This sermon was preached by Rev Caroline on Wednesday 30 November – St Andrew’s Day.
Isaiah 52:7-10 (NRSVA)
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
Matthew 4:18-22 (NRSVA)
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
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.
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In 2014, at my pre-ordination retreat, Bishop David washed the feet of all those about to be ordained Deacon the next day. After completing this undertaking with great reverence and attention, he dispelled the awkwardness any of us may have been feeling with the words “It always amazes me when I serve in this way the uniqueness of every foot that I encounter” then proceeded to give a few humorous examples!
Yet, whilst reflecting upon that image in the light of today’s readings, we can start to see the significance of that uniqueness that each and every one of God’s children shows.
This passage from Isaiah was, of course, written long before the advent of Jesus. Whilst the incarnation of Jesus as a human baby was most certainly something new, God as Saviour is shown as being part of who God is and something that God has been praised for by his people throughout the centuries.
Isaiah’s words are a beautiful celebration of the incarnation describing the bodily nature of our Saviour and we are told
- The feet of Him are beautiful
- The sentinels lift up their voices to sing for joy that their Lord and Saviour is visible
- The Lord has bared his holy arm for all the nations to see.
The body imagery that Isaiah uses here reminds us that neither God’s work nor the praise that we humans offer to Him are tasks of the mind but, instead, involve our whole beings, even our bodies…..including our feet!
This embodiment (or incarnation) was significant at the time because the Babylonians had destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 587 BC. This temple to the Jews was the visible sign of God’s presence and the way that this devastating atrocity would have been culturally viewed at the time was that the Lord had abandoned Zion. That the sentinels are proclaiming the embodied Lord in the mountains is showing His people that God DOES live in Zion and proclaims the good news that its restoration WILL happen.
This radiant foreshadowing of the Messiah’s arrival in the world is echoed in our gospel today. Whilst Matthew does not directly describe Jesus as the Light of the World, it is clear in the verses preceding today’s gospel that Jesus’ return to Galilee will cause those who sit in darkness to “see a great light”.
I often reflect upon what it was that the disciples, as they were called by Jesus, saw that made their response immediate. We have Peter and Andrew IMMEDIATELY leaving their nets to follow him and James and John IMMEDIATELY leaving their boat to follow too. Who knows what sense they made of being told “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”……but their response propelled them into a life of walking alongside Jesus as he brought light into the darkness of the world.
That brings us back to feet. We can only imagine that the beautiful and compelling person of Jesus as he walked through Galilee caused such a heart response of joy that mirrored that of the sentinels that Isaiah describes. Just as Jesus’ feet were the means by which he generally travelled the land and spread the good news of his father’s kingdom, it is the feet that signify the whole of heart response from these four disciples and all those who were drawn to follow and hear and see Jesus throughout his ministry.
Just like Mary when she gave her “Yes” to God, None of those disciples were given a description of what they were committing to – they simply said “Yes” in their hearts and allowed God’s purpose for them to unfold in their lives. These disciples are chosen just as they are, regardless of education, status or political power. Their dusty and calloused feet from years of labour becoming the vehicle by which their “Yes” was lived out.
Our feet are all unique. Some of us will be blessed with feet that are strong and can walk for miles, others may be a bit calloused or battle scarred from life, how we use them and the shoes that we wear, some of us may struggle to walk far due to pain or frailty of some kind.
As you next look at your feet, I invite you to gaze on them through new eyes that acknowledge that, being Jesus’ disciples, we are his hands and feet on earth. Give thanks to God for the call that he has placed on our lives and for the beauty of the feet that God has given to us to be the messengers of the Good News of God’s love for his children. The feet that carry us to bring Christ’s light into the darkness of the world. As we watch and wait for His coming in this season of advent let us be inspired by the response of Andrew and the other disciples and ask God to reveal more fully to us the call that he has made upon our lives.
How beautiful are the feet of THOSE who bring good news as we go out into the world. Send us out in the power of the Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.