January 22, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 9:1-4 Matthew 4:12-23 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Patti and I have a friend who was once talking to his next-door neighbor on his phone while searching for a particular kitchen gadget. His neighbor, looking out her kitchen window, which window was opposite his kitchen window, and only six or eight feet away, told him, on the phone, in which drawer he would find the thing for which he was looking. Yikes. Our friend and his wife bought a curtain for their kitchen window the very next day and they moved to a suburban neighborhood with much larger lots as soon as they were financially able to do so.
Obviously, that’s an unusual occurrence, but few of us could argue that our neighbors probably know things about us that few other people know. They see us come and go, they know our schedules, they know when lights in certain rooms typically are turned on and off, they notice when we aren’t home and when our schedules change from our normal habits. I am almost certain that many of your neighbors know that you are here this morning and that you typically go to church on Sunday mornings because they’ve seen you leave and return, and probably noticed that you were dressed for the occasion. But what else have your neighbors noticed? That’s a loaded question that I want you to think about while we consider our scriptures for this morning. We begin in Isaiah 9:1-4, where we hear God’s prophet share yet another prophecy about the future messiah.
9:1 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—
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 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.
4 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.
In a moment, we will hear many of these same words reflected in the gospel of Matthew, but before we do, notice that God says that the messiah’s arrival will be as if the sun had dawned on a dark and dreary world. Light would come to darkness, joy would come to sadness, enemies would be shattered, oppression would be thrown off, and burdens would be lifted. And by quoting extensively from that passage in Isaiah, Matthew proclaims that Jesus was that messiah, that the new day Isaiah spoke of had finally dawned, that the light had come, and that the future was already looking brighter. Matthew 4:12-23 says,
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.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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.
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.
Matthew begins by quoting enough of the passage that we read from Isaiah, that every Jew who read, or heard his words would immediately recognize it as a messianic prophecy, but in doing so, Matthew connects Isaiah’s description with Jesus, and therefore identifies Jesus as the promised messiah. But next, Matthew says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.””
A light had dawned. Hope was reborn. The Spirit of God, working from within the body of Jesus Christ, was at work in the world… and people noticed. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” Simon and Andrew, and James, and John, dropped what they were doing, walked away from their jobs, away from their family businesses and away from their families that depended on them and followed Jesus. And Jesus travelled across the region of Galilee teaching, healing, and proclaiming the news that the rescue of God’s people had come.
When the Spirit of God came, people noticed.
And, as odd as it may seem, I think that is at the core of what Paul is trying to say in his first letter to the church in Corinth. The people in the church weren’t getting along, and Paul’s criticism is that their division is getting in the way of what God was trying to do among them. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) Paul said:
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, 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”; 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.
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.
Paul’s point is that we should be united in purpose and not be divided in ways that distract us, and distract our neighbors, from our primary mission of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To those of us who have heard, and have accepted him, that message carries the power of God. This is the power that was seen, and felt without words, by the disciples that Jesus called and by the people who came from all over the region of Galilee to hear Jesus teach, preach, and heal.
But, as we have been discussing for the last several weeks, this is also the same Spirit of God that came upon you on the day of your baptism, that lives within you, and that goes with you everywhere you go. And, just as people noticed, and felt, the presence of the Spirit of God in Jesus, and in the disciples, they are going to notice that same spirit in each one of us. Your neighbors may not know where you keep your gravy boat, but they do know things about you. You can bet that they know whether you go to church on Sunday, they know if church attendance is an occasional or a regular thing, and they know if the way that you live your life reflects the teachings of scripture even if they’ve never opened a Bible.
The problem that Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth was that internal division and arguing was distracting the followers of Jesus Christ from their mission, and at the same time was disguising the Spirit of God from the people around them. Like us, Paul knew that the people in the church weren’t perfect, but his encouragement then, and now, is for the people of the church, for us, to do better. Your neighbors, your friends, and the people around you know things, and notice things about you. They notice when you mow the lawn two days later than usual, they notice when you forget to take the trash to the curb, they notice when you’re caring for your grand-dogs, and they’re going to notice the Spirit of God that lives within you.
The kingdom of heaven has come near… because it lives in each of you.
Our mission is to do the best we can not to disguise his Spirit and screw up what God is doing.
And so, the question we need to ask ourselves is this:
Do your neighbors know?
And if not, why not?
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™