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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Light is Shining

Matthew 4:12-23
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
These words echo back and forth between our readings this morning.
The people who walked in darkness—the people who sat in darkness—the darkness….
What do we identify as darkness today?
Right now, our daylight hours are still a bit on the short side. Literal darkness comes early to our days. Dawn creeps in late each morning. So, there is the physical aspect of darkness.
Then, there is the mental or emotional aspect of darkness with which many of us are all too familiar. Depression, for instance, affects at least 1 in 10 Americans, and the rate of people diagnosed with depression is steadily growing. Yet it is estimated that 80% of those suffering with depression do not seek treatment. The mental and emotional aspect of darkness can be particularly crippling.
Finally, there is the spiritual darkness that seems so pervasive in our world. Spiritual darkness may come from never having had the opportunity to know Jesus, or it may come from the isolation of living on the margins, or from the deep pain of disillusion, rejection, or victimization.
Spiritual darkness may result from the distraction of the many voices which arise out of the various parts of our lives, each attempting to drown out the other, working together to draw us away from the light.
This distraction increases as allegiance to our idols overshadows our allegiance to God.  
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
The darkness that weighs us down includes:
worry for our future;

  • Perhaps our job is in jeopardy, is unfulfilling, or is the source of great conflict; o
  • The disease we are fighting or test results we are waiting to come in;
  • Our child or our parent may be struggling with demons that threaten relationships, health and well-being; or,
  •  our financial security is threatened by causes outside our control. Perhaps our darkness comes from the unraveling of relationships.
  • There are people who are just one catastrophic loss or illness away from losing their home; others worry, will we lose our medical insurance, Medicare or Social Security? Are our pensions safe?
  • And of course, the chaos and deep divisions in our world fills many with fear and the darkness of despair leaving us afraid to do the things that once brought us joy.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
      Our gospel text today reminds us that into our darkness, God brings life-saving light. Repent, Jesus says, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Jesus doesn’t tell us to repent so that that kingdom can come, but tells us instead that the kingdom is here – therefore, repent, so that you might follow the light of its coming.
Jesus is the light of God that has ushered in God’s kingdom and shines into every dark corner and crevice our lives. Jesus is the light that transforms our world.
God’s light will prevail against every darkness. And God’s light is to be light for all people. Jesus is that light.
Jesus, the light of salvation, goes to Capernaum after he hears that Herod has arrested John. The stage is set: God will not let any earthly leader silence the good news of God’s love and mercy. God will continue to provide hope through God’s authority, as God acts through Christ to bring light and salvation to everyone.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them a light has shined.
       The thing is that long ago, in the region where Galilee now lies, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali had once experienced great defeat. Isaiah brought God’s people the good news of light to be delivered into their darkness by God’s own hand. In today’s gospel, Matthew quotes Isaiah, reminding the people, God is in control, so don’t let the darkness of this time bring despair. God won’t let it overwhelm you.
The people of Jesus’ time once again lived in the kind of deep darkness and despair that had once afflicted their ancestors, as they endured imperial rule and oppression, this time, under Rome. This is a place where Judaism intersects paganism and nation intersects nation. Jesus chooses to begin there, and to live among the marginalized peoples, on the frontier known as “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
As Jesus relocates to this northern territory to begin his ministry, he reminds the people that while deep darkness once existed there, God, in his faithfulness, has spoken into the darkness of oppression and tyranny, and has delivered hope and light.
God is, once again, taking this amazing initiative towards those who are powerless and who have never even been considered.
       The first century people who populated this place feared the future. They wondered what would happen to them.
They wondered if they would lose their homes, their land, even their lives, when they could no longer pay the exorbitant taxes imposed by the Roman government.
They wondered if they would be able to feed their families. What would happen to them if they became too old or too sick to work?
What would happen to them and to their families if they said the wrong thing in the presence of the wrong people?
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them a light has shined.
But God sent the Word, the Light of the World, to this frontier land. And as Jesus began his ministry there, he began to tell the people to repent, for the kingdom of God has come near. It is this kingdom that will bring light to their darkness.
The light of this kingdom will banish darkness, and all those who live in fear, who doubt the future, who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. And then, Jesus gets right to work.
Immediately Jesus called his first disciples. He calls these two sets of brothers, fishermen. Come, he says. Follow me.  So much about what Jesus does in this gospel is about inviting disciples, teaching disciples, calling people into discipleship: Come, follow me.
According to Frederick Dale Bruner, “Follow me” in rabbinic speech meant come, “become my students, be apprenticed to me, join my school, live with me.” Students spent almost every waking moment with their rabbis, they didn’t just come to temple to hear them lecture or speak. Discipleship was study-in-residence, it was home-schooling; you were immersed in your studies not only as theoretical learning but as a way of life. Jesus recruited his students, they didn’t come seeking him as was the norm for rabbinical studies. But Jesus is no ordinary rabbi. He is Lord and light of all life.
The gospel text today illustrates two important things: Jesus began his ministry not among the rich, nor within the population of Jews, “his people,” rather, he began with those quite literally on the margins.
Jesus valued all people and went first to those who were most in need – those who desperately needed that light, those who were powerless. And right away Jesus began calling disciples to serve along with him in those places. Jesus calls us the same way today.
       I wonder what Jesus might say if he came to visit us here today? We do some really good work with our outreach projects and with collections we have, but much of our work and most of our budget goes to maintenance. We maintain our building, we maintain a staff to serve us, we maintain the traditions and practices that have long been the staples for Grace Lutheran Church.
       What might it look like if we did as Jesus did and took the light of Christ and his ministry to the streets, to the places desperately in need of the light of Christ shining into the darkness of the world?
What might it look like if the main function of our worship was really to seek God’s forgiveness for our failures and then to seek the empowerment of the Spirit, so that we might boldly step out into the world with intentionality, sharing the light of God’s love and mercy, advocating for God’s values and justice, inviting others to hear and know the good news of this light-wielding God?
        The good news is that the kingdom of heaven has come among us – and between now and the time when Jesus comes again, we get to disciple with Christ and share the light of the kingdom with the world.
As Jesus chose to begin his work out on the frontier, so must we go out into the world to bring and bear the light of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and working as disciples of Christ.
As Jesus called Andrew and Peter, James and John, and all the disciples that followed, Jesus calls you and me. Jesus calls us together in word and prayer, he calls us as church to shine his light and share his love and mercy and grace out into the margins of the world, where so many fear the darkness.
Jesus calls us to live our lives shaped by his light, because wherever we share his light and love through spreading peace and justice in the world, the kingdom appears and is made known.
Jesus calls us to hope as he shines the light in our lives and on our world. Jesus calls us to shine his light in worship and prayer, with and for each other, and in witness to the holy hope and life-giving light of Christ.
            Listen – Jesus is calling; Jesus calls to us, “Come follow me.”  
Let us follow as true disciples of the Light of the World.

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