Summary: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them a great light has shined. You have multiplied the nation. You have increased its joy; they rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest. The yoke of their burden and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, You have broken.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Summary: Paul’s appeal against divisions: to be of the same mind and the same purpose. 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.
Gospel: Matthew 4: 12-23
Summary: Jesus’ first disciples: ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men’ Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness.[/dropshadowbox]
Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
I often come across people who practice yoga. They are generally disciplined and applied in this form of, well what?
I never really get beyond understanding that it involves breathing exercises (fine) and meditation (but on what, or whom?)
For my understanding is that this is a form of joining, or yoking. But joined or yoked with what or whom? And there the matter peters out. It may be very spiritual, and those who practice it are generally as fine and as nice people you would ever like to meet, but I still end up with these unanswered questions.
In Isaiah, the people are yoked with burdens and oppression, and they have no escape, for they are compelled to this unequal joining, and is certainly is no kind of release or self-knowledge.
The yoke is alien to their lives and its burdens of oppression and guilt and constraint certainly offer no kind of enlightenment.
For Isaiah, the burdens are both those of the Assyrian oppressor and of their own contriving, as the people and their leaders progressively forsook the law and covenant that God had established with them as He established them in their land.
Yet Isaiah also proclaims a freedom that will release their bodies and their spirits, and a freedom that will start from within their hearts and lives and that will then work outwards.
For Paul there is an appeal against division in the life of the church in Corinth. He is deeply upset that a church that has so much promise should beset itself with so much argument.
The issues revolve around personalities and nuances in their ministries and teachings, even when there is no central difference to their overall message. But in a long letter devoted to sorting out some of their problems, this is the first matter that Paul addresses.
But there is something else within this part of Paul’s letter. He appeals that they may be of the same mind and in the same purpose: and that is the rub, which is as relevant today as ever before.
It is one thing to have variety within the church – people of different backgrounds, abilities and spiritual ministries. Indeed Paul writes three whole chapters on this very matter – chapters 12 – 14.
But this is not about issues within the body of Christ or of the church. Rather it is about different motivations and agendas, different aims and expectations pulling the church apart.
Far from being of one mind, the people were already of several minds. Some were centered on the church as the Body of Christ and its message of freedom and forgiveness, while others were already seeing it as a vehicle for advantage, in which they might bring their brethren under their influence and indeed control.
Personal ambition, reluctance to accept the fullness of the message of the gospel, opportunities for position and influence were already clouding the promise and obscuring the love that should have been central to their corporate lives.
The hidden poison of un-yielded hearts masquerading as discipleship was already undermining and weakening the beauty of the living gospel within their midst.
It was all so easy and so subtle, so easily concealed and nuanced.
For Jesus the cross was still far ahead of Him as He began to assemble His disciples. Whereas the tradition had been for a disciple to offer himself to a rabbi, for as long as was mutually convenient, Jesus went out and called His own disciples.
The difference was that this would be for keeps, which even death would not terminate: neither the death of the disciple nor that of Jesus Himself.
But Jesus said something more to Peter and Andrew.
He would not give them words alone but would give them a life. He would not just teach them but would give His life for them. They would not just be turned forth with a new kind of wisdom but with a new kind of purpose in life.
They would be there to be fishers of men – they would draw people together into a new kind of life within themselves and together.
As Jesus went about, He was both teaching the message and acting it out, for this was a message to be performed and not just debated. Whereas the prophets of the Old Testament were used to providing visual aids to their messages by performing little pantomimes, Jesus’ visual aids consisted of healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving sins, renewing people’s lives one at a time and for eternity.
There was nothing here to encourage speculation or minor debating points. The things of the kingdom were of such supreme importance that only the fullest commitment would do.
Jesus took His commitment to the cross where the powers of death and darkness and condemnation were to be stripped of their ability to imprison and to cripple the physical, emotional, and intellectual lives of all who were subject to their yoke.
But He had come to break that yoke and to offer another kind of joining: this time with Himself, and in Him with God. His disciples would follow in His footsteps, even to death, certain of the victory that Jesus had already gained.
For us, perhaps the issue is how we also see Jesus and His cross. Paul had said that this cross was utter foolishness to those who were determined to be masters of their own fate and yet to those who had received the message and received it within the innermost parts of their being, it was life and hope and freedom which none could take from them.
For us, there is the promise to be released from the unequal yoke of death and condemnation and misery, and yet Paul calls on us to receive it within the deepest parts of our lives and motives and to be part of the message we proclaim, without regret or agenda or hindrance.
And Jesus says simply to those of us who will hear: follow Me – and I will make you who you were always intended to be, complete within the Kingdom of God.