Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the 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.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18As 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. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23Jesus 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.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In about a month, my nephew is getting married. In preparation for that, several of us gathered on Saturday morning for a bridal shower, and in the evening I met with the two of them to go over some of the logistics for the ceremony. To get there, I drove down to the southern part of the state of Minnesota Friday evening and drove back up here last evening. It’s January, and we are well north of the Tropic of Cancer, so the bulk of both of those drives happened during darkness.
My car is equipped with lights that shine to light the path ahead of me as I drive. Of course, you know that, because that’s how cars are made. Towns from here to there have street lights that illuminate many areas, and several farmsteads have them as well. It was not difficult to travel in even though the sun did not shine on this part of the globe during most of the hours I and my daughter were on the road—there was plenty of light by which to see as far as I needed to see to travel in relative safety.
Since we’ve lived here in Superior, I’ve not traveled often to the home of my sister where the gathering took place. In prior times, I traveled usually from either the west or the south, so I was less familiar with the route from the north. So we added a different kind of light to assist in the navigation. Google maps lit up the phone with pictures of the roadway that would best lead us to her home. I must say that I find that easier than struggling with a paper map in the darkness.
However, the darkness referenced by the writer of Matthew’s Gospel was not quite the kind of darkness we experience as we navigate the nighttime hours. The darkness described by the prophet Isaiah was not the darkness of geography, but rather a darkness of hope.
Matthew describes the people as sitting in the region and shadow of death. Matthew depicts people without hope.
The prophet does not leave them without hope, however. The prophet names a great light shining on the people who had lived in darkness, and Matthew identifies that light with Jesus, and in John’s Gospel, Jesus is specifically identified as the light of the world. Therefore, today’s message is titled, “Following the Light” as a way to describe how the people of God follow Jesus.
We are not always particularly successful in following Jesus. Sometimes, we use those little devices that can bring us maps to light our way to seek out other things, sometimes unhealthy things. Sometimes, we become lured by false promises.
Today’s world is filled with darkness. The young are sometimes snatched and sold for the pleasure of the depraved. The beautiful are promised glory and rewarded with slavery. The powerful oppress the powerless. Loyalty supersedes honesty. Violence destroys contentment. Lies overshadow truth. The headlines this morning say that 75 years after Auschwitz liberation, ‘never again’ is not assured. Yesterday I read that more than 50 percent of adults in this country don’t know that six million Jews died in the holocaust, along with six million others who tried to aid them or were imprisoned for similar crimes of being themselves. Indigenous people are disappearing, and there seem to be no answers. Violence is rising in Iraq. Social Media is rife with political slams and misinformation. And, the impeachment hearings are underway in our nation’s capital, raising additional vitriol.
It seems easy to say, “All you’ve got to do is follow Jesus, all you’ve got to do is follow the light!” It seems easy to say that, but we have people staunchly opposed to one another politically each believing they are the ones truly following Jesus. One member brought me the newspaper last week depicting the proposed split of the United Methodist Church over the issues of sexuality. Our own ELCA avoided a formal split by officially affirming that people and congregations within our ELCA can have opposing views on such practices, but some congregations left our body even so.
Our second scripture reading this morning from 1 Corinthians 1:10‑18 has an appeal from Paul that all be in agreement and that there be no divisions, that we all be united in the same mind and purpose. He was speaking particularly about divisions of loyalty, concerning who had been the person to baptize each one, but his point is valid, because we know what those kinds of divisions are like. His advice is to focus on Jesus Christ, because we all belong to him, not to Pastor Michelle or Pastor Scott or Pastor Boe… or any of the others who have served throughout Concordia’s 133 year history as a congregation. We ALL belong to Christ—one Christ—and Christ is the light of the world.
We live in a world of deep and varied darkness, but the light of Christ is shining. Sometimes, it becomes difficult for us to see that light, because we are focusing on other issues of some importance, like presidential powers and possible misconduct, like people’s gender identity or sexual practices; like the best use of certain drugs like alcohol or nicotine or THC; like how to provide healthcare, and how to make it accessible; like how to love people who are in danger, or who seem so different from ourselves; like any number of other issues.
We are focusing on issues of some importance, and sometimes we neglect to remember that we, as people of God, are to see all these issues with a special filter, with a light that shines from Christ.
When Jesus called Simon and Andrew, then James and John, he didn’t ask them first whether they were faithful Jews following the laws of the Temple. He saw them fishing, and offered another kind of fishing. When Jesus called Matthew, he didn’t ask whether he’d ever collected more tax than was due. When Jesus called Mary Magdalene, he didn’t hold her responsible for the demon’s he had cast out from her. When Jesus called Saul, he did ask for change, change from persecution to love, to a sharing of the good news, change from staunch observance of Pharisaical rules to the freedom of God’s love. When Jesus calls you, he calls you to love.
How do we best follow the Light of Christ, how do we best let the light of God shining in on us through these windows reflect out into this neighborhood? Let God’s light shine in Jesus and through us. Amen