Matthew 4: 12-23
Last weekend I was in Fort St. John visiting my mother and brother, before heading to Dawson Creek to preach and preside over Communion, in the absence of a pastor. On Monday morning I got to meet ARILYN for the very first time.
Arilyn is my brother’s first grandchild and she is only 4 months old. Arilyn is a beautiful little girl and one of the things about her that catches your attention, is these big brown eyes. In every picture taken of Arilyn, she is wide-eyed.
I mentioned this to my brother and he commented about how she is constantly taking everything in and he also mentioned how bright lights seem to attract her.
My brother sent Christmas pictures and in those pictures, Arilyn is gawking at the Christmas tree lights. Her favourite place, was hanging over her grandfather’s shoulder, staring at the lights.
Sure enough, when I got to hold Arilyn as we toured the new fire hall in Ft. St. John, it was obvious, how light attracted this little girl. As I held her for the first time, she happened to look up and fixated on the fluorescent lights above us. Every time we moved to a different room, she seemed to pick up on the lights overhead or on a lamp along the wall and would stare at them.
No doubt about it, little Arilyn was attracted to and fascinated by light.
Of course, when you are cuddling your first grandchild, you are keenly aware of their every movement and you can’t help but notice all those little things they notice. You certainly notice such an attraction to light. Yet somehow, I don’t think that such an attraction to light is peculiar to Arilyn or little children in general.
I think we are ALL attracted to light.
Have you ever sat next to a campfire in the evening and stared at the flames? Have you ever looked skyward in awe at fireworks? Have you ever stared in wonder at the lights of a Christmas tree or an exceptionally decorated house? I think we all have done our fair share of staring at light.
We are all attracted to light.
How so? I think a lot of us can probably come up with a multitude of answers. Light is important to us. Light seems to provide us protection or reassurance when we are in the dark. It can provide us direction and guidance through darkness. Light can give us warmth.
We NEED light, natural light. Our bodies need light; the body produces vitamin D from sunlight. Excessive seclusion from the sun can lead to deficiency unless adequate amounts are obtained through diet. A lack of sunlight is considered one of the primary causes of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a serious form of the "winter blues" or “cabin fever.” SAD occurrence is more prevalent in locations further from the tropics, and most of the treatments (other than prescription drugs) involve light therapy, replicating sunlight via lamps tuned to specific wavelengths of visible light, or full-spectrum bulbs. We are very aware of the lack of sunlight and we are equally aware of sunlight after Christmas as the days grow longer.
We NEED light. We not only NEED light physically and emotionally, we need light for our SPIRITUAL well-being too.
I suppose then, that it is no mere coincidence that the season of Epiphany, one of the seasons of our church year, carries with it, the symbolism of LIGHT. This year, the 8 Sundays following the Christmas season, focus on light because we NEED light for our spiritual well-being.
This Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, concerns itself with THE LIGHT, in a very particular way. Of course, the gospel reading for today, features Jesus calling his disciples to leave their fishing boats and join him in “fishing for men.” Within this gospel which has the call to follow Jesus and the urgency to follow him without reservation, there is a light that shines in the darkness; there is a shining light.
If there is one thing we insist upon in our church, it is that the good news of Jesus Christ be preached. Where is the good news in this passage, from whence comes the demand to follow Jesus and “fish for men?” It would seem that this passage is certainly a demand, it calls us beyond our comfort zones; this passage calls to mind the inconvenience of serving God. And somehow, this is supposed to make us feel good?
The good news is that Jesus is the light of the world and light has dawned upon us. Jesus calls us to let HIS light shine through us. He gives us the message, the mission, the purpose and he gives us himself, the core, the foundation to stand upon in our ministry.
The light has dawned upon us and we are called to reflect that light, to let our lights shine before others, so that others may see God. This is echoed in the other Bible passages that we have read today.
Isaiah: 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 Psalm: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life
In the gospel of Matthew, the prophecy of Isaiah is repeated: 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."
We need the light and we celebrate the fact that the light of Christmas has come to us and now shines upon us and through us. Certainly the early Christian church needed that light.
Matthew the gospel writer, wrote this passage to an early Christian community that was struggling; they had suffered persecution through arrests, exclusion from the synagogues, through mocking and derision.
The temptation may have been great to give up on their faith, or at least to collapse into some weaker, less public form of religious life. But now Matthew reminds them that Jesus faced his own temptations and that Jesus began his public ministry amidst a dangerous and nervous situation. And they are the beneficiaries of his courage because it was their ancestors in the faith who had sat in darkness until through Christ a great light shone upon them.
The early church was encouraged, strengthened and empowered for ministry.
If this was written to be an encouragement for the early Christian church, facing uncertain times and persecution, we might ask how this good news is an encouragement to us. After all, we TOO need light, THE LIGHT.
I suppose that the encouragement to come and follow Jesus comes to a Christian church and movement that is facing uncertain times, not necessarily persecution. While there are persecutions in other parts of the world, there is no persecution in our part of the world. Rather there is this nagging uncertainty, an indifference to the faith which plagues us. We wonder how we can find a purpose in being Christians in an uncertain world. In a world where fewer and fewer people want to be active participants in the Christian faith, we wonder how we follow Jesus and how we ask others to walk with us in following Jesus. In the midst of all this, we ourselves struggle with the demands of Jesus to follow, to repent, to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
The light of Christ shines upon a hurting world and brings healing as the kingdom of heaven is lived out. I have only been in the ministry for 22 years, yet that is one of the changes I have noticed in my short time of service. There is not as much emphasis upon the personal aspects of the faith, of what you believe or are supposed to believe. It seems to me that there is more emphasis upon the kingdom of heaven and bringing healing to this world; letting our lights shine.
Yes, the church has always tried to bring the kingdom of heaven to a hurting world. That is why the church has done things like make quilts, or sponsor refugees. But more and more things have come into the picture: soup kitchens, food bins, thrift stores, advocating for people locally and across the world, going green, being more socially conscious, exhorting governments, getting angry at governments, buying and selling free trade coffee, going to other countries to help. The list is probably expanding as we speak.
The encouragement for me, is that the light still comes to us, the light still shines upon us. As we meet, as we worship and serve and do all those things we do as a congregation, the light shines upon us. The light strengthens and warms us, the light gives us direction. The light forgives us, the light promises us eternal life. Like the very sunlight that gives us life and vitality, so the Son, the son of God constantly regenerates us, gives us purpose, gives us hope.
That doesn’t necessarily make following Jesus any easier. But easy or not, Jesus still shines upon us and through us. Thanks be to God.
The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3: 13-17
(Ask for young volunteers to come up to the baptismal font. While they are coming up, go into the sacristy and get a hot water kettle. Pour the water in the kettle, into the font. Next, ask them to put their whole hand into the water, not a finger but the whole hand. Hopefully, the volunteer will only be willing to dip a finger into the water.)
I asked you to put your whole hand in the water of the baptismal font. Why did you only dip a finger in the water? Why not put your hand in the water?
Of course, when you see water coming from a kettle, you assume it is HOT water; you may not want to put to put your whole hand in the water. It may hurt. You want to check and make sure it is not too hot, so, you dip your finger in the water.
Once you are sure that the water is not too hot, once you are sure it is safe, then and only then do you put your whole hand into the water.
I think it is similar when we go swimming. Have you ever stood on the beach and watched people go into the water? How many people run right into the water and jump in? Not many; usually people walk in a little bit at a time.
It is not easy jumping into the water. Jumping in, diving in essentially means that you are all in, you are committed
It is not easy jumping into a lake, OR into the baptismal font. It is not easy being baptized. Baptism I think means being all in, baptism means jumping into the water.
At least that is what I THINK the baptism of Jesus meant.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and as we celebrate, there is something that we need to consider. There is something very important about the baptism of Jesus. That important something, is righteousness. What is this righteousness?
Jesus goes to the river Jordan. Jesus goes there because John the Baptist is baptizing people in the river Jordan and Jesus wants John to baptize him.
Of course, John the Baptist understands Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to deliver God’s people. John wants to know WHY Jesus wishes to be baptized.
John was doing a baptism of repentance for the nation of Israel; he wanted his country to turn around and start following God. John wanted people to repent of their sins, John wanted them to wash all their sins away and then to change directions and do what God wants.
Why would Jesus want to be baptized?
Jesus responded by telling John, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." What did Jesus MEAN when he said that?
Here is my interpretation: Jesus said, “I’m jumping into the water. I’m jumping in, I am all in.”
When Jesus said, “I am jumping in,” there were HUGE consequences
Jesus jumps in, he is all in and Jesus submits to the baptism of John in order to “deliver” righteousness to humanity. Unless Jesus submits to this baptism reserved for sinners’ ritual purification and thus identifies himself with them, there is no possibility of righteousness for you and me. But when Jesus, the Beloved, does submit, then our righteousness is assured.
Righteousness is another name for salvation or deliverance, as is spoken so often in the psalms (22:31; 40:10; 98:2-3) and prophets (Isa. 11:4-5; 61:10-11; Mic 6:5). Jesus is saying that he has arrived on the scene to model perfect righteousness, yielding perfect obedience to God's ordinances, observing the law of God to the utmost, beginning with a joyous submission to the divine summons issued in John's call to be baptized.
Jesus is going to the cross to suffer and die for all of us. In order to do that, he needed to make a great big commitment, he needed to jump in.
Jesus didn’t stick his big toe into the waters of baptism, he jumped in. Jesus didn’t dip one finger into the waters of baptism, he thrust his hands into the water.
Jesus jumped into the water, he was all in because that is the way we were going to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus jumped in because that is what it was going to take. That is what Jesus did and that is what Jesus hoped his followers would do too.
Remember when Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples the night before his crucifixion? Peter refused to have Jesus fulfill such righteousness in his presence and would not allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus responded by saying that if Peter did not let Jesus wash his feet, he could have no part of Jesus.
In other words, if Peter did not let Jesus wash him, then Peter would not be able to participate on Jesus behalf, to deliver God’s righteousness to humanity.
Peter understands. It is all in. Peter then urges Jesus to wash his feet, his hands, his head, his whole body. Jumping in, all in.
It is not easy jumping into the water is it? It’s not. And yet, Jesus wants us to jump in too; not because we will be really good when we jump in, or because we will be better people in his sight but because somehow, with Jesus’ help we will make a difference when we jump in.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. We didn’t baptize anybody as a way of celebrating; today we all affirm our baptisms. We affirm our Baptisms, say “Yes” to our baptisms and remind ourselves that baptism is a life-changing event.
It is life changing because we jump in, we are all in when we are baptized.
In our affirmation we confess our faith and remind ourselves of what we believe in and WHO we believe in.
In our affirmation we remind ourselves that a relationship with God was established in our baptisms and that we need to “touch base” every so often, to re-establish that relationship with God.
We are reminded that God’s spirit generously flows all over us, we are covered in God’s spirit and we too walk out of the waters knowing that we have an identity as children of God, beloved children of God.
We have been changed, but we have also been changed with the purpose we have been given in that baptism. We are changed because of its mission and ministry.
Our purpose as baptized people changes us because we see the mission that God has called us to do. We have committed ourselves to learning God’s word and receiving God’s grace at the table, the altar of Holy Communion. We have committed ourselves to telling the story of Jesus to others, to serve others and to strive for things like justice and peace.
Like Jesus, we commit ourselves to that purpose by being baptized. When we are baptized, we are all in, we are jumping in.
We jump in because we are forgiven. We jump in because Jesus ensures a place for us in heaven. We jump in because Jesus wants us to share that message.
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21
John 1: 1-18
Have you ever had someone thank you for something and you have responded, “Oh, it was nothing?” Or have you ever responded by saying, “Don’t mention it,” or “You don’t need to thank me?”
Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, when WE are expressing our gratitude, it isn’t “nothing.” We WANT to express our gratitude.
Showing gratitude, saying thank you, is important.
Gratitude has been a major theme of one of the devotional websites I have featured on St. Paul’s Facebook page. Specifically, I refer to the website entitled, “In the Meantime.” “In the Meantime” is a blog site developed by David Lose, a Lutheran Seminary professor in the United States, which he uses to encourage people in their faith and life. Under the theme of gratitude, David Lose has a series of blog spots. Their titles:
The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, Contagious Gratitude, The Power of Gratitude and finally Easter Gratitude. You can access all these blogs by going to: http://www.davidlose.net/tag/gratitude/
I would love to show you the videos included in all those blogs, but time will not allow. So here’s a quick little recap.
The blog entitled, The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, features David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is known worldwide for his teaching on practices of gratitude. David Steindl-Rast asserts that it’s not that happy people are grateful, but rather that grateful people are happy. Further he says, we are most grateful when we receive a gift. We are truly grateful and most grateful when we recognize that every moment in our lives, is given to us as a gift. Recognizing this, he says, we begin to live gratefully.
In the blog entitled, Contagious Gratitude, an outfit called Soul Pancake, asked people to write down the attributes of the person they were most grateful towards, the person they were most grateful for. But simply writing this down was not enough; Soul Pancake asked their interviewees to telephone those people. That experience of telling someone why they are appreciated and the experience of expressing gratitude was, of course, very GRATIFYING, for the speaker and the listener.
Soul Pancake did the same thing in the blog entitled, The Power of Gratitude.
In the blog, Easter Gratitude, David Lose recapped a project he had undertaken last year during the season of Easter. During each of the 50 days of the Easter season in 2013, he wrote down one thing for which he was grateful. At the end of the 50 days of Easter, he came to these conclusions:
Nevertheless, “practicing” gratitude – that is, making an intentional effort to name it daily – made a difference. It broadened my “gratitude horizen” and invited me to notice even more of the blessings in my life, and noticing them made me even more grateful and, quite frankly, happier.
Anytime we start a new behavior – whether eating more healthfully, nurturing a richer prayer life, or exercising – it helps to do it with others in community and support each other. So also with gratitude. We have such communities, of course – we call them congregations – but don’t always use them this way. Why not?
Gratitude is the noblest emotion. I’ve said this before, and while I’m not prepared to argue whether it really is the noblest emotion, it certainly is a contender as gratitude simultaneously invites and forces (in a paradoxically non-contradictory kind of way) you to shift your focus away from yourself. Even though you are grateful, you are grateful for something beyond yourself, which is a remarkably freeing and healthy way to live.
Well you might ask, why all this talk about gratitude?
The Bible passages today are about gratitude. How so?
In the Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah talks about what God will do for the people of Israel. About 570 years before Jesus, the little nation of Israel was overrun by the powerful Babylonians. Israel was destroyed and many of her important people were taken into captivity. This event became known as THE EXILE. As desolate and discouraged as the people of Israel were in exile, the prophet Jeremiah told them to take heart. God, he said, would redeem them and return them to their homeland. They will be restored as a people and they will live in abundance.
And what should be the reaction of the people of Israel towards this gift of God? GRATITUDE! Jeremiah encourages them to show their gratitude towards God through worship, through singing, praising God, being radiant over the goodness of the LORD, by being satisfied with everything God has given them.
In Psalm 147 the psalm writer says,
“Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!”
In other words, show gratitude towards God. Why?
Because, says the psalm writer, “…God strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.”
The psalm writer says that God has not dealt with any other nation in this manner. No other nation has been gifted in such a way as Israel has been gifted by God. Therefore, Israel should show their gratitude towards God through praise.
In our epistle lesson, the second lesson, the writer of Ephesians provides a long list of gifts from God:
- God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
- God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
- God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
- God freely bestowed on us grace through Jesus.
- we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
- God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure, set forth in Christ,
- In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
That is quite a list of gifts and blessings from God. And what are we supposed to do, according to the writer of Ephesians? We are encouraged to show our gratitude, we are to live for the praise of his glory.
Finally, in his Gospel, John the fourth evangelist says, God has given us the Word, Jesus, who has existed before time with God, but walked this earth with us. Through him we have been given life, light and grace. We have seen the light; we have been given grace upon grace. Forgiveness, eternal life!
And what should be our response? John the fourth evangelist encourages us to show our gratitude towards God, by receiving Christ, believing in Christ, and realizing our potential in this life, as children of God.
Gratitude is important. It is important to thank someone, to express gratitude, it makes us feel better; it makes the recipient feel better.
So how does this relate to our faith? How does this affect our relationship between us and God?
It is important to show our gratitude towards God. Important for God because God likes to be thanked and important for us because it makes us feel better.
All of those gifts, listed in our Bible passages, are given to us as well. So how do we show our gratitude towards God?
Well, our Bible passages today list a lot of ways in which we can show our gratitude. It is obvious that worship plays a big role in our expression of gratitude. In almost every passage, worship is emphasized. What are we doing when we gather for worship? We are praising God, we are in effect showing our gratitude.
The Bible passages AND the blogs point to other aspects of the Christian discipline which play an important part in gratitude. When we talk of the Christian discipline, we speak of reading Scripture, praying, serving, telling others, giving.
Think about what YOU do, think about how you try to live out your Christian faith. When you are able, do you feel better? Do you feel better when you worship and sing praises? Do you feel better when you can be a generous person through your gifts of time, talent and treasures? Do you feel better when you are serving whether it is in a committee, at the Street ministry or a host of other places?
The more I think about it, I wonder if we in the church are in the gratitude business. As the Scripture writers say, as some of the blogs attest; as we express our gratitude towards God for what God has given us, we live grateful lives.
Living gratefully, we are connected to something beyond ourselves; we are more strongly connected to God. Living gratefully TOGETHER, we end up being more strongly connected to each other.
Notice the shape of that grateful living, connected to God and connected to each other. This is in the shape of the cross. “Cruciform” living, grateful living.