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The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2014
The Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
Sermon: "Light Directed and Reflected"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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.
Light Directed and Reflected
Until fairly recent times, the night was viewed as rather hostile. Why? The absence of light! Without light the night made it impossible to see where to set a foot or place a hand. Without light night made it impossible to see who or what might be “out there” in the darkness ahead. “Early to bed and early to rise…,” that old wisdom, was well adhered to because the night was perilous and fraught with danger.
Nowadays we are surrounded by artificial light. It is difficult for us to appreciate the way night was perceived in earlier times. For thousands of years, people illuminated their dwellings with fire. It was not until William Murdock invented the gaslight in 1803 that large areas could be lit up after dark. For all time before that, people walked in darkness-literally.
In the days in which the Bible was written, people knew the meaning of darkness. Thus when Biblical writers proclaimed that, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”, as in our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah this morning, they were speaking of something vivid, dramatic, and hope filled. When they spoke of Christ as the light who is the fulfillment of that prophecy, as in our Gospel lesson from Matthew, they were ascribing to him the ability to transform their world from one of darkness and despair to one of hope and joy. When we understand the darkness of that world, we can begin to appreciate the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Or the words of John: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Perhaps if we lived in Alaska, we could get a real feel for darkness. Barrow, Alaska, on the Arctic Ocean, is the northernmost inhabited point in North America. In winter, it is also the darkest. The sun set there this past November, and it won’t be seen again until the end of this month. Getting through over two months of night isn’t easy. In fact this tiny nondescript outpost—home to 3,000 hardy hunters, trappers, lawyers and public employees—has one of the highest attempted suicide rates in America.
The people of Barrow understand the significance of light. Next week, when the first feeble rays of sunlight peep back over the horizon, some Barrovians will take to the ice to fly brightly colored kites in a jubilant celebration. The darkness has been dispelled. Light is now here.
It isn’t easy to live in physical darkness, without light. It isn’t any easier to live in spiritual darkness, without Christ. Christ brings the light of hope into life. Without him, life itself sets in darkness. Christ brings light into the world of the human soul. He does this by letting us see God for just who God really is. Jesus, by his own life illuminates the true nature of God.
An officer in the National Council of Churches was invited to help lead worship in a service to be televised from Israel some years ago. The service was beamed from a very old church under the care of a community of monks. The church was quite ancient, and it had never been modernized with electrical power.
As the officer from the Council looked around, a fascinating scene played out before her. The television crew was busy going about its work of setting up generators, stringing cables, mounting cameras to stands, placing microphones. Hushed and standing back against the walls, were the monks. They seemed like guests from another century, rather than current residents.
Then something extraordinary happened as the scene played on. The technicians began to test the lights. The whole darkened chapel flamed to light for the first time ever in its long history. Some of the monks looked up, nudged their brothers. Soon they were all pointing upward. The monks then vanished. Presently they scurried back bringing the entire community to see what they had seen.
On the ceiling was a huge mural of exquisite beauty. A member of their order, in a forgotten century long ago, had erected a scaffold, and there high above the small sanctuary he had quietly painted by candlelight a masterpiece unseen to any but God alone. Only now, hundreds of years after, perhaps a thousand, was it being discovered. The lights of the television cameras had brought this ancient masterpiece into full view.
Light has the power to bring into full view that which has been hidden. Christ has done that to our knowledge of God. How shall we really know God? We can know him fully only as he has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What is God like? He is like Jesus: loving, compassionate, merciful, and forgiving. Without Christ, we would be left trying to see God through the darkness: an austere taskmaster, instead of a God of forgiving grace; a god who demands sacrifice from us, instead of the God who sacrifices himself for us; a god removed from us, instead of the God who seeks an intimate relationship with each of us; a god understood as capricious, distant, an indifferent tyrant, instead of the merciful and loving one we can know as father. That is the great light that Christ shines in this world so set in darkness. Because of him we know God as God really is. Because of him we walk in the light of life.
Christ is the light of the World. He is the source of the light that enlightens you and me. This is not where it all ends, however. You see, this light that shines upon us and illuminates our true relationship with God, also changes us. Just a few verses further on Jesus turns this whole business of being light onto you and me. He says to us, “You are the light of the world.” You and I in receiving the light, become light. Now, Jesus is the source, but once that light illumines us, we become his enlightened reflectors. Much as a light house’s source light is magnified by its many reflectors, so we are given the wondrous task of being the search light of God’s compassion and concern for the world. We focus that light that moves out into the darkness to find and guide those who have yet to see God’s light, yet to experience his love, yet to feel his favor, yet to know him as friend and savior.
How are we to reflect this light? We do it together, of course, to a great extent. When we come together as a body, we have the ability to pool our light reflecting resources in big ways, such as our physical and financial support of various outreach efforts, missions and agencies, here in town and at a distance, that do God’s work directly with those in need.
But our calling to be light is more than just a group effort. We are each of us to reflect the light implanted within us individually as well. We do that wherever and with whomever we are. Being light is best expressed this way in our daily lives through our many relationships with others.
Consider our families. This is where many of us will make our greatest contribution for Christ in life. How available are we to these closest to us? How involved, I mean really attentively and compassionately and sacrificially focused, are we on them when we are home or in their homes. After a hard day it really can be a sacrifice to be attentive and compassionate; especially when we need some of that focus on us, or we just simply need some time off to be unfocused for a bit. This is the place, more than any other that tests our true reflective abilities.
Consider the workplace. Most of us are probably already supportive of the boss. I mean, that’s the job; but ungrudgingly? We probably get on fairly well with our colleagues. Yet, could there be one or two who really need the grace of our collegiality more than the others who are easier to relate to? What about our subordinates? Do they see Christ in us as we guide and direct them? That area might use some careful focus of light.
There are a lot of other areas to consider as well. I’ll just mention a couple of them in passing. For instance, and I just recently mentioned this one: when we’re driving and we have to get somewhere quickly, and traffic just isn’t cooperating; can the other drivers see grace in our actions? Or when we’re shopping, does the shop clerk see Christ’s love in our attitude?
These are just examples, of course. Our job as Christians is to reflect Christ’s light into every area of life. As the old Gospel tune put it, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine.”
Christ is the light of the world. He has made God known. Through his directed light those who walk in darkness see light. Now we are called by him to reflect and focus his light. We are to be his reflected light. Reflect his light for all to see. May darkness become light wherever you walk.