Sunday, January 22, 2017
Third Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 3
Prayer of the Day
Lord God, your loving kindness always goes before us and follows after us. Summon us into your light, and direct our steps in the ways of goodness that come through the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 9:1-4 Light shines for those in darkness
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Appeal for unity in the gospel
Matthew 4:12-23 Revelation of Christ as a prophet
Today’s sermon was offered by a member of St. John’s – Chip Rubendall – who is currently in his first year of seminary
Today we are told of Isaiah’s prophesy of light as well as its fulfillment. Jesus has begun His ministry and has chosen His first four disciples: all fisherman and all entirely without reservations about making a career change from fishing for fish to fishing for people. Having been given this day to speak to you and having been billed as someone discerning his call to ministry, I feel obligated to approach this in an autobiographical manner. Jesus says “follow me” and the four fishermen follow . . . that’s it. Speaking from personal experience, that seems about right. When I was called to ministry, I just accepted that that was what I was going to do. I didn’t weigh the pros and cons, I didn’t apply critical analysis to the situation. There was no actual decision to be made, just a response to the call that could only be in the affirmative. I could not have done any of these aforementioned things if I had wanted to because they would have been irrelevant. It was an order, given gently, but irrefutable nevertheless.
The business of fishing for people is a tricky one. Throughout my life, I have generally found myself in explicitly secular circles and that has left me intimately aware of how difficult it is to successfully fish for people in this day and age. I completely understand the logic behind the notion that religion doesn’t make any sense; I embraced it, insofar as organized religion is concerned, until not that many years ago when I received my call. Coming from that background made my call all the more resonant for me, but one cannot expect lighting to strike in the same place twice.
People outside the faith community want to see magic. They wish to see sickness and disease being cured in a manner that defies logic before their very eyes. If they don’t see it, they don’t believe and they think that if they saw it, then they would have faith. This entirely misses the point, however, because faith precedes vision, not the other way around. Imagine that, if you looked up at the sky on a clear day, you could see God flying overhead on a cloud as some sort of Zeus-like figure. I can’t begin to imagine what sort of theology that would elicit. I can say though that such a reality would completely divorce our relationship with the divine from our spiritual well-being, ironically leaving us all the more earthly-minded in our pondering.
Isaiah’s prophesy tells of a light being brought to the world. What constitutes that light is no simple matter. According to John, Jesus is the light of the world and it is not very long after today’s Gospel in Matthew that Jesus tells his audience that they are the light of the world. These two notions are not mutually exclusive and they echo through eternity. To effectively fish for people is to share that light which allows us to see not with our eyes but with our faith and thus to see that which can only be seen through faith.
We are to inspire by example, but this is a difficult pursuit because things such as our individual success and what our faith communities have to offer new members are mere periphery. On the contrary, it is usually people with the most challenging of lives and the most ramshackle of church communities whose faith is truly inspiring. Therein lies the most contagious manifestation of faith. I am not suggesting that we seek out adversity, but only that we shine, and shine together, by being grateful and celebratory for all that we are and for all the blessings that we receive. There are no small blessings. Most importantly know that when we find our lives lacking and we are still able, through faith, to overcome our misgivings and shine nevertheless, we shine all the brighter for it. People will respond to that and the Good News will thereby be spread.