There’s a seam in our story this morning. One in which, if you’ve been following along, might cause some difficulty. It’s a small thing, really. Last week, we meet Andrew and another in the gospel we call John as disciples of John the Baptist. This week, in Matthew they’re fishermen. A small matter, but significant.
Why do I call this a seam? Seams are those places where two things are stitched together. Two pieces begin as separate, then become one.
But we can’t stitch a seamless garment. For a garment to be seamless, it has to start out that way.
And our Scripture is not seamless. Not by a long shot.
These seams are not imperfections or blemishes. They’re as natural as the decorative line down the side of our pants or that place you grab your shirts at the shoulder.
So seams are good. They mark boundaries. But they also present new opportunities to examine the exquisite craftsmanship. Beauty and challenge. Seams can be truly beautiful.
So the seam we have this morning, allowed us last week to hear about invitation through disciples invited to join a new rabbi. It now gives us a new opportunity. A different part of our new beginning: adversity.
Our gospel begins with an easily-missed statement:
“When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.”
Missed because it sounds like it locates Jesus. And the statement after talks about fulfilling prophecy, so we don’t pay it much mind.
But the depth of this statement is enormous. For John is in prison. The one who prepared the way for Jesus, who baptized him and preached about him!
And he was just there a few weeks before! Just in his presence, they both heard the voice, didn’t they? The voice declaring Jesus was “the beloved”. He had to have heard it. And though I’m sure he wanted to get moving into his ministry, he couldn’t. He was immediately drawn into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation and discernment. No time for goodbyes. The Spirit had other ideas for him.
So it was just 40 days. That’s all. He came back to civilization to find out that John was arrested.
And we have to believe that Jesus knew what this meant. That it isn’t only the guilty who go to prison. By Rome or Rome’s puppet king. Not only the guilty but the troublemakers. The ones who undermine the Temple system. Like popular preachers drawing people out from the cities to the wilds. A tempter of his own.
The news of the arrest hits Jesus hard. He’s been alone for 40 days and this terrible news sends him home. The work will have to wait. It’s time to go home. Withdraw.
Well…not quite. Not home. And not away from ministry. Withdraw from the main stage. And he doesn’t go home. Instead, he makes Capernaum a new home base of operations. He’s just getting started.
Some of you saw me on TV last night. Channel 2. It wasn’t my plan to be on TV. We had lunch, were getting ready to go to the library to play games, check out books, and there was knock at our door.
It’s a strange feeling to be getting ready to leave and then be greeting someone at your door.
Our neighbor was there, a friendly man. I wave to him pretty much every day. And he wanted to let me know that I had a flat tire.
He would go on to tell me all this other stuff. About how a bunch of people had flat tires along the way, that someone slashed them in the middle of the night. “Sometime after 8,” I told the police officer filing the report because that’s when we got home from our girl scout event, when Sophia flew up.
And I only half heard the words because I was thinking about our plans. These precious plans. Now we couldn’t go. I’d have to be on the phone and make arrangements and what places are open on Saturday?
All the anxiety of this unplanned adversity stared me in the face.
The whole thing took all afternoon. Calling, waiting, anticipating failure, pushing the anxiety down into my gut where it’s supposed to be and not up in my stomach.
And in the middle of it I’m asked to be a public witness to this event. These questions posed to a victim of a crime and I’m suddenly aware of how everything in my life right now boils down to how we handle adversity. I know that sounds ridiculous. My subconscious peaking through. Because one of those things bubbling up from my gut to my stomach was that I still had to write a sermon about adversity and this was feeling like material.
That my words as a victim and as a Christian, AND as an evangelist of the gospel of Jesus Christ could be the same. That I am frustrated and scared. That the crime will go unsolved and new crimes might be committed. But I also choose not to live in fear. And I choose to not see adversity as something to be overcome, but something to live through. To live through and still be human. A child of God.
God Liberates From Oppression, Not Income Taxes
The lesson from Isaiah gives us the final insight for understanding adversity.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
Joy! The excitement of splitting the loot, like children on Christmas morning. But it’s a strange image: this joy at conquering and material gain. Surely that isn’t the kind of adversity God is talking about! Well, it’s not.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
The joy Isaiah is speaking to is sharing in wealth these people would never receive because of who they are. Where they come from. Their race and ethnicity. Their religious tradition. Of being freed from slavery and economic exploitation.
God changes that.
The joy comes from what God does for the oppressed.
God liberates us from oppression. Giving us what we don’t deserve and never expect. God gives us grace in times of deep anxiety and paths to break out of our emotional prisons.
We have people and community and the hope of Christ in community if we accept it. That’s the gift! The way out. The tool to break the yoke, the bar, and the rod of oppression: each other.
In this new beginning may you be freed from what oppresses you in body, mind, or spirit. May your heart be lightened in the simmering stew of adversity by the presence of Jesus Christ with you in the pot. And may your heart be freed to lift the shackles of anxiety, prejudice, anger, hostility, or any other impulse which threatens our humanity.
In spite of all your adversity, may your heart find God’s reservoir of peace.