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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sermon from January 23, 2011

Sermon from January 23, 2011 + The Third Sunday after Epiphany, year A
“The Light Shines”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
(Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

What just happened here? This is a powerful story. Four working men are met by an itinerant preacher, who invites them to follow him. They immediately drop everything, abandon their work and family, and follow him. Why on earth would they do that? What would cause them to make such a radical change in their lives, their behavior, their action?

I’d like you all to take a moment now and try to bring to mind the first time you knew or experienced the love of God in Jesus in a tangible way – at worship, in prayer, at Bible study, through another person’s love, anywhere . . . If it’s helpful to close your eyes, that’s fine – just remember not to keep them closed!

. . . Was it hard to recall a time? Could you remember a time when you were so enfolded by the love of Christ that there was no doubt? Or a time when God’s love shone through Scripture so clearly that you knew not only that God loved the world but that God loved you?

There are those moments in our lives, moments like our psalmist has when he declares today: “The LORD is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid?” And there are also those moments when we doubt, when our faith falters, when the light of God’s love seems dim.

The reason I wanted us all to go back a little was that I don’t think we can easily put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes in stories like this. Can you imagine what it was like for them to be so clear about the presence of God in Jesus that they left everything, immediately, to follow, and to tell others? If you’re like me, even when I feel God’s call strongly I tend to think practically about the risks, what’s at stake. And the everyday inertia of my life, the demands, the routine, the commitments, always seem to have a pull greater than a pull to change. These disciples, who show themselves to be flawed and weak just like us, at this moment show a strength and courage I don’t know we even expect to have. Or want to have.

So I wonder how we talk about our call to “fish for people” in light of this. Because it boils down to this: if you’re a person walking in darkness who suddenly sees the light, to use Isaiah’s image, you don’t need anyone to try and convince you to tell others. You’ll be running around trying to point out that light anywhere you can. If we need convincing to share the Good News of God in Jesus that we cherish for our life, maybe we don’t really know what a treasure we have.

But first we should note this: these people who dropped everything were looking for something from God.

John the evangelist says that Andrew and John, the younger brothers of these two pairs, were disciples of John the Baptist and so found Jesus. Matthew doesn’t say that – for all the world it looks as if Jesus just came up and surprised them at their work. But even if Matthew’s closer to the truth, they had to have been looking for something, missing something, wanting something from God. Because meeting Jesus caused a response that only makes sense if they had a need which he somehow met. If they were in some way seeking answers to life. Or God’s light in a dark world.

And throughout the history of the Church, people have come to faith and followed with their lives because they, too, were looking for something and found it in Jesus. This week alone in the calendar of the Church Year we commemorate a veritable Hall of Fame of people whose lives were changed by faith in Jesus and who transformed the world by their subsequent witness: Timothy, Titus, Silas, Lydia, Dorcas, Phoebe, Paul himself, and a later follower who brought light, Thomas Aquinas. And that’s just the start of the list of people who met Jesus and followed and changed the world. We could even add this morning the witnesses of Corinth Paul mentions: Chloe, Gaius, Crispus, and fellow leaders Apollos and Cephas, or Peter.

So perhaps our first question when putting ourselves in this story is this: are we satisfied with our lives, with the world, or are we looking for something more from God? I suspect the answer for all of us is “yes, we are looking for something more.” Coming here every Sunday is becoming more and more counter-cultural. There are lots of things the world says are better to do than get up on a day off and come to worship. That we are here each week says a lot about what we seek. And the other practices of faith in which we are already engaged say the same – prayer, reading of the Scriptures, Christian fellowship. If we were satisfied that the world had all the answers we needed, we wouldn’t be so involved as we already are.

Still, the utter change effected in these new disciples’ lives seems outside our understanding and certainly our experience. So what else is there to know about them?

The problem may be that Christian faith is not primarily an intellectual proposition.

Even though in our post-Enlightenment world we too often have treated it as such. I appreciate the fine points of doctrinal debate as much as any, but fundamentally Jesus didn’t come to teach us theology. He came to call us to a new way of life, God’s way, a way of self-giving love, a way of justice and peace, a way of integrity and faithfulness. He came to invite us back into a living relationship with the God of the Universe, a relationship that like any good relationship will change us forever. Too often in our preaching and teaching we’ve emphasized the “idea” of faith more than faith itself.

On the other hand, Christian faith is not primarily about subjective emotional feelings, either. No amount of navel-gazing or contemplation will bring us to know, to know that God’s love for us is immovable, permanent, and life-giving in Jesus our Lord. Faith is no more reducible to an emotion than it is to an idea.

Christian faith is based on God coming to us from outside our own experience and entering our lives. Jesus intrudes himself in the world and changes everything – and when the world kills him he rises from the dead and changes everything again. Today we still experience that revelation from without as God’s Word speaks to us, as we come to this Table to eat the gift of our Lord’s Body and Blood, as we teach each other the Good News of faith.

But at some point if we are going to be captured by this Love, this Grace, this Word of God, our hearts need to be touched. Whatever happened to the disciples, we know that much. Their hearts were touched, and they dropped everything to follow Jesus.

For us, perhaps it’s a matter of praying that we can say with confidence what Paul says today:

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This is not an intellectual proposition for Paul. Nor is it an emotional feeling. It’s him saying, “Look at this amazing light in the darkness.” The message about the cross for Paul is not a message at all. It is in fact the power of God. Power that he has experienced and known. Power that is shown in a love that gives itself completely.

So really, that’s all I want to say today.

Take the time to remember and notice when the love of God in Jesus was and is real to you in a powerful way. If it’s been awhile, then take advantage of opportunities to worship, to be in contact with God’s Word, to pray, to talk to other believers. And once you notice these ways God has come to you, then do what comes after.

When you see the light after a long time in darkness, you don’t need to be told to share it. Your life will bring light to those you meet. It will be visible. To us who are being saved, Paul says, this is the power of God. And the power of God changes the world.

So when the joy of God’s love for you in Jesus grabs your heart and pulls it you don’t need me to remind you to share that joy. You will by how that joy flows out in all you do with other people. And when the peace of God in Christ settles your heart and mind and gives you comfort you don’t need to be convinced to share that peace. You will by how you bring that peace to all you meet. And as we ask God for guidance for Mount Olive as we move into the future, it will all come from this same grace: here God has shined light into our lives and into the world, and has called us together to be that light.

The truth is that God has been working in all of us, together and individually, in more ways than we’ve even noticed. And thanks be to God for that. After all, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples they would have to figure out how to fish for people. He told them “I will make it happen.” That’s our promise, too.

So here we stand on the beach with Jesus, and we see that he is the Light of the world. The Light we’ve always needed.

And like these brothers, we hear these words: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And like these brothers, we are faced with this question: what comes next?

That I can’t answer for me, for you, or for all of us right now. That the Spirit needs to lead us to understand as we move forward.

But for now, we know this, and it is enough: God has come to love us and in Jesus’ death and resurrection to give us light in our darkness. Let’s keep our eyes open and see this light, notice where God is shining light. And let’s seek to open our minds and hearts and listen for God’s joy and peace. And then let God work in us a new life of witness together. As John Powell, an American Jesuit, once said, “If the good news that God loves you has touched your heart, please inform your face.” And so we say, if God’s love has touched our hearts, let it flow through all we do. Because once we know we’ve seen God’s saving grace, our lives will start witnessing for us. God will make it happen.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

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