God’s Claim on our lives

Preached on 22 January, 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom then shall I be afraid?

What wonderful words of comfort and hope. But I don’t imagine the psalmist spoke or wrote them when things were going great.  And I know many people have turned to just this psalm and those words to carry them through times of darkness in their world or in their lives.

These words are a reminder that God is sovereign in our lives, not worldly rulers; that despite the darkness and evil in the world, God’s light still shines.

Isaiah offers a similar message.  We hear him talk about Zebulun and Naphtali and we hear about those same places in the gospel.  What significance do those places have?  They are the lands given to those two tribes of Israel.  Their lands have been overrun and occupied by Israel’s enemies, countless times.  When Isaiah is preaching, the land is held by Assyria and the tribes were dispersed, deported, so to speak, to other places in Assyria’s empire.

Yet, even in that darkness, the prophet speaks, “There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them a light has shined.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom then shall I fear?

And so, I think it is significant that when Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, he goes to the land where the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali once lived; where they are now only a distant memory.  A place now occupied by Rome – the newest superpower on the block.  Jesus goes to a place associated with deep darkness to make his home.

I want to stop for a moment and talk about darkness and light for a minute.  We now have the ability to light up the night practically as bright as day with the flip of a switch. So, we don’t really experience the kind of darkness that these passages evoke except by choice and even some effort.  The experience of having to wait through the night for the sun to come up to be able to see where we’re going, to find what we’ve lost, to see what we’re doing.  We are not used to actual deep darkness – although we can probably relate to the metaphorical darkness it talks about.

So, Jesus makes his home in the place that has a long history of foreign powers fighting over it and occupying it.  He picks up where John left off, proclaiming “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  He goes there to proclaim the reign of God; to bring light of God into the darkness – even in the face of Rome.  He reminds the people of God’s promise made in Isaiah, reminding them what the prophet said about Zebulun and Naphtali, this very place.

He doesn’t try to do it alone, however.  He immediately calls his first disciples.  Last week, we heard the account of the calling of Simon Peter and Andrew according to John’s gospel.  Today we hear that story plus the calling of James and John according to Matthew’s gospel.

He calls them away from their livelihood as fishermen, participating in the vast Roman economic system; and calls them into a fellowship with himself and others; a community with a purpose – this vague metaphor of fishing for people.

God is making a claim on their lives that supersedes the claim of Rome.  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them that God’s claim on their lives through the Cross of Christ is far greater than any loyalties they may have to individuals in their group.  He calls on them to remember it is Christ who unifies them and that they have a unity of purpose; that they should be united in mind and action as well.

Through Christ, through our baptism, God has a claim on our lives as well.  A claim that calls us to be Christ’s light in the darkness in our own place, despite the human rulers in our lives in our world.  We can’t be light for the whole world, but we are called to shine Christ’s light right here.  How will we do that?  What light is needed?

Later this morning, we will have our annual meeting.  It’s a time to look back on the year.  We celebrate our achievements, our progress, our success.  We remember and give thanks for the people we have lost.  We thank God for the many ways God has blessed this community and we thank the people who have served and are now turning over leadership to the next group of leaders.

It is also a time to look ahead to the coming year.  We’ll elect new Members of the Vestry and Delegates to Convention.  We’ll hear about some of our ministries and programs and their hopes and plans for the future.  In a few minutes, we’ll commission the search committee who will be charged to discern the priest whom God is calling to serve with you; to bring Christ’s light in our particular way to Snohomish.  And we will thank the members of the Profile Committee for their faithful service.

I suggest that this is a good time for us to reflect on our own ministries in the church as well.  Listen for God’s call.  Are you drawn to something new?  It’s also a good time to listen for God’s call to St. John’s.  How is God calling the congregation to serve this community; to be a light right here?  To proclaim God’s reign?

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.  Amen.