Epiphany 3A Sermon (2014)

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Texts: Matthew 4:12-23;
Isaiah 9:1-4


Children’s Sermon

Help the children learn what “Repent” means.

Anyone know what this word means? It’s hard. Grown-ups even get it wrong sometimes. It often goes with the word forgiveness, so that we tend to think about it as apologizing, as saying your sorry. And then the person forgives you. I hurt you, and I say, “I’m sorry.” And if you forgive me, you say … what?

But “Repent” means more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” Here’s the Greek word that we translate as “Repent”: it’s “Metanoia.” Can you say that? If we were to more literally translate it, it means “change mind.” In other words, Repent means more than being sorry, it means actually changing who you are.

Let’s think of an example. Imagine someone bullies you at school. They push you around and make fun of you. What do you do? How can you make something right out of something wrong? Let children answer. Lead them into seeing it as more than apologizing. The bully would need to stop being a bully. They would need to change.

Tell story of (son) Joel being bullied by Tim. Joel acted nice to him even though he bullied him. Joel acted loving and forgiving, and Tim changed. Tim repented by stopping to be a bully. He and Joel became friends. Notice which came first, though. Joel acted forgiving to Tim, and Tim repented by stopping bullying. Forgiveness. Then Repentance. When we think about Repentance as being sorry so that we can be forgiven, it’s the other way around. Repentance. Forgiveness.

Jesus forgave us first so that his love can help us to change, repent.


In a few minutes we will sing together the song “Will You Come and Follow Me,” by composer John Bell of Scotland. Let me sing the first verse now, as we begin our reflections on this Gospel Reading from Matthew 4 [singing]:

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

“Will you come and follow me … and never be the same?” It’s that “never be the same” part that’s the clunker, isn’t it? What does that mean exactly? How much do I need to change? How do I do that?

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That’s Jesus’ core message, Matthew tells us. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” We already talked with the children about that word repent. God is about empowering us to repent, to change who we are, to follow Jesus and never be the same. How does God do that? Here I think we need to see the second part of the Jesus’ core message: “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In other words, God’s loving and forgiving way of doing things is breaking into the world through Jesus. And the word “kingdom” signals that it’s not just about changing individuals. It’s also about changing our kingdoms, changing our communities so that they, too, are becoming places where God’s way of love and forgiveness are lived out.

Think about schools and bullying again for a moment. The goal in our schools are not just about stopping bullies. I think in most schools it’s about being a community, an environment, a culture, a “kingdom,” where bullying ceases to be, where bullies are changed from their bullying ways. Now, that may generally be an unobtainable ideal. But isn’t that nevertheless the goal? Isn’t the goal beyond individual bullies and incidents of bullying to create a culture where bullying is clearly not part of the culture? So think again about the power of cultures and changing cultures in our communities. The goal is that individuals will not only be recipients of change within that changing culture. As they are changed and become part of the change, individuals also become agents of change. They become actors in the changing culture.

Another example is Twelve step groups. [much of the remainder is extemporized from these notes]

This is what Jesus’ message is about. With God’s loving forgiveness, it’s not just about Jesus extending forgiveness to individuals. Jesus immediately calls disciples. He begins to create a new community with a new culture with agents of change for the wider world. You and I are called to be disciples. You and I are called to be change agents to help God bring change to all our human cultures.

Example of Bonhoeffer. Discipleship — amazing chapter on cheap grace vs. costly grace. Cheap grace: I think he was primarily talking about reducing things to forgiveness of individuals only. We say we’re sorry, and God forgives us, but we don’t really change. Costly grace, as he called it, is the whole package which surrounds forgiveness that empowers us to both receive change but also to become change agents in the world, also known as disciples.

Nazi Germany desperately needed more disciples. Bonhoeffer and his friends did their best. “Confessing” church and seminary. They didn’t have much chance to win against a brutal dictator, at least the short term victory. But isn’t the longer-term victory Bonhoeffer’s?

Example: with the help of Joseph Byrd, Bonhoeffer’s Evening prayer service is now part of shaping our culture.

Example of John Bell and the Iona Community [handout in the bulletin that gives the Iona Community “Rule”].

My dream as a pastor is to call and make disciples in a community of change agents for the world. Today is about celebrating the good things we’ve accomplished this past year and to begin working our plan together. But even in light of the Three-Year Strategy Map we have a lot ahead of us to accomplish. After all, the call is to come and follow Jesus and never be the same. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, January 26, 2014

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