Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 27, 2008

2008.01.27 “The Day the Light Shined”

Central United Methodist Church

“The Day the Light Shined”

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 4:  12 – 23

January 27th, 2008

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 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.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”  (Matthew 4: 12 – 23, NRSV)    

     Thanks to the convenience of electric lighting, we moderns may not appreciate the stark difference between dark and light, day and night, at least not as much as our ancestors.

      For example, when I was a fireman, we would go off to a crash or a fire in the middle of the night, and do the job, hardly even knowing — in the dark — where we were.  If a house had to be searched, the smoke and the dark render you blind, and you draw a mental image of where you are by feel, crawling down a hallway or going along a wall in a bedroom.

      So it was always a revelation to go back the next day — in daylight — light, to see where you were, out on a highway or in a neighborhood, or to see how that bedroom you thought you were in was actually a closet.  One night I was searching a bedroom and picked up something strange, something moving, and when I finally got light on it, it turned out to be an iguana.  Iguanas everywhere thanked me.

      Most of us have experienced this contrast between light and darkness in city and country. If you’ve ever walked a dark road or walked through woods on a moonless night, you know how unnerving that can be. Here in the city, we have walked or driven through neighborhoods in daylight, which looked safe and inviting, but at night, by the light of streetlights, they look neither safe nor inviting.

      It is this contrast of light and darkness, and the illumination light provides, that is the underlying symbolism for today’s Gospel, the call of Jesus to those who would be his disciples, both then and now.

      While the Gospels tell the story differently (remember John’s story from last week of “Come and See“), Matthew specifically places his call story in the context of the difference between light and darkness, quoting the Old Testament passage of Isaiah 9:

“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.”

You may recall this as the Old Testament passage we read on Christmas Eve as the counterpoint to Luke’s birth story. But Matthew uses it in a different way. It’s not about Bethlehem, but way up north in Galilee.  It’s not about a baby in a manger, but a man standing by a sea, the Sea of Galilee.  It’s not religious, educated, professional people he’s addressing, but common people; rough, uneducated fishermen:  Simon and Andrew, James and John.  As we hear the story, it is not only them he calls, but us:  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  So for us, as for them, it can be “The Day When the Light Shined.”

        Neither Matthew nor Mark provide the explanation Luke does, of how they had fished all night and caught nothing, of how Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side, to yield nets overflowing, which got their attention quickly.  All Matthew says is that Jesus called, and they followed, leaving not only their boats and nets but their father, Zebedee, standing in the boat.  What elicited such a response?

        Could it have been that “the light shined”, like a lightbulb coming on in their minds?  Could it have been that suddenly their lives and their work were illuminated in glorious technicolor, and everything became crystal clear, too clear?  After all, fish are only fish.

      Who knows, maybe they hated fishing? Maybe it wasn’t working out. Even though it paid the bills, maybe they found it, shall we say, less than fulfilling, like making modern widgets?  Maybe the call of Jesus to do something big, to follow him and fish for people rather than fish, maybe that was the most enticing opportunity they’d ever been offered. And so off they went, leaving the nets behind. Fishing — or anything else, for that matter — would ever be the same again.

      Some of us may find ourselves in such a situation.  We may be looking for a job, or we may have a job, or we may be looking for a Job (with a capital J), the real work of our lives, which we have been distinctly called for.

      I have always appreciated author Frederick Buechner’s words about this in his book, Wishful Thinking:

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.   If you really get a kick out of your work, you presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deoderant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b).  On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.  Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”   (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p. 95)

This gives most of us three possibilities: (1) We have a job in which we have found and are fulfilling the call of Jesus for us (Blessed are these!). (2) Our job is not fulfilling the call of Jesus for us, and in fact, may even be inhibiting it, and it’s time to look for another.  Or, finally (3) What we do for our job is one thing (only a job and not a life), and so we fulfill the call of Jesus in other ways.  This last category includes those now retired from a “job”, at last freed to make your life count in ways of your choosing (and I ain’t just talking about golf . . .)

By the way, never assume that “full time Christian service” or even the ordained ministry, is the best way to do this. I was shocked years ago to hear a respected pastor, near my congregation in Chicago, say that he had spent most of his ministry with one foot over the edge of the boat.  I knew what he meant.  Ordained ministry — to which, in fact, God may be calling some of you — is only one way of following Christ, and many of us who are ordained are often envious of the opportunities you lay people have.  Maybe that’s why Jesus called, not scholars and rabbis, but fishermen and tax collectors and women, people like you.

Let me give you two examples of what can happen when we discover the difference between our job and our calling; two examples I learned about just this week.  I can’t say whether or not either of them is Christian, simply because I don’t know. But they are both pretty amazing.

First, have you heard of the movie, “The Devil Came on Horseback?”  You won’t find it at the movies, and it’s never been on TV.   It’s about the Darfur crisis, in Sudan. 

After his stint in the Marines, Captain Brian Steidle took a job in Sudan in 2004 as an unarmed military observer for the African Union.  He left as a witness to what many believe is genocide in the western Darfur region, a conflict that has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people. In the transformation from soldier to observer to witness and activist, Steidle is at first confounded by his naiveté and then confronted by the urgency of a humanitarian catastrophe that he sees unfolding firsthand.

When he came home he struggled about what to do. Finally, he took his pictures to Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times, who wrote about him in an article entitled, The American Witness, on appeared March 2, 2005.

Since then, Steidle has spoken across the country. The Save Darfur Coalition sponsored a special speaking tour in spring 2006 which took Brian 22,000 miles across the country for over 50 events. He has spoken before the UN Human Rights Commission, the British House of Commons, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Senate Republican Steering Committee, and he has officially testified before the Human Rights and Africa Subcommittee of the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee. He remains an advisor to numerous NGOs regarding their policies on Darfur. Not bad for a Marine, all without firing a shot.  Unfortunately, as Brian Steidle would tell you, we haven’t done enough, and the crisis in Dafur goes on.

The second example is the campaign, “Nothing But Nets?”  Nothing but Nets is a grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, which in Africa kills some 3,000 children per day. You can literally save a life for about $10, by providing a mosquito net under which a child or a family can sleep. 

I was curious about where “Nothing But Nets” came from, and looked it up.  Here’s the story:  While the UN Foundation has been working with the UN to fight malaria for years, it wasn’t until Sports Illustrated Columnist Rick Reilly wrote a column — on May 1st, 2006 — challenging each of his readers to donate at least $10 for the purchase of an anti-malaria bed nets — and the incredible response from thousands of Americans across the country — that led to the creation the Nothing But Nets campaign. After that, the UN Foundation has partnered with groups as diverse as National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, The People of the United Methodist Church and Sports Illustrated to bring Nothing But Nets to the American public. Since then, all together we have raised some $16 million dollars.

In his column, Reilly said:

“We need nets. Not hoop nets, soccer nets or lacrosse nets. Not New Jersey Nets or dot-nets or clarinets. Mosquito nets . . . .”

“We gotta get these nets. They’re coated with an insecticide and cost between $4 and $6. You need about $10, all told, to get them shipped and installed. Some nets can cover a family of four. And they last four years. If we can cut the spread of disease, 10 bucks means a kid might get to live. Make it $20 and more kids are saved . . . .”

        And before he ended, he shared a painful regret:

“One last vignette: A few years back, we took the family to Tanzania, which is ravaged by malaria now. We visited a school and played soccer with the kids. Must’ve been 50 on each team, running and laughing. A taped-up wad of newspapers was the ball and two rocks were the goal. Most fun I ever had getting whupped. When we got home, we sent some balls and nets.”

“I kick myself now for that. How many of those kids are dead because we sent the wrong nets?”    (Sports Illustrated: May 1, 2006)

 

For Reilly, it was nets.  For the disciples, it was leaving the nets behind, and fishing not for fish but for people. Where will the call of Jesus lead you?  What is your job with a small “j”, and what is your Calling, with a capital “C?”

Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous and respected people of the last century. Schweitzer, who lived from 1875 to 1965, was an accomplished organist, philosopher, and theologian. As if that wasn’t enough, he gave it all up at the age of 30 by training as a physician and going to Africa as a missionary.

Each year when I preach this sermon on Jesus’ call to us to become his disciples, I can find no better words than Schweitzer’s, whose words are tested and true:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not.  He speaks to us the same words:  “Follow thou me!” and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”  (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, p. 40.)

        Amen.

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