Sunday, January 23, 2011

Epiphany 3A: Lights Witnessing Freedom

Lectionary: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Today we read Matthew’s account of the call of Peter and Andrew which differs from the version of this story we read last week in John’s gospel. In John’s gospel, Andrew spends time with Jesus and becomes so convinced that he is the Messiah, that the first thing he does is run to get his brother Peter to come and see. In Matthew’s version, Peter and Andrew are at work (fishing) when Jesus walks by and calls both of them at the same time and both immediately follow Jesus.

So which version is true? The answer is both. Remembering that these are not historical accounts but narratives of the experiences of those who followed Jesus, and that Scripture is meant for our learning as St. Paul said, we can look at the variation in these stories not as discrepancies, but as gifts for our learning.

John’s gospel affirms for us that taking time to be with Jesus, to listen and learn “where he stands” on things can fill us with such enthusiasm that we are compelled to run to those we love to share this amazing news. Matthew’s account affirms for us that sometimes, the transformation of our hearts is so immediate and so complete, that we are willing to repent as Jesus says, to turn and go another way leaving behind all we know, all we love, and all the security of the world we’ve established to follow God’s call to us in Christ.

Each of us hears and responds to God’s call to us a little differently and Scripture enables us to hear the same event from differing perspectives, affirming that there is room for our diversity to live in the words of our salvation narrative. And that, in the end, the result is the same.

What’s important about this is that it shows us that we can be of the same mind, and in agreement, without giving up our diversity of thought and perspective. This is what St. Paul is telling the members of the church in Corinth when he says, I appeal to you, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. He isn’t asking them to give up their diversity. Paul’s whole ministry was about incorporating the diversity of those to whom he proclaimed the good news, Gentiles and other foreigners, into the unity of the body of Christ. Later on in this same letter, Paul uses the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, all parts of the body being different, and each individual member being united in one body for a single purpose: the reconciliation of the whole world by the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

There is always a temptation to limit the grace of God’s Spirit who moves in us as we read Scripture, pray, and proclaim the good news. Understandably, we want to be doing these things right. But the temptation to be right, maybe it’s really a temptation not to be wrong, can lead to a rigidness that is counter to the freedom won for us by our Lord. As Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Christians and Christian institutions have a history of limiting who could read Scripture, and legislating how it should be understood – seriously constraining the free movement of the Spirit in their day. Thankfully this sort of thing never happens any more – NOT!

We know, however, that in the end, the Spirit of God moves freely. Like the wind, it blows where it wills. And thank God for that.

In Isaiah, we hear that the light of God’s Spirit breaks into the darkness of the world and the people on whom the light shines are freed from all that constrains them (their yokes and the rod of their oppressor are broken) and they praise God with exultation because of it.

Anyone who has been imprisoned by any kind of darkness knows the overwhelming joy that freedom brings. In today’s reading, Isaiah proclaims that God has multiplied the nation, increased its joy and released its people from their burden as on the day of Midian – the day when Gideon battled the Midianites and won freedom from oppression for the Israelites.

Note: This is the northernmost area in the northern kingdom of Israel and it was historically indefensible. It experienced 800 years of war, 800 years of oppression. So many generations had lived in oppression that they couldn’t even imagine anymore what it would be like to live in freedom. And this is the place, the gospel writer tell us, that Jesus made his home – the city of Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is were Jesus issued the call for the people to repent – to turn around and live another way – God’s way.

Oppression continues in our world, all over the world, in many forms. There are tribal wars in Africa, holy wars in the Middle East, and wars within families right here in town. There are people everywhere battling the oppressions of addiction and disease, and suffering the ravages and indignity of poverty.

The good news found throughout Scripture, in the Old and New Testaments, in all of its diverse stories and perspectives, is that it is the light of God that breaks into and dispels the darkness and sets us free from whatever oppresses us. As the psalmist says, The Lord is my light and my salvation... This light, manifest most completely in Jesus, the Son of God, is what we are called to witness in our world.

Immediately after telling his new disciples that he would make them fishers of people, Jesus begins his public ministry by going out into the multi-ethnic region of Galilee [and] teaching in their synagogues …proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.* Remember that touching people who were diseased and sick would have made Jesus, the rabbi, ritually unclean according to the law. But he went to them and touched and healed them anyway.

We are called to do likewise – to go out and be fishers of people, to teach and proclaim the good news of the kingdom by word and example, and to offer the light of God’s healing to any who suffer. Then, if anyone shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, maybe they’ll see it in us.

Later today we will gather in all of our diversity of thought and experience, and we’ll look back on how graced we have been by God this past year. Then we’ll make our plan for the coming year hopefully heeding Jesus’ words to us to repent to go a new way - God’s way. To give ourselves over to God and let the Spirit of God move freely in and through us.

As we do that, I offer this quote from theologian and Methodist Bishop, William Willamon, who said, “… I challenge you … to do a little fishing, to attempt to share your faith, perhaps even using words, with one person whom you know. Try to express why you are here [at church – then] invite someone to come [with you] next Sunday… Do one visible act of Christian charity to someone in need in the name of Jesus. See where it gets you.”

Please turn with me in your Prayer Books to page 215 and let’s re-read our Collect for today together. Let us pray…

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

* Source:

No comments: