Sermons That Work

Let Your Lights So Shine, Epiphany 3 (A) – 2005

January 23, 2005


In the Gospel for today, Jesus is identified by Matthew as the prophetic Light that shines in the darkness. He is associated with Isaiah’s prophecy that people who have lived in a land of deep darkness now have a new light shining upon them.

Unfortunately one need not look very far to see the darkness of this world. The war and insurgency in Iraq, civil wars in the Sudan and Sri Lanka, terrorism on nearly every continent at one time or another, and of course the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean basin. Not as far from home would be drugs, hunger, and poverty in most of our nation’s cities, suburbs, and rural communities; homelessness and joblessness nationwide; family-run farms and ranches being sold off and developed into more and more homes; and environmental damage brought on by the burdens of our consumer-driven lifestyles.

The world Jesus entered as light faced many of these same sorts of darkness including the foreign military occupation of the land by Rome. Yet, Jesus came with Good News: Repent, for God’s sovereign reign is at hand. It is near. It is palpable.

Much Christian rhetoric has been devoted to some determination of when this time of God actually arrives: Christ’s birth? The Epiphany? His baptism? The wedding feast at Cana? His Crucifixion? His rising from the grave? Nothing can be gained from such debate, however, since God’s reign breaks into human history through the undivided wholeness of his life, death, and resurrection, which are best viewed as one eternal continuing event that goes on from before creation to the present day!

Today we pray that illumined by this word and the sacraments we too might become light to the world. We pray that we might be those people who shine in the present darkness with the radiance of Christ’s glory!

As daunting a task as this may be, consider what those who make a pledge commitment of money to the mission and ministry of this church are supporting at this very moment.

There are 92 missionaries from the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA), from 62 dioceses serving in 42 dioceses of the Anglican Communion throughout 36 countries. In addition, under the umbrella of the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission, we support The South American Missionary Society, Five Talents, African Palms, Anglican Frontiers, and the Daughters of the King.

We support 125 military chaplains worldwide, 12 of them in the Iraqi theater, one of whom was in the midst of the tent bombing in Mosul last month.

And thanks to the work of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) we have already dispersed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the tsunami relief effort, and are working with others to develop long-term strategies to address a situation that will need much, much more than instant help. Every dollar committed to the tsunami relief, by the way, goes to provide relief with no administrative costs whatsoever.

How do we do this? A portion of every dollar you pledge to your local congregation goes to support your diocese, which in turn sends a portion on to support the mission budget of ECUSA. As a giver of record in your local church you are already becoming a light to the world, a world in such desperate need for our light and our life. To be an active participant in Christ’s light reaching out to the whole world one needs only to fill out a pledge card representing a tithe (10%) or some proportionate amount of one’s household income.

Looking deeper into this text, what does Jesus do besides announce the Good News? In this story set in Capernaum by the sea, what are all the things Jesus does to shine God’s light in the darkness?

We hear of him teaching, proclaiming the Good News, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. That is, Jesus does more than just talk about it. He rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. The Good News is Word joined with action.

And he invites others to join him. And look who he calls: He gathers a community of common laborers, the sick, the halt, and the lame, those who are tired, broken, and divided. He does not ask them what they believe. He does not seek out the most competent or the most educated. Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” and all kinds of different people do. He is calling you and me.

Jesus says by his actions, “here is what the reign of God looks like.”

We might feel some dis-ease ourselves at the notion of so immediately leaving work, family, and neighbors as Peter and Andrew and all the rest do. It seems as if Jesus is disrupting family structures and disturbing patterns of work and living. But he does so not to destroy, but to renew and make new! He gives new meaning to family, work, and our patterns of life.

So Peter and Andrew do not cease being brothers, but they are brothers who do the will of God. James and John are not only children of Zebedee, but children of God. All four leave their nets but do not stop fishing. In the nearness of the kingdom they begin to fish for people!

Following Jesus, they become beacons of light, shining light through the darkness.

The Good News, sisters and brothers, is that we, the spiritual heirs of Saints Peter, Andrew, James, and John, bring this light to hundreds of people every day in so many ways. The even better news is that there is much, much more we can do to be so transformed ourselves and so transform the world about us. It is, after all, Jesus who promises we will do greater works than he did.

The Season of Epiphany reminds us that we, too, are the light of the world. And that we are to let our lights shine, shine, shine like the Sun, the Son of God, who is coming into the world!

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Christopher Sikkema

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