A Different Light…
There is a strange paradox in the church these days. While we often use words like repentence and transformation – all words for radical change in our lives, the truth is, the church is often the LAST place that change occurs. A friend of mine often reminds me that people come to church in order to escape from the rapid change happening in the world – it’s the one stable place they can turn to. Or as any pastor could share when they have tried to make changes in their churches, the refrain is often heard: “we’ve never done it that way before.”
But change and transformation are exactly what lie ahead of us on the journey of Christian faith. As one of my favorite bumper stickers reads: God loves you just the way you are… and loves you too much to let you stay that way. We might ask – how much is going to be asked of me? Or -what will be required?
The real question we need to ask as we begin to walk in the light of Christ is – how will it change the way that we see ourselves?
If you will remember from last week, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist who decided to follow Jesus and then brought his brother Simon Peter along for the journey. Matthew’s gospel this morning paints a different picture about how these two met Christ and why they decided to follow him. Without making judgments as to which account is “right” or “wrong” let us look at why Matthew chose to tell the tale this way. What does his version of the call of these two brothers tell us about what it means to follow the light of Christ? Once that small spark of faith from last week grows inside of us, what dark corners within our own lives will have light shed upon them? And once we begin to see in this new light, how will we respond?
As Jesus began his public ministry, the first words that cross his lips are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repent, for a great light has come into your lives!
Repent, because morning has dawned in your midst!
I’m beginning to establish some routines in my life as I begin my ministry in this place. One of those morning routines is to sit at our dining room table at home with a cup of hot tea and my laptop computer. I get a daily news summary through my email and as I slowly drink my tea and wake myself up, I try to orient my day around what is happening in the rest of the world. As I do so, there is also a realization that our little part of the world is waking up as well. Usually about that time of day I can sit at the table and look out our front window – past the trees, past the courthouse tower, and watch the sun rise. At first there is a dull glow to the sky and then everything begins to transform into shades of pink and then orange until the sun peeks over the horizon. Everything takes on a new radiance and gives a whole new meaning to Matthew’s gospel this morning. The people who sat in darkness – on them light has shined! Repent!
The Greek word that we translate into repent is metanoia… it is a reorientation or a fundamental transformation in the way that we see… and not just seeing with our eyes. When we experience this metanoia we don’t just see the world differently – it changes the way that we see ourselves, others, it even implies a change in the way that we see God. Metanoia can be described as having a greater understanding of the reality we experience – to see things in their true light. Often, we think of the act of repenting as owning up to past sins – yet true repentence is seeing ourselves fully – the good and the bad – seeing ourselves through the light of Christ. Of course this entails that the dark and more insidious parts of our lives will be revealed – but it also can reveal gifts and strengths that have lain dormant or hidden. Maybe a better way of understanding repentance is not through feelings of guilt, but as a new awareness of who we are and who we are called to be.
So as Jesus moved to Capernaum, the light of Christ dawned in Galilee. And people began to see things in a different light.
People like Simon Peter and Andrew. People like James and John. These two sets of brothers were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. I used to think of fishing as a sort of leisure activity – lounging in the sun by a lake, waiting for a fish to come by and nibble. That was until the Discovery Channel began to air their series: Deadliest Catch. If you haven’t seen it, it is a show that follows fishing crews in the Bering Sea as they attempt to bring in the most king crabs during the winter season. And it’s not easy work. The worst storms occur during crab-fishing season and the waves can be as large as 30 or 40 feet tall! Add that to the frigid 38 degree water and there is plenty of danger. In fact, more than 80 percent of the fatalities Alaskan fishermen suffer on the job are due to drowning — either from falling overboard or as a result of a boat accident.
While the Sea of Galilee might not be quite as cold – the temperature averages from 60-90 degrees throughout the year – fishing was just as dangerous… especially considering that it was done without all of the safety equipment of today! The Sea of Galilee is known for having violent storms caused by wind funneling down into the valley the lake is located in. I read about a storm 15 years ago that sent ten feet high waves crashing into towns on the western shore. Try to imagine those kinds of waves on the Lily Pond or the Coralville Reservoir and you get the picture.
Besides being dangerous because of the waters, fishing was also extremely labor intensive. Nets were tossed into waters by the shore or dropped from boats and then drug to round up the fist. Those nets had to continually be washed and boats kept in repair. Newly caught fish must be sold immediately or smoked or salted for storage. Suffice it to say – Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were not lazy young men. They were hard workers whose families depended upon their labor.
But then the light of Christ dawned in Galilee… “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And people began to see things in a different light. Jesus called out to these brothers: Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As the light of Christ shone upon their lives, Andrew and Peter and James and John didn’t just leave their nets. They left their jobs, they left their families, they seem to have left everything behind in order to start on this new path and follow Christ. And as the light of Christ begins to lead us, we have to ask whether our families and jobs are hanging in the balance as well. Thomas Long, a preacher and professor at Candler School of Theology says that in a sense, yes:
“In these stories of the calling of the disciples, then, Jesus disrupts family structures and disturbs patterns of working and living. He does so, however, not to destroy but to renew. Peter and Andrew do not cease being brothers; they are now brothers who do the will of God (Matt. 12:50). James and John do not cease being sons; they are now not only the children of Zebedee but also the children of God. All four of these disciples leave their fishing nets, but they do not stop fishing. They are now, in the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, fishers for people. Their past has not been obliterated; it has been transformed by Jesus’ call to follow.”
Maybe a better way of putting it would be to say that as the light of Christ shone upon them, these first disciples began to see their lives in a different light. As Jesus called them to follow, they began to see the potential of who they could be. They were challenged to really see themselves not just as brothers and sons and fishermen, but as a part of the Kingdom of God. These were ordinary guys, but they discovered within themselves a new purpose and direction. They didn’t have to have it all together… they just had to use the talents, abilities and life experiences that they already possessed in a new way. Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John became disciples… but they never stopped being fishermen.
As we begin to follow the light of Christ, we too will begin to see our own lives in a different light. If repentence and metanoia describe a reorientation of our perspective, then through the light of God, we will begin to see where we have been working for our own purposes rather than for Gods.
My own experience of this kind of transformation was not a dramatic shift in my life, but a subtle “a-ha” moment. Last week I noticed that a few of you commented on who clearly I spoke… well, I have always been a public speaker. While other kids in my class would get stage fright or be wary of volunteering for a demonstration… I was always the kid with my hand shot up in the air waiting to be picked. I have never really been afraid of talking in front of others – the words just seem to come naturally and I find my rhythm. This gift served me well in high school speech and drama events and in college it led me to pursue a degree in communications… with an emphasis on speech and rhetoric. But what I was going to do with these skills… that was an entirely different question.
In high school – I thought I wanted to be a meteorologist. And not just in the sense of the t.v. weather girl… I wanted to be a smart and knowledgeable meteorologist – doling out accurate weather reports and teaching viewers about el nino patterns. Somewhere in college that path sidetracked as I became more and more involved in our religious life council. I found myself speaking during campus worship and leading retreats. But the idea of being a pastor never crossed my mind. I eventually decided to attend seminary… but I kept telling myself that I would get my degree, and find a job teaching religion at a small college. I thought I would use my gifts and my skills lecturing and helping students to find their way.
So there I was… not too far off of the path God had in mind for my life. Slowly, as people began to point out to me the various gifts I had for pastoral ministry… not just the speaking, but my gifts of listening and wrestling with questions with others… I began to see my life in a different light.
It was as if a light had been turned on in a dark room. At first it was just too overwhelming to think about, to hard to take in. I questioned how my relationships with others would be different. I worried about what it would mean for my future and that of my husband. But gradually my eyes began to adjust to the brightness and things just seemed to make sense. If metanoia is described as having a greater understanding of the reality that we experience – then I began to see how all of the pieces of the puzzle of my life fit together. I saw where I had misplaced pieces, or where I tried to make pieces fit together that didn’t belong. I experienced repentence and then I was able to embrace my calling and followed Christ. That doesn’t mean that it has been an easy road to trod – but for now – I truly feel like this is my part to play in the Kingdom of God.
There was a pastor who was preaching one Sunday on these same four disciples and he claimed that just as the disciples were called to fish for people – so too, were we to become fishermen and fisherwomen for Christ. After the sermon, a woman came up to him and said: “You know something, I hate fishing. And as for fishing for people — I don’t have the kind of time available you talked about. Does Christ have any place for a harried mom with four children?”
The pastor thought about her question and realized that the message of Christ is not “Help Wanted – Fishermen Only!” He writes that, “the point is that you and I were meant to become a part of the tremendous divine plan to bring light to a dark world.” That invitation comes to us whoever and wherever we happen to be. A carpenter might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and I will make you build people.” A chef might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and I will make you serve the hunger of people.” Just like those first disciples – we are called to take the best of what God has given us and use it for the Kingdom of God. Our act of repentence is not only realizing the places where we have failed in our lives… but also recognizing the gifts and strengths of who we are and how God wants us to use them.
As the light of Christ shines on us all, we are invited to take a good hard look at what is revealed to us. Jesus calls out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” I challenge you as individuals and as families to think seriously about how your lives are a part of the Kingdom of God that Christ has begun. Think long and hard about what it means to be a child of God in the work that you do outside of this church building. Imagine what it might mean to walk with Christ in every aspect of your lives and open yourself up so that all the gifts God has given you might be used for the Kingdom of God.
In these past few weeks, I hope that we have begun to think of ourselves not just as individuals however. I hope that we are beginning to think of ourselves as one body – as the Body of Christ in this place and in this time. Together, we will need to allow the light of Christ to shine on our life as a congregation as well. As someone who is new in your midst, I am beginning to notice the unique gifts and character that you have as a congregation. In many ways however, those gifts often lie dormant and hidden away… like old hymnals tucked up in some corner of the building. God has given this congregation a special calling to this world and together, with the light of Christ… we will discover what our unique task is in this place and in this time. Isaiah reminds us that 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… The light of Christ has dawned upon us… will we see things in a different light?