This morning my family gathered together to write my father’s obituary and order of service for his memorial. After a while, we took a break and I walked outside with my niece and spotted a huge Sycamore leaf. It was the biggest one at first we could see and then it became a competition on who could find the largest one of all. We searched a long time and when we were convinced we had discovered the most sizeable one we began looking for the smallest one. This was harder because we had to look under, beside and move other leaves to find the smallest. Finally, we believed we had the tiniest Sycamore leaf in the yard.
It was another busy day with people visiting, numerous phone calls, memorial service being organized, visiting the florist, and other errands. In the hustle and bustle of things, a family must do when one they love has passed it’s hard to find the peace one desires. The big things, the things which must get done are easy to find, it’s the small things; the glimpses of hope, the good memories, times when the good of a life well-lived shines in the darkness of a loved one parting.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Saint John, chapter 1
There are some Sundays when I crave a worship service with liturgy, reading and response, rhythm. Today was one of those days. I arrived at an old, little church with wooden pews where I’ve attended before. I sat in the back in anticipation and waited.
In front of me was a young mother with two darling little girls who were active and adorable. They began to color and draw, dropping pencils and crayons, flipping pages and whispering. This would keep occurring even after the service began. The leader called the service to order and an infant, a few rows up, decided he wasn’t happy, a woman beside me started to cough, another parishioner sang off-key, loudly. My hopes for a meaningful worship time faded.
As part of this Sunday’s reading we listened to a selection from the gospel of Saint John, chapter 9. It is the story of man who was born blind and the Master healed him. At the end of the story Jesus finds him again and they share this exchange;
“Jesus … found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ The blind man answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ The blind man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.”
As I listened to the words I was reminded that too often we are led by our eyes, what we see and our ears, what we hear, instead of seeing and listening with our hearts. For it is in the heart where belief and true worship come from. Gently chastised, I let go of the frustration of the distractions and I prayed quietly; “Lord, I believe,” and worshiped.
I had breakfast with a friend this morning and the conversation shifted to difficult people who inhabit our lives. We both agreed that some of the most contentious, complicated and frustrating folks are those who are focused on others and not self aware enough to discover and admit their own problems. They talk about others as a way of avoiding their own inner journey. They cause problems by gossiping, outright lying, attempting to control others or try to destroy another’s life or livelihood through nefarious means.
Each of us have people in our lives who are either unwilling or unable to truly see themselves. Looking deep within ourselves, coming to grips with our egos, biases, ugliness and evil takes courage. It is a path that can only be traveled through humility and honesty. It’s easier to look at everyone else, every day, for all our lives, than to see who we really are even for a moment.
“The teacher appeared again and the people gathered around him as he sat down to teach them. The educated ones brought in a woman caught having sex with a man not her husband. They humiliated her by making her stand before everyone. They said to the teacher, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. We’ve been taught to stone such women! What do you say?” The teacher knelt in the dirt and began writing on the ground with his finger. After a moment he looked up and said; “If any of you are without sin throw the first stone, then the rest can join in.” The teacher looked down again. Silently the accusers began to slowly walk away, one at a time, until only the teacher and the woman were left. He stood up and asked, “Where are your accusers? Is there no one left to throw even one stone at you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Neither will I.” he said. “Go now and live a life worthy of being saved.” The Gospel of Saint John, chapter 8
We throw stones because people watch the stone instead of the one who threw it. When we become aware of our own sin, weaknesses, habits and hangups, we’ll be unable to judge others because we’re able to truly see ourselves.
Several years ago I worked as a staff volunteer and supplemented my income as the janitor of a large church which was composed of several buildings, including a couple of houses for small groups. I often arrived very early in the morning, before the sun came up, to clean.
The church didn’t have an alarm system and the thought of, “what if someone has broken in and I surprise them?” often crept into my mind. Assuring myself that I would be able to handle it, the skittishness soon passed once a few lights were on and the sun appeared on the horizon.
One morning, entering into one of the campus houses by way of the garage, a cat jumped out from behind some storage and startled me. I hollered, stumbled back, tripped and almost fell on the floor. I steadied myself, looked the cat in the eye, caught my breath, relaxed, and then had a good laugh thinking, “oh, you handled it alright!”
What I needed was a light to help me see in the dark.
12-17 When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulon and Naphtali hills. This move completed Isaiah’s sermon:
Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali,
road to the sea, over Jordan,
Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up.
After being baptized by John, Jesus leaves the wilderness of Judea, and heads back home. Around the same time, John is hauled off to jail. John’s arrest was a reminder to Jesus that those in power do not like their power threatened.
Matthew 4:13 we are told Jesus relocates from the small village of Nazareth to the larger Capernaum, the center of the Jewish community in northern Galilee.
Capernaum is next to the Sea of Galilee. John’s ministry was east of the Jordan; Jesus begins his west of the Jordan.
Matthew tells his readers that Jesus’ move from Nazareth to Capernaum is the fulfilling of an Old Testament prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.
The rising of the light reminds us of Jesus’ star, which the wise men saw and followed.Jesus is the great and risen light…of salvation for those (living) in “darkness.”
Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
While we may picture Jesus always having a group of disciples and followers around him, he begins his ministry alone. His words are similar to John’s, but the difference is all the difference. John preached the kingdom of heaven, or the reign of God is coming, Jesus is the kingdom in the flesh, the reign of God has begun.
John’s message was about repenting and preparing for the kingdom come, Jesus’ was the kingdom come, and his calling was to follow him and be a part of it. Being a part of the kingdom was to listen to and obey Jesus.
A monastery had a very patient and wonderful Abbot. Among his brothers was an arrogant man who liked to argue and not listen when instructed. One day, as the Abbot was teaching, the obstinate brother called out; “Hey, Abbot! Not everyone can be taught, not everyone will obey. What do you do with someone like this?”
The Abbot smiled and asked the young man, “Will you come up here and let me show you?” Proudly the brother made his way up to the front of the class. The Abbot smiled and said, “Come stand over to my left side.” The brother responded. “On second thought, I hear better on the right side, step over here.” The man rolled his eyes, and stepped over to the right. “You see,” observed the Abbot, “everyone can learn to obey; now we must teach you to listen.”
18-20 Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch people.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
“Walking around” indicates Jesus, unlike John, was visiting places and teaching, not calling people to come to him.
Jesus is walking along the shore of the lake when he sees two brothers, Andrew and Peter. It appears they are wading close to the shore and casting their nets.
The word for “net” means a net with weights attached to its perimeter. When cast into the sea it would enclose fish as it sank to the bottom. Then the fishermen drew the weighted perimeter together to prevent the fish from escaping and raised the net containing the fish.
(Jesus) says, “Here—behind me! And I’ll make you fishers of human beings.”
Jesus’ words; “Follow me” is not an invitation but a command. It is to be responded to immediately in obedience. Andrew and Peter respond immediately.
Leaving the nets they followed behind him. Disciples of a teacher followed behind instead of walking beside him.
“Fishers of human beings” is a figure of speech for disciples of Jesus who make other disciples of Jesus.
The immediacy of Simon’s and Andrew’s hearing Jesus, leaving their nets and following him, makes them examples of obeying Jesus without delay.
Leaving the nets indicates the forsaking of an occupation for a “greater calling.”Before the net hits the sea floor, or is pulled in, they follow Jesus.
21-22 A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fish nets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.
Further down the shore, two more brothers are waiting.
Jesus “calls out” and says the same thing to James and John he said to Simon and Andrew.
The two sons of Zebedee are with their father, in the boat. Peter and Andrew simply walk away from their nets; James and John leave their father sitting in the boat! No goodbyes or “should we?”After Jesus passes by, all that’s left arenets bobbing in the water, and a dumbstruck father, wondering, “what just happened?”
This past Wednesday, Christmas day, we symbolically celebrated the light dawning in our dark world. The light has come and calls to us, will we listen?
We are unsure of what it means to listen to the light, about dropping our “nets” our support, our provisions, our way of life and following its leading.
“Wait until this last catch is reeled in.” “How about if we listen when we are more financially secure? Let’s make a plan, know what we’re getting into. When we know everything is going to be OK, we’ll be ready to listen.”
To ignore all other things and listen can be difficult but if we want to see in a dark world how can we do anything else?
1 O’ Lord we praise you today!
It is right for us to give You our praises
Your ways are beautiful and pleasant.
2 You are the Architect of everything,
You find the lost, and welcome the outcasts.
3 You bind our wounds,
and heal the sorrows of our hearts.
4 You are the ruler of the stars and the light in our darkness,
5 O’ Lord, You are great and nothing is impossible with Your overwhelming power.
You are loving, compassionate, and wise beyond all measure.
6 You, O’ God lift us up and lead us in the way we should go.
The Temptation of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.