Third Sunday After Epiphany — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Isaiah 9:1-4                                                  
Matthew 4:12-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea,
in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali….” (Mt 14:12-13)

Of the four Gospel writers only Matthew includes these geographical details.

Jesus moves his residence from Nazareth to Capernaum to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah:
“There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” (Isaiah 9:1)

The prophecy in Isaiah likely refers to those who were exiled by the Assyrians, those who lived in anguish in a foreign land.

So we hear that Jesus moves to Galilee, the region’s backwater land, to bring light to those who dwell in darkness.

And he follows on the heels of John, who has been preaching repentance.

With John in prison, Jesus picks up John’s mantle:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And then as he walks by the Sea of Galilee, he invites others to join in donning John’s mantle…and, later when Jesus dies, to carry on the mantle of Jesus.

He calls four fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James and John to drop what they are doing and follow him.

As David Lose phrases it, he called them as his disciples “to catch up all kinds of people in the net of God’s grace.” (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-3-a-being-before-doing/)

Jesus then went throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness among the people…all with disciples in tow.

In today’s Gospel reading, location – geography – mattered.

Jesus moved into a region of the less well-to-do…the less powerful…to a place of darkness…of anguish…and there he preached the good news of the Kingdom.

Thinking of the location…the geography of St. Joseph’s, last week I looked up some history of this area of Durham, back when the Erwin Mill was built.

Mr. Erwin, the manager of the mill, was apparently quite an exquisite businessman.

Erwin Mill was hugely successful…it made millions and that was in the early 1900s! It was one of the world’s largest producers of denim.

And notably, this production and these profits were not made on the backs of the mill workers, at least in the early 1900s. Mr. Erwin established a 40-hour workweek before most other mills and also paid higher wages than competitors.

He also established St. Joseph’s as a Sunday School for the mill workers in the late 1890s and then built the sanctuary in 1908.

This area…the mill village…was a self-contained area. Here folks found work, worship, food, and recreation.

As I was reflecting on the gospel:
where Jesus chose to be in ministry…
his calling of the disciples to follow him…
his particular geographical location…
I began to think about our current geography.

Where are we?
Who surrounds us?
Who are we called to be and what are we called to do in this place?

First and foremost, we are called to be the beloved children of God!

In just a short time we will baptize Wilder into the household of God, saying:
Wilder Christian, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

Christ’s own forever.
that is who we are…
that is our identity…
God’s beloved.

And then we will all say: “We welcome you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

In other words…come with us as we follow Jesus, proclaiming the good news, announcing light to those who live in darkness and being instruments of God’s healing in this broken world.

God calls our congregation to be the gathering of God’s beloved children…
to be a place of welcome and acceptance…to be a light to any who feel exiled in a land of darkness.

This past Summer the Vestry adopted this welcome statement (it is as packed as today’s Gospel and each word bears attention):

“Saint Joseph’s Episcopal Church welcomes all people to our life together, including all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people.

“We embrace the diversity of God’s creation in sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, faith history, economic status, marital status, disability status, and education.

“As siblings created in the image of God and new creations in Jesus Christ, we welcome all as beloved children of God.

“We commit to treat one another with love and respect.

“We welcome the full participation of all people into the life and ministry of St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.

“We hope to journey with you into the full reconciliation that we have together in Jesus Christ.

“We acknowledge that we are all different and will not always think alike.

“We welcome all in our call to work together to love, understand, and respect one another as equals in Jesus Christ.”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2-3)

There are many in our immediate neighborhood and in the broader community who feel exiled in their own land.

Let us seek them out and invite them to experience the wide expanse of God’s grace.

I believe that St. Joseph’s is called to be a place of healing and belonging.

Today as we welcome Wilder into the household of God, let us remember that God claims each one of us as beloved, and it is in that assurance that we can go forth and proclaim God’s love to the world.