold announcement: the coming of "a great light" (v. 2). A metaphor for God's saving acts toward the community of Israel, light can be imagined here as near to blinding as possible without actually being so. Weeks and months and years in complete darkness, all at once dissipated by great light.

The result of such an experience of coming into light is expressed in verse 3 with one predominant word: joy.." The image now is no longer of heaviness but its very opposite—lightness. The promise of the prophet Isaiah is that however heavy the darkness IS. It not the end.. joy comes with the morning". So it is with our life. Whatever the cause of your despair, God can bring new light and new joy to you if you will open your heart to God's love.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-18

Louie Newton, a denominational leader among Baptists in a former generation, used to answer all his correspondence by handwritten letter. One night before retiring he wrote two letters. One was to a quarreling church in danger of splitting, and it contained extensive and specific instructions as to what to do about the division. the message was simply, "Close the gate and keep the bad things  out."

When Dr. Newton's letter was opened and read in a tense church meeting, the people were infuriated that the simple statement was all the help they received. Paul also wrote a letter to a tense church in Corinth, and the Church received some clear principles as to how unity could be reestablished.

I. Unity Is Maintained When the Church Decides to Work for It
Apparently, unity was not a priority among the believers in Corinth. The result was that unity had begun to unravel. One of Paul's evident intents in writing this letter was to motivate the Christians to make "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) a priority. So he wrote, "I appeal to you...that all of you be in agreement" (v. 10). In other words, "Decide to work for unity!"Paul appealed to them "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".". Many of the problems at Corinth are familiar to each of us. The problem addressed here is that people are forming little groups, each thinking it is better than the others and letting the others know that. 

Sometimes churches are unified merely because the people worked together on a building project. Sometimes the warm feelings generated by sharing potluck dinners are enough to hold churches together. Other Christian groups are bound together because they have a common foe. Not one of these, however, is the distinctive unity of a New Testament church.. That was precisely the problem of the Corinthians. Paul called the people to affirm the only true source of their unity—Christ. To all people trying to prove their own importance by putting others down, Paul says,  Have the same mind…"Get along with one another!"

Having the "same mind" (v. 10), of course, does not mean that churches expect everyone to look, act, and be the same. In this same letter, Paul accentuated the different gifts of the different members in the Body of Christ However, Christians are to agree on their purpose—to exalt Christ, not self, in their lives and in their church.   Just get along..

Our Gospel read from MATTHEW 4:12-23 basically states the same thing.. these disciples are in transition...! Often these major transitions of life are caused by crises. The disciples, in our text, are in the midst of major transition. Perhaps this transition is caused by the crisis of their decision to repent and follow Jesus (v. 17). Perhaps this transition is caused by the fact that John the Baptist has been put in prison (v. 12). Many of Jesus' disciples had followed John. It would have been easy for these disciples of John to succumb to disillusionment, retreat into fear, or just quit because they were tired. But in Jesus' voice, they heard a new call. It was the time to respond. The crux of this passage is that being a disciple involves making decisions. Just as the fishermen needed to decide whether to stay at their boats or to follow Jesus, so disciples today must make decisions about what they will and will not do. Just as the fishermen were brave enough to try something new, so disciples today must have the courage to try new things—things like peacemaking, learning to pray, and working for justice..

I. Jesus Calls Us to a Place
Why did they respond? Perhaps something was lacking in their lives. Sensing in John a glimmer of hope, they realized a new opportunity in the dynamic preacher from Nazareth. In Jesus, they found a place. We all know that the church is people. But the church also is a place. Having a place is important. . A place. We all need a place. In Jesus, the disciples found a place where they could find mercy, purpose, stability, forgiveness, security, and a sameness that gave unity to their lives.

II. Jesus Calls Us to a Time
The Scriptures also report that they responded immediately, almost as if they left their father in the boat (v. 22)! "It is now time," Jesus says. "The kingdom is near" .. Jesus is saying, "Don't put it off."

 This is crisis time. The moment is here. Opportunity awaits. Seize it. "The kingdom is near," Jesus said. Without delay, they followed him. It was the  time to respond to Jesus' call to live a life that honored God.

In the darkness of winter, these scriptures shine forth with the light of Hope. Isaiah speaks of light coming to those in the deep darkness of anguish; and Jesus fulfills the promise of Isaiah as he begins his ministry. The light of God calls people to rejoice and to follow Jesus into a ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. The light of God calls us to remember our essential unity and our need for one another. By the light of love, we find that the foolishness of the world is the power of God. Remember today to thank someone who did something for the church or for you or someone else.. even the most humble of gifts is worthy of thanks.

Let us Pray.. God of light,  sometimes we live in the darkness of despair: worried about our lives, concerned for our health,fearful that we are lost from you. The yoke of our burdens lies heavy upon us: our unwillingness to forgive,our fears of one another,our reluctance to share what we have, our divisions and quarrels.We long to turn from the dark
and live in the light.We yearn to leave the darkness and follow the light ...Shine the light of your love upon us and transform us with your love,. Amen.