An Unpreached Sermon on Modern Day John the Baptists – Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about John the Baptist. Two weeks ago, John was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Last week, John was the one who pointed to Jesus, proclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

And then we hear this opening line in our Gospel: now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested.

The temptation is to skip over this verse, isn’t it? To get to the rest of the story. Oh, okay, so after John has been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee. But we can’t skip over it. I mean, this is John we are talking about here. John, the one who baptized Jesus. The one who points us to Jesus, saying, “Here, here is the one we’ve been waiting for.” We’ve come to know John in the past couple of weeks. And now he’s been arrested? Don’t we want to know why?

Well, if you remember, John’s been going around preaching a provocative sermon. A short sermon. But a provocative one. “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near.” To speak about a new kingdom is to speak about a new king. And that can do only one thing: threaten the current king. King Herod. And King Herod was a brutal king. Brutal to his people. He learned it from his father, Herod the Great. Herod the Great, according to Matthew, is the one who tried to have baby Jesus killed. And now King Herod Antipas is just as cruel and brutal. And for John to preach that another kingdom is coming, is to say that Herod’s kingdom will not last. Its days are numbered. John’s sermon is speaking truth to power. He is saying, “Your time is up, Herod. You won’t last. There is a greater kingdom that is coming, and it isn’t yours. It’s God’s. And God’s kingdom will look nothing like yours.” And so John gets arrested for it. In a couple of chapters we will learn that he never gets out of jail. He is beheaded by King Herod.

That’s what we do to people who speak the truth to power, isn’t it? We throw them in prison. We silence them. All we have to do is look at people like Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden to see how our own country still does this. Chelsea Manning is a US Army solider who leaked video of US troops gunning down a group of unarmed civilians (which included two children and two Reuters’ journalists) in Iraq. Manning also leaked the Afghanistan War Diary and Iraq War Logs that revealed truths about other instances of civilian casualties, contractor abuse, and reports of torture, which were classified and not being investigated. Why was it classified? So the American people wouldn’t know about it, perhaps. And now, she is serving a 35-year prison sentence.

Edward Snowden leaked National Security Agency files about our government’s spying program– information that has revealed the government’s widespread spying on its own citizens and other countries. Apparently the worst of the information has yet to be revealed. As a result, Edward Snowden has had his U.S. passport revoked and is considered a fugitive who is on the run. He can’t come home. Nothing good here awaits him.

Have any of you been to the airport in the past couple of years? Do you remember that message that comes over the intercom about every 10 minutes or so? It says that if you see anything suspicious, tell someone, right? We tell our children that if they see someone doing something wrong, then tell an adult, right? But apparently that doesn’t apply to the most powerful government in the world. Manning saw that the US military was disrespecting the sanctity of human life, and he told someone. Snowden saw that the US government was doing some suspicious activity, and he told someone. And now both are consider traitors and enemies of the state.

I realize we don’t know the whole story, but might the Edward Snowdens and the Chelsea Mannings of the world be our John the Baptists? Might they be the one’s who are pointing and preparing the way of Jesus. Just how the ways of Herod weren’t the ways of the kingdom of God, the current ways of the United States aren’t the ways of the kingdom of God. They’re just trying to speak the truth. These two men are pushing for a new way of being. They cannot stand by and stick with the status quo. They are attempting to announce a new way of being that perhaps might be more about respect for humanity, than loyalty to one’s country. That might be more about caring for the least of us.

I don’t know about you, but I sense that our kingdom has a limited number of days. I don’t know how long. And I don’t mean that America is going away, I just mean that this idea that we are the greatest and the most powerful nation in the world… it just doesn’t work. Because when you become too powerful, you start needing to hide the ways you maintain your power. And so the days of us being the greatest and most powerful nation are numbered, I think. And while that can be scary, I think it is hopeful. Because then something new is coming. A new way of being. And maybe it can look more like the kingdom of heaven.

Okay, so John’s been arrested for preaching the message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Now, watch what Jesus does. He moves to a new region and he starts to preach. Listen to his sermon: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Isn’t that incredible. I mean it is the exact same sermon that John preached! Which means Jesus must have really loved John and his message. He thought it was such a great sermon he couldn’t help but preach it. I mean, that’s what us preachers do all the time. We echo our favorite preachers. In my preaching there are people that I reference all the time. Some of my favorite preachers. Alan Storey from South Africa. Barbara Brown Taylor. Thomas Long. Their words are so well said and so truthful that I can’t get away from them.

The same is true for Jesus and John. Jesus must have really loved John, because he copies John’s sermon word for word. And remember where John’s words got him? A prison sentence. And ultimately a death sentence. And now Jesus is preaching the same words. That’s brave. And we know where they will land Jesus, don’t we. It must have been a message that was worth dying for. Your days are number, Herod. There is a new kingdom on its way.

So what does this new kingdom look like? As those of you who just started studying the Gospel of Matthew know, the author Matthew doesn’t give a lot of details in his writing. Which means that the details that he does give us must be important. And I just want to lift up and wonder with you about one detail that is in the story today.

Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee and he sees Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets, because they are fishermen. He calls out to them saying, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They drop their nets and follow. Then Jesus comes upon John and James who are mending their nets. And he called to them. They dropped everything and follow.

Why do you think Matthew gives us the detail that Simon Peter and Andrew were casting their nets and James and John were mending their nets? Matthew doesn’t give a lot of details but he gives these details. Why? The only thing I can think of is that if Simon Peter and Andrew live in a small town like Capernaum with James and John, and they all are fishermen, then their all relying on the same fish in the sea to catch and then to sell in the market place. And if Simon Peter and Andrew are casting their nets, while James and John are mending theirs, then Simon and Andrew are winning. They have the advantage. But then Jesus calls Simon and Andrew and James and John to be his followers. Jesus takes those who are in competition with each other, and brings them together. He takes people who were divided by competition and bring them together. Around the same goal. I will make you fishers of people. It’s about people. God’s kingdom has at it’s center not power, not profit, but people. That’s what John the Baptist did. He made it about people, not power. That’s what Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden did. It’s about people. What’s the impact of our actions on people?

There is a new kingdom that is coming. And it is the kingdom of God. And all other kingdoms will fall to this kingdom. And it is a kingdom that calls us to be united as people. Not united as a church, or faith, or country, but united as a human race. And it is a kingdom where no one is in competition with anyone else anymore. Where we are free to stop competing. Where we need not spy on one another. Where we need not beat each other down. Where we lift each other up as brothers and sisters. As beloved children of God. God is calling us together to bring about this kingdom. It’s risky business. It is a hard message to proclaim. It comes with cost…I mean, you just might get arrested. Or killed. Just ask John. Or Chelsea. Or Edward. Or Jesus. But it is God’s work. May we have the courage to participate in it.

AMEN

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