January 27, 2011

Sermon 1/23/2011


Sermon for Epiphany 3 A
January 23, 2011
Michael Coffey

Texts: Matthew 4:12-23


Jesus is just getting things going,
and once again, Jesus is uprooted.
I want to pay attention to the first part of this Matthew text.
It is usually glossed over lightly
to get to the meatier story
of calling disciples to drop their nets,
and follow Jesus.

But first, once again, Jesus is uprooted.
Upon hearing that John has been arrested,
it was getting too dangerous
for Jesus to hang around his hometown Nazareth
He made a new home in Capernaum by the sea.
I don’t know how hard it was to sell his house in Nazareth,
or to find affordable housing in Capernaum.
I assume he had an easier time of it than I have.
But hard or easy, Jesus had to move on.
So he was uprooted.

Matthew tells us that Jesus moving to Capernaum
is not some over-reaction to the political situation in Judea.
It wasn’t just the chaos of life and job shuffling.
The clincher, Matthew says:
This was to fulfill what the prophets said.
This uprooting is God’s way of getting the thing done.
This moving on is part of the plan for Jesus.

This is not a new thing in the story.
Just two chapters earlier,
Joseph is told to go here, and go there,
move on, pick up and uproot,
in order to protect Jesus the child,
and in order to fulfill the plan and promises of old.
This story of Jesus’ moving on once more
is just another in the string of trans-plantings
Jesus will face and live until he dies.

So Jesus settled in Capernaum,
that quaint seaside town.
He bought himself a condo,
and repainted it and put up new curtains.
And then what does Jesus do?
He goes and finds Peter and Andew, John and James,
and uproots their lives, too.
He goes and gets a group of men and women
and pulls them up out of the ordinary
to live and die for the extraordinary reign of God.

The notion of getting uprooted, transplanted,
put into a new place to figure out, and hopefully grow and thrive,
intrigues me as I read this text.
It reminds me of how hard it can be
to be uprooted, to move, to leave something old behind.
But also, it makes me wonder:
What happens when you don’t get uprooted
every now and then in your life?

The plant metaphor stuck with me
as I thought about this text.
So I started looking at gardening web sites.
I found out what happens if you don’t uproot a potted plant
every once in a while:
It becomes root bound.
I looked up descriptions and definitions
of being root bound.
And it amazed me how much reading about plants
led me to many spiritual insights.
If we are root bound, stuck too long in one place or position,
whether geographical, or psychological,
or political, or social, or relational,
what happens to us?
See if these descriptions of root bound plants
have any significance for our lives:

Root bound: The condition resulting from growing a plant too long in the same container. When there is no room for the roots to expand, they become tangled and grow in circles.

If the plant has become root bound it will be necessary to cut and unwind any roots that encircle the plant, otherwise the roots will never develop normally.

A root bound tree will never flourish. The roots circle endlessly instead of spreading out into the soil in search of water and nutrients.

These roots must be cut so they don't continue to grow and start strangling other roots. Many apparently healthy plants die when the roots start strangling each other.

Root-bound plants placed in the ground without having their roots untangled often fail to overcome their choked condition. This results in stunting the plant’s growth and potential.

You need to open up the roots and maybe even cut them if they are growing in a root bound pot. The plant then is wounded and heals itself.

I saw a whole lot of myself
and the things I know about people
when I read those definitions.
Never being uprooted
and challenged to expand and grow
in our living, and thinking, and relating,
yeah....
we go in circles;
we no longer thrive;
we get stuck;
we get tangled up and strangled,
and tangle up and strangle others with us;
we don’t reach our full potential;
we never spread out to be fed with new things.

In Jesus’ story,
his uprooting and moving
and re-rooting and growing,
is connected to the need for God’s rule
to spread out beyond the confines of Judea,
and this is why it fulfills the old promises.
In the story of the disciples Jesus invites to follow him,
their own personal, spiritual growth
depends on their ability to let go,
drop their nets,
give up something old about themselves,
say goodbye to father,
and take up a new way of seeing and thinking
and believing and doing.

And in our story? Your story? Mine?
Can it be that much different for us?
Can our being stuck in one mode,
one way of doing and seeing and thinking and believing
be of much good to us after a while?
Can it be of much use to God
if God is the one bringing the new thing?

Sometimes, I know,
we feel too uprooted,
constantly being transplanted,
lacking enough stability to grow new roots,
and thrive, and flourish, and fruit.
That’s all pretty hard to cope with,
and when we have experienced it,
it is painful and hard to understand
and probably makes us feel safer
if we can just be root bound and stuck.
Yet even those times of massive change,
and we might only say this after the fact,
even those times become periods of growth,
of expanding our ways of living,
of healing and new life.

I wonder what God is up to right now
in your life, in my life, too,
that might feel like you’re being uprooted,
and transplanted,
and forced to cope with a new reality and a new home,
when you were pretty settled in your old one,
even if you were going in circles.

I wonder, people of God at First English,
what God is up to right now
in this congregation’s life,
that might feel like we’re being replanted,
transformed,
put into a new place
so that our old, sturdy roots
can grow and expand
and find new nourishment,
and help others to thrive with us?
I wonder what God is up to in the life of the whole church
as the world changes so quickly,
and the church less so,
but still wisely and thoughtfully discerning
how to live faithfully and speak Gospel
to the hearts and minds of people today,
and yes, even to ourselves.

That’s for you and me and us together
to ponder and pray about.
That’s for us to live by faith enough to open ourselves up to God’s new thing,
and let go a bit of our old containers
so we can discover what God is doing today
in our lives and in the world.

Jesus was uprooted,
and transplanted,
and put into new places for new growth
and for God’s will to be done in ever expanding ways.

Each uprooting, you gardeners know,
requires that the old roots be kept,
but also that they be cut.
There is no way of moving forward without that wounding,
that difficult cutting of what was,
so that what will be can happen.

As Jesus lived this way of life so well,
we too can live it by God’s grace and power.
Jesus was wounded and died
in order for new life to grow.
And I think you and I,
and all who gather in his name,
are that new growth he died for.

Maybe this time of uprooting in the church,
maybe this time of difficult change
or exciting new things in your life
requires of us such faith in the Gospel of cross and resurrection
that we feel challenged.
And maybe that’s just what God intends.
Maybe by God’s grace in Christ and the Spirit’s mysterious workings,
our own wounding,
our own cutting of some of the old encircled roots,
our own letting go,
is our way to new life.

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