Last week I mentioned that I preached last Sunday. I don’t do that as much as I use to, but I got a call from friends telling me that their pastor’s brother had been killed in an accident and they needed someone to fill in at the last-minute. There wasn’t much time to write, but I pulled out some poems and put together the following message for them. I thought I’d share it with you. Sorry, but you get just the written version without all my great ad-libs.
Our Bible reading today is all about beginning (Matt 4:12-23). These verses describe some of the first actions Jesus took as he began his ministry in the world. Verse 12 tells us that Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested. After this news Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Don’t think this was Jesus running away. Herod ruled over Capernaum too and could just have easily arrested Jesus there. The reason offered in Matthew for the move is that this move fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah.
Jesus is often depicted as doing something to fulfill something written in Isaiah. I don’t know why – I didn’t look that up that because I wanted to focus on what he did when he got there.
The first thing Jesus says when he gets there is, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The translation at this point is a little tricky, but “repent” in this case means a change of mind, a turning to a new direction and perhaps to prepare for a new life – in the kingdom of heaven. This is not a call to some magical afterlife, but rather to a change happening here and now on earth. That is the conversion of the world to a heavenly kingdom here. A kingdom where peace rules. A kingdom where God’s rules of love and compassion reign.
After this proclamation, Jesus does three things. First he starts to recruit leaders – the disciples as we know them, but they were leaders and often were sent out to teach and heal without Jesus. Verse 23 tells us that Jesus then taught in the synagogues and healed the sick.
We should take a moment to think of what Jesus really did while on earth, as his actions should guide ours. In her book, Things I Wish Jesus Said, Barbara Nixon cites the following as the Biblical actions of Jesus:
• He healed
• He trained and nurtured leaders
• He engaged skeptics and adversaries
• He spent time alone in prayer and mediation
• He spent a lot of time teaching
The writer of Matthew then quickly takes us to Jesus’ great teaching with the sermon on the mount. Jesus healed, taught, prayed and threatened the oppression of the day.
It’s that time of year when I, like many of you, think about the year ahead. Perhaps you’ve reviewed what you did last year. Perhaps you’ve made a resolution or two. Perhaps you’ve decided to start on something completely new. Personally, I’ve decided to spend more time doing creative activities like my woodwork, and writing. I’ve also decided that I need to be more active in the democracy of our nation. Last week I made a list of all the names and addresses of my elected leaders and am working on my first letter to them. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I engaged in my constitutional right to free speech and free assembly as I joined in the Women’s March here in San Jose.
I am not a true radical – more of a middle of the road kind of guy, but lately I see things happening in our nation that worry me. I’ve decided to speak up about it.
A new beginning.
Beginnings in our lives happen all the time. We’re born, go to school, work, marry, change jobs, join a church, move to a new town or any of the small and large life changes.
Five years ago, this month my doctors changed my life. I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and in January 2012 I started six weeks of radiation treatments. Medically just a bump in the road. The treatments worked on my body, but somewhere in all the emotional stress that a cancer diagnosis brings, I found a new creative voice in my writing.
If you would have asked me six years ago if I wrote poetry, I would have answered, “no.” But, today, if you ask me what I write, likely I’ll say, “I’m a poet.” A change happened and I started down a new path.
Likely you’ve had times in your life where you’ve had a new beginning. Some beginnings happen on purpose while others are forced on us. Sometimes we struggle with the decision. We stand at a crossroad, see many paths and are paralyzed with indecision. Going south prevents us from going north while the path to the east is clouded. How to choose?
I let my poetic brain spin on that question for a while and this poem found its way to the page:
Standing at the point of decision.
Rail and car cross in time.
The road bends into the unknown.
Two rails held apart by strong ties.
Standing at the junction of fear and longing,
contemplating the turmoil of the heart.
Safety or adventure.
Dull certainty or exciting confusion.
Sanding at indecision.
Heart and head.
Feet and hands.
All pulling in different directions
as a feeling from above
pulls eyes upward
to see twin cloud trails
converging in the distance.
Vanishing point where
and souls melt into eternity.
The solution is to decide – to do and not stand forever watching planes fly overhead.
Another question I’ve struggled with is, “is it worth even trying? Can just one person make any difference in the world?” Jesus made a difference and I could list millions of individuals who have made a difference and brought about real change.
But can I make a difference? Naturally the question made me think of a leaf. In response to that thought I wrote this poem:
• the weight of a leaf
• the burden it must carry
• the work of a leaf
Leaf hanging from the branch
cooling, feeding, breathing.
Beauty as it rises to the sun
greeting bird and breeze.
hope of world
soon fades and releases itself
from the burdens of the tree.
Giving itself to the wind
In death it carpets the forest and begins the work
of building soil
and holding water.
Eternal leaf, ever reborn
ever on the wind.
Such is the burden of a leaf.
One leaf alone might not make a difference, but a tree full of leaves, being leaves together can. One person alone isn’t likely to build the kingdom of heaven here, but a whole community of people working together could do just that.
Now is always the time for new beginnings.
Now is always the time to repent – to change direction and turn towards the new kingdom.
Now is always the time to do as Jesus did, love, teach, engage, pray, and heal.
Till next week,