On What Moves Us
January 22, 2023
Psalm 27: 1, 4
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing will I seek after: to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Matthew 4: 18-25
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Today’s sermon is titled, On What Moves Us.
Last week we considered Jesus’s question to John’s disciples; he asked them, “What are you looking for?” This week we consider the question, “What moves us?” What moves us to action? What breaks open our hearts? What brings about change from which there is no turning back? These are very big questions; existential questions, I would say.
This past week, I made a sincere attempt to answer the question “What moves us?” I made list after list this past week and all of the answers I could fathom fell under the following three categories. We are moved by the need for safety and security. We are moved by a desire to know. And we are moved by our desire for meaning in our lives.
In the story we are offered today from the Gospel of Matthew, we see all three of these forces at work and they are so motivating that we see four men literally drop what they are doing and turn to follow our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. There is more to this story, though. There is a significant event that is revealed in the previous chapter that sets the stage for Jesus calling others to join him in his mission. It was an act of injustice so egregious that, I suspect, Jesus was moved to action. In the previous chapter, chapter 4 verse 1, the scriptures say, “Jesus heard that John had been arrested.” That’s all that is recorded, just one short sentence. In the Gospel of Mark, we find the full story. In Mark, chapter 6, we find that John was arrested by King Herod. John was arrested for speaking against the King. Freedom of speech was not a thing in those days.
In both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, it is the arrest of John that directly precedes Jesus beginning to travel throughout Galilee to preach and teach to all who would listen. His message is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But what does that mean? “Repent” means “to change direction.” “Kingdom of heaven” is translated as “reign of heaven” and we are reminded of the lines from the Lord’s prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus is saying to his community, essentially, that now is the time for change. Now is the time to demand a higher law. Now is the time to demand justice. Our leader just arrested a prophet and threw him in jail. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to react.
And the people hear his message and know it is both true and imperative, so much so that they drop their nets and follow him. They are ready for change. They are motivated. They are moved. Remember the three things I mentioned earlier? The three things that most move us? We are moved by the need for safety and security, by a desire to know, and by our desire for meaning in our lives.
First, the need for safety and security. This is a basic human need and in our society, and it is inextricably tied to justice. If someone or some group of people are treated unjustly, then the safety and security of all people are in jeopardy. Jesus’s community knows this well. They have been living under Roman occupation for decades. The Romans taxed the people mercilessly and denied them the right to self govern, but the Romans did not usually meddle too much in local affairs, until the arrest of John. His arrest was a huge motivating factor, not only for Jesus, but for countless numbers of others in the Jewish community who were absolutely exasperated to the breaking point.
The second motivating force we all share is the desire to know. This is an underestimated desire, in my opinion. Consider the proliferation of conspiracy theories over the past decade. You may wonder, “How can people believe these things?” People believe these things because the desire to know what others do not is an extremely seductive prospect. If a person can be convinced that they hold secret knowledge, their sense of power and worth is inflated to dangerous proportions. In such a state, people can be convinced to do almost anything, including attacking their own government, or even attacking their own neighbors. The desire to know the truth is almost equally as powerful as the desire to know what others do not. Jesus promised, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” His community was hungry for truth, for justice, and for liberation.
Thirdly, and finally, let’s consider how our desire for meaning motivates us. Of the other three, this one is perhaps the most abstract. It is also the one I have thought most about. We crave for our lives to be meaningful, whether we fully realize it or not. Consider how we are affected, for instance, by stories of exceptional kindness, stories of heartbreak and tragedy, stories of injustice, and stories of justice rendered. These are the stories that move us to tears; these are the stories that break our hearts open and never do we feel more alive than in those moments. Those are the moments we are full to overflowing. Those are the moments we are perhaps closest to whatever God really is.
Over the past few weeks, I had two different opportunities to attempt to define what I imagine God to be. I want to share my thoughts with you today, Friends, because beneath humankind’s desire for safety and security, beneath our desire to know, beneath our desire to live meaningful lives, there is a force at work in the world that is perpetuating these innate desires. I believe that force drives us to seek wholeness. I believe that force drives us to seek harmony and unity and cooperation. I believe that force drives us to seek to improve ourselves and improve the conditions of our times. That force was driving Jesus of Nazareth. That force was driving the fisherman to follow. That force was driving us to get up and get to church this morning. I believe that force is God.
So why is there so much violence and destruction and contempt in our world? We, as humankind, have been injured and broken by greed, war, poverty, and inequality resulting in lack, shame, and bitterness. This is nothing new, Friends. Jesus’s community faced the same problems.
We have come a very long way in the last 2000 years. We have come a very long way in establishing rule of law and individual rights. We have come a very long way in bringing the higher law of the “kingdom of God” into our culture. We have come a very long way in establishing a system of justice to provide safety and security, and to support our democratic ideals. Our system is not perfect, as we well know. The work continues for us, the modern day disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, working as a community of faith to care for our neighbors in times of crisis, working to feed the homeless, working to collect food for the schoolchildren, working for affordable housing, and working to truly be a welcoming community for all people, with no exceptions. This is the movement Jesus started following the arrest and imprisonment of his cousin, John. We continue it to this day and I pray we will not cease striving for the better, kinder world that Jesus imagined.
I will close with the following words from St. Teresa of Avila, written in the 1500s:
Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Friends, may God be the force that moves us, through our hearts and minds, now and forevermore. So be it. Amen.
Dearest Beloved, our minds and our hearts are so full this morning. We are trying to make sense of the senseless, to find reason in the unreasonable, and to see You, Lord, in the inner workings of a culture that seems to be falling apart. Remind us, when we question, that Your presence is alive within us, preceding before us, inspiring us in the moment, and supporting us when we falter. We ask your blessings on those who are without, those who are in pain, and those who are frightened. May we be receptive to Your Holy Spirit working through us to nurture them, and nurture ourselves, in ways unexpected and profound. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray by saying… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Ephesians 3:
“I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that… you may be strengthened through his Spirit…that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Amen.”