By Cynde | Monday, January 23, 2017 | 4:00 PM
Sermon for Jan. 22, 2017. A.
Isa. 9:1-4; Matt. 4:12-23
All wisdom and insight come from you, O Lord. Please fill these words with your Spirit. Amen.
Shine Your Light
Last Sunday, in regard to the Evangelist John’s version of Jesus’ call to the disciples, I stated that we, like Christ’s first two followers, also need to ask where he is staying, follow him home, stay close to him, and learn from him. Doing so is the first step of shining, an action in which we are called to participate.
In today’s passage from Matthew, we hear a different yet more familiar call story. Jesus doesn’t explain to the fishermen where he is going but only issues the call, “Follow me,” and the reason, “So I can make you fishers of people.” The two brothers, Simon and Andrew, and then John and James, immediately drop their nets in obedience and follow.
These two versions of the call of disciples, whether two thousand years ago or now, are only half of the story and half of the call. First, Jesus beckons. We may think it is our decision to accept him, but Jesus is the one who knows us by name and calls us first. When we are beckoned, we have to be willing to drop our nets. The two sets of brothers did it, dropping the nets of their experience, their livelihood, and their families. I cannot speak for you, but I often find it difficult to drop my net for Jesus. At times, my net contains pressing responsibilities, to-do lists, agendas to meet, and commitments to honor. I often don’t want to let go of my plans and my priorities, because if I don’t attend to them now, when will I?
At other times, my net might contain leisure, family, days off, or vacation, and I certainly don’t relish the idea of dropping that net to go follow Jesus. Most of the time, though, my net is simply my predicable, safe routine, what I do every day and the way I do it. Why should I let it go? Why did the fishermen let their nets go? They were already at work, already doing something useful and important. They weren't looking for a new life. But something within them said yes to Jesus' words, words that compelled them, and they let go of what was and followed him.
Following in response to Christ’s call is our first step. Dropping the net means we are ready to sit at Jesus’ feet and be fed by him. In order to truly and deeply love someone, we first have to be willing to spend time with that person. These disciples believed, like John the Baptist, that they had found the real thing. They remind us of a young adult who dates and dates and goes through a string of girlfriends or boyfriends until that one date when he or she comes home, picks up the phone, calls a best friend, and announces, “I have found the one.” When we find the one, all we want is to know more and more about that person and be in that person’s presence as much as we can.
That connection is the first part of discipleship. It results in that ever vital personal relationship. But sometimes we, as individuals, and as churches, can get stuck there. We’ve found the one. We’ve experienced the grace. We have our safe community. What a friend we have in Jesus. Let’s stay here and enjoy our little light. But, I cannot find in any gospel where Jesus stops at this point and says his work is done. In the verse immediately following the call, Jesus takes these disciples with him as he teaches, travels, and heals beyond their hometown.
Listen again to the quotation from Isaiah quoted by Matthew: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned” (4:16). Light is meant to spread. Later in Matthew’s gospel, we will hear Jesus tell his followers that they are the light of the world, that they are not meant to be inwardly focused, hiding that light under a bushel, but to shine in the world with all their good deeds so that others will notice—not for their glory, but for God’s.
We are the light, which brings us to the second half of discipleship which requires that we shine. Studies across denominations show again and again that it is very predictable that congregations will shine the light inward, on themselves, their comfort, their needs, and their traditions. Certainly we need that light, but the light was never meant just for us. It was given to us to shine outwardly, as well, to be that city on the hill for those who don’t know Christ, who don’t know grace, who don’t know inclusion and welcome, who don’t know unconditional love. The light was given to us to shine into the dark places of other people’s lives, into their lonely shadows and broken hearts, to cast out the demons of their fear and anxiety, not for our satisfaction, prestige, or glory, but for God’s.
I meet on Tuesday mornings with a small group of clergy brothers and sisters, pastoring Presbyterian churches here in Huntsville. What is so refreshing about this group is not how well we each know the Book of Order or Presbyterian polity, not how well our congregations do things decently and in order or in preserving the past, but in each pastor’s interest in shining the light through their congregations. Conversation centers around three topics: worship, ministry, and mission. It is in worship, in staying with Jesus and learning from him, that congregations are equipped for the second part of discipleship, going into the mission field, which begins right outside these doors, to shine the light of Christ. While the mission field does exist in Haiti, in Cuba, in Africa, and in the Appalachian mountains, it is also right outside. In fact, I’ve been told that the Weil House was purchased with mission in mind. What kind of mission? Who is talking about how it can be used to shine the light in this community? As a reminder of the fact that mission is all around us, Monte Sano Methodist Church has a sign the congregation sees when they leave the parking lot. It simply reads, “You are now entering the mission field.” So are we.
As your interim pastor, I won’t be with you in the long run to see how well you shine, but I can encourage you here and now to begin imagining, praying, and talking together about ways to do so and to expect a vision to be cast by your next installed pastor. “Without a vision,” the author of Proverbs writes, “the people perish.” I can assure you that unless you also shine outwardly, you will slowly die inwardly. I can warn you that to shine brightly often requires that you think outside the box and then go outside the box, that you take chances, that you be willing to let go of at least a few things in your nets that may be keeping your flame from attracting others, perhaps even people unlike you, to Christ. Our one-on-one personal relationships with Jesus Christ are first and fundamental. We cannot do without them. But the call to four fishermen, and the call to us, is to share that relationship with others.
Reflect again on the light-filled prophetic passage from Isaiah. God will bring justice for the oppressed, though Christ and through us. Even those in the deepest of darkness, on them light will shine. The prophet’s promise of hope resounds through the ages and reminds us that the great light of the Lord shines in this little light of ours. Fear of the dark and darkness is rendered obsolete with the coming of Jesus Christ. Wherever we go, the light of Jesus Christ goes before us, shines through us, and burns within us. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus tells us we are the light of the world.
Right now, God’s Kingdom is near and we are invited to follow Jesus and participate in sharing that good news. Matthew names specific details. We are given hometowns, occupations, family relationships and names of those Jesus calls as his first disciples. Jesus goes to “their synagogues” and Jesus comes to our churches. Right now, we are to be about the work of fishing for people. What does that look like here in Huntsville? Who are the people? Do you know their names? Where they live? What they do for a living? What do you know about their families? What are we as individuals, and you as a congregation, willing to let loose of so that your light can shine?
Let me end with something a clergy friend once said to me. In speaking with him about how I wanted to be a light-bearer for my congregation and in my community, he said, “Be sure you let a little of that light fall on you, too.” In order for us to share the light, we must experience it within ourselves, looking into our lives and our hearts with the very same mercy and compassion that Jesus Christ does. We know Jesus loves us. We hear it preached all the time. But do we truly believe it in our hearts? The longest distance traveled is from the head to heart, so be reminded about how precious you are to Jesus Christ, no matter what, and how he wants to keep his flame alive in you.
The author and novelist Madeleine L’Engle writes, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” Peter and Andrew, James and John, dropped their nets to do just that. So may we.