Sermon delivered on Sunday, Epiphany 3A, January 26, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
If you would like to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 4-10; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We started this month with the Feast of Epiphany way. As you will recall this term means a revelation or revealing, a discovery of something new. In that first Sunday’s Gospel we see the Magi being lead to Jesus by a star and in so doing they have revealed to them the Messiah — a revelation not just for these learned men but the revelation that would effect the whole world both Jew and Gentile.
Following came the Sunday when we reflected upon the Baptism of Jesus with its revelation through the coming of the Holy Spirit as if in the form of a Dove and by the words of the Father that this is my beloved Son. There is another Epiphany. Jesus is revealed not merely as the one sent by God, he is not even just the Messiah, he is the Son of Father. Today we understand that Jesus indeed shares the Divine Nature with the Father and the Spirit, but to John the Baptizer the simple revelation of a direct relationship with God the Father must have been an awesome revelation.
Building on the Baptism of Jesus, the following week reveled that Jesus would be a different kind of Messiah than expected. He would be the Lamb who would be sacrificed and he would be the Servant — indeed the Suffering Servant of God. In today’s Gospel, we are invited to even more revelations concerning Jesus. He is the one who brings light into darkness. The one who lights up even the darkest corners of our world.
The Gospel begins by stating that when the Baptizer had been arrested that Jesus withdrew to Galilee. We might at hearing that wording believe that Jesus was just acting sensibly — laying low for awhile in a safe place where perhaps he could begin the process of building his ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The term that is most often translated “withdraw” in English bible translations actually is better understood to mean he returned to this place where he had come from or he had choose to, if you will to use modern terminology, establish a base of operations in that territory.
But why there, why in Galilee in this land once part of lands of Zebulon and Naphtali two of the Twelve Tribes that made up the nation of Israel? It was a territory that had been severely damaged physically, economically, emotionally by almost constant wars between the Northern Kingdom and its arch enemy Syria. It was a territory were foreign invaders would bring in non-natives who were very different in language and culture with the intended purposes of diluting the native population. Given the mixtures of languages, cultures and peoples, it suffered from economic and political hardship. If this was not bad enough, this was the very territory that fell under the same Herod who had arrested John and would have him beheaded. Jesus did not withdraw or retreat, but rather Jesus bravely and deliberately made his home in the darkest place that could be found in his part of the world.
Why? Because Jesus came to be the Light. Where does a light shine forth the brightest? It is in the dark. The darker the environment the brighter the light seems to shine. The more it is noticed. The more it is appreciated. There is a TV commercial that talking about human sight points out that a human eye can detect the light from a candle at a distance of several football fields, but it can only do this in the dark. Jesus may have come as the little babe in a manger or been greeted by the Magi as a small child — a seeming little candle light of God’s love, but before His earthly ministry was over the Light of Jesus would flood out from this dark corner of Israel and begin sweeping through the whole world. What was this Light? In short it was that Jesus made tangible the love of the Father for his children. He did this by reminding them of God’s promises. He did this by calling them to repent; that is to change their ways of relating to God.
Jesus reminds them that they are children of the Father not just in some academic way but in the very personal and intimate way that a good daddy relates to his child. He called them to turn away from sin and embrace righteousness. He taught them to care for the neighbor, even if that neighbor is someone with whom they had great differences. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, was at hand. These were people whose kingdom had been destroyed and his proclamation was a source of great hope — little did they realize that God’s Kingdom would extend not only in a small section of what we call the middle east or for a historic period of time, but would be a Kingdom that would last for eternity and reach even to the farthest corners of creation. These were a broken people and Jesus showed not only God’s love but the fact that the Kingdom of God had begun to be present by working many signs but most effectively by His many healings or as the Gospel states, His “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Jesus healed the brokenness of the people and His light shined in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. Jesus brought the Light of God’s Love into the world, but he would not be the only bearer of that Light. He would call others to be his disciples and to multiply His own efforts.
Also in today’s Gospel, we see Jesus inviting others to follow Him. The first to be called is Andrew who seems to have been a follower of John the Baptizer. His time with John, no doubt prepared him for the call of Jesus. He had already been challenged to repent and he already been given a sense that something powerful was going to happen. He brings along his brother, the one we know as Peter, the one would lead the disciples after the resurrection. Jesus also calls James and John the sons of Zebedee, men of great passion, if not the best judgment. In leaving their father, these brothers no doubt sacrificed a loss of wealth and status. Jesus invites others. In the second chapter of Mark, we see Jesus asking Levi, better known to us as Matthew, to come an follow Him. Matthew is a tax collector and as we know these were some of the most disrespected and hated people. Jesus seems to simply call these folks and they respond by joining Him. What could motivate such a response? Perhaps it is simply that in their dark world they could not resist the light and warmth of a loving God in the person of Jesus the Christ.
What does this mean for us? Today we again live in a world of gathering darkness. We constantly hear of war in some part of the world. Terrorism is a constant possibility extending to even such noble activities as the Olympics. Just like the territory of Galilee we live in geographic communities as diverse as any that have existed in history. Many of values run expressed run contrary to even basic Christian teaching and regrettably even as in Galilee the Jewish religion had been largely corrupted so many of our Christian Church have chosen societal acceptance rather than faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Teaching of Christ.
But all is not lost. Christ is still the Light and Christ now calls us, as perhaps never before, to bring His light into the lives of those whom we meet, work with, and socialize. We can be instruments of reconciliation and healing. We can be one who is willing to speak a word of encouragement. We can reach out an care for our neighbor who is neighbor and yet stranger. We can and must be willing to speak God’s truth even when those around us do not want to hear it. We may, on our own, be mere reflections or a spark of the light of Jesus, but like the candle light that can be seen football fields away, in this darkening world, our faithfulness to Christ, will be seen.
Christ called first the Twelve and then many others to be his co-workers. Some like Andrew had been prepared to respond by prior experiences. Some like Peter were brought to know Jesus by someone else who had already come to know the Lord and could not wait to introduce Him to others. Some gave up little and some a great deal. All came when the Master called. All came to know what it was like to bring the Light of Christ to others.
Christ the true Light now calls us. Are we willing to let His light shine in and through us? Are we willing to blaze forth in the darkness? By God’s Grace let us say Yes.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.