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A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on January 23, 2011.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jackie was on her marriage sabbatical, I asked her a very important question one day while talking to her on the phone. You recall that Jackie fell and broke both wrists in October while visiting our daughter, son-in-law and their three-year-old twins. Two and one-half months later, she returned home.

“How often do you change the sheets on the bed,” I asked that day on the phone. When she replied, there was a period of awkward, painful silence. “Well,” I finally said, “it has certainly been that long! I just wanted to make sure I did not do it too soon.”

This morning I want to talk about change. What does everyone in our text have in common? All of them are experiencing significant changes in their lives.

That free spirit, John the Baptist, has been arrested and imprisoned like a caged animal. Jesus has moved from his hometown of thirty years, Nazareth, to a community on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum. Peter, Andrew, James and John have abruptly changed careers, leaving behind a lucrative fishing business to become missionaries. Even many of the sick people throughout the region have been healed by Jesus as he began his public ministry.

Everyone in this text is going through dramatic change and as I pondered this, I kept hearing Bob Dylan’s 1963 hit tune in my mind, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” This song was recorded exactly one month before the assignation of President Kennedy. The night after Kennedy’s death, Dylan opened his concert with this song.

We know the times are ‘a-Changin’, but they always have. This is nothing new. Some of the change is imposed upon us through events beyond our control. At other times, we initiate the change or agree to it.

John the Baptist’s change was certainly not to his liking. Matthew later tells us that he was so confused, and no doubt miserable, that he sent a messenger to have a heart to heart talk with Jesus about all that was happening, which was certainly not what John had envisioned.

Jesus, on the other hand, initiated this move to Capernaum to begin his public ministry. Evidently, he believed that a more receptive audience awaited his message there.

The historian, Josephus, described the Galileans as a people open to new and innovative ideas. This was due to the fact that the great roads of the world passed through the region, bringing travelers from far away places. This was not true of Judea to the south, however, which was far more isolated and secluded, the “way to nowhere” as Josephus referred to it.

The disciples accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him, which meant they would be leaving home, too, for extended periods of time. Following Jesus would take them away from their families, boats and nets.

As I pondered this, several questions emerged. How do you know when it is time to make changes in your life? How do you overcome the resistance that accompanies the call to change? Was there a time when you missed an opportunity and now regret it? Let’s think about these for a few moments.

How do you know when it is time to make changes? How did Jesus know? He was in touch with what was going on around him and how he should respond.

What was going on around Jesus? John the Baptist’s voice had fallen silent because of his imprisonment. This left a prophetic vacuum that needed to be filled.

For such a time as this, Jesus was born and had, no doubt, been preparing while in the carpentry shop. It was now time for Jesus to find his voice and fill that vacuum, which he did. He hung up his tools for a final time, said goodbye to his family and set out in a new direction.

Why did these four soon-to-be-disciples make dramatic changes in their lives? It was certainly not because they lacked for something to do or had little to risk.

In his book, Footsteps of a Fisherman, Scott Walker reminds us that “Capernaum was a thriving fishing village and fishing was a lucrative business. Pork was forbidden by Jewish dietary laws and lamb was reserved for special occasions and festivities. Fish was therefore the staple source of protein for all of Palestine.” Why would these men walk away from a good job with a secure future to follow Jesus?

It appears that they heard and responded to an irresistible call. Now, I don’t think this was the first time the five of them had spoken to each other. Mark suggests that Jesus stayed for a time in Peter’s home after moving to Capernaum. Without a doubt, this led to long conversations between Jesus, Peter, Andrew and their friends as they ate meals together. A level of mutual respect and trust was already developing.

On this particular day on the shore of the sea, though, this humble Galilean carpenter offered them the opportunity of a lifetime with two simple words, “Follow me.” As good as life was for them, he offered them something better, a partnership with God that would make the world better. Who could resist this once-in-a-lifetime-call? Apparently, they could not and all four of them let go of those fishing nets to follow him.

How do you know when it is time to make changes in your life? Be in tune with what is going on around you–the opportunities, problems and challenges–and respond to them as Jesus and the early disciples did. 

What’s going on around you? What opportunities, problems and challenges do you need to respond to this morning?

Is it time for you to find your voice? Do you need to share what you have learned and what you see on the horizon with others around you?

Is it time to go back to school, pursue a new career or open a business? Have you reached the age where you need to sell your home and downsize?

Is it time to make changes in your attitude, values, priorities or relationships? Is it time to work on improving your marriage or settle a difference with a neighbor?

Is it time to make changes in the way you study or work? Do you need to do a better job taking care of yourself? Is it time to go on a mission trip, teach Sunday school, work with our children or youth or sing in the choir?

What keeps you from doing what you know you need to do? I have a counselor friend who says that it is not uncommon for people to think about making changes in their lives for up to two years. Why is this so?

Change is risky. It is usually confusing, chaotic, exhausting and frightening. At the outset, it creates more questions than answers and disappoints some people while pleasing others.

I suspect leaving home was hard for Jesus. I am confident he left Mary in tears and other family members confused. The same must have been true for the disciples.

So, how do you do it? How do you deal with the confusion, anxiety, resistance, disappointment and fear that accompany change?Where do you find the courage to take that first step?

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ ” I think the answer may be found in this verse.

You know from your biblical studies that the word repent means to change course, to change one’s mind, to turn and head in a new direction.  How is this possible? How can we change the way we think, believe and behave? How can we change our habits and ways of doing things? How can we change our attitude or the way we relate to others? How can we adjust the way we arrange our values and priorities or handle temptations or problems? How can we overcome fear and doubt, leave our comfort zones, say yes to alluring challenges and travel down unfamiliar roads with strangers?

I don’t think we can, at least not by ourselves and Jesus recognized this. This is why he did not merely tell people, as John the Baptist had done, to repent or change. He told them to repent because the Kingdom of heaven was near.

I don’t see the nearness of the kingdom as a threat but a promise. God’s presence in their lives would make change possible, even radical change. Like a loving parent, He would lead and guide them. He would inspire and empower them. He would encourage and equip them.

I am confident God will do the same for us if we ask Him to accompany us on our journeys and help us along our way. As a matter of fact, it appears that Jesus is saying the closer we are to God, the more likely we are to make the changes in our lives we need to make.

There is something else you need, however, in order to take that first step. Like Jesus, you need a support group. Jesus left his family when he moved to Capernaum, so what was the first thing he did? He began calling disciples who would provide the support he would need on this great adventure. He left home, but he still needed a family and this is exactly what the disciples became for him.

Do you recall who Jesus spent the final night of his life with before he was arrested? It was these disciples that he began calling in our text. When everyone else was gathering with family to celebrate Passover, which was the custom, he gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. This was his family and had been for three years. This was his support group, the ones who had listened to him around campfires, given him advice and lifted his spirits. They were the very people he needed around him in the most challenging days of his life.

Follow Jesus’ example. Share your vision, hopes and dreams with kindred spirits and join hearts and hands as you travel down unfamiliar roads.

I appreciate the advice my friend, Tom Ehrich, offers this morning. When accepting new challenges that will take you down unfamiliar roads, you need to be “humble enough to learn, brave enough to fail, foolish enough to imagine a better world and faithful enough to join hands with the flawed and broken.”

I know where you can join hands with flawed and broken people who will support you along your journey. I invite you to become a part of this family of faith where you will find the companionship and encouragement you need.

By the way, I changed the sheets on the bed soon after that phone call to Jackie. Is it time for you to make that change this morning you have been putting off?

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